“No, I have never denied the Eucharist to anyone; to anyone! I don’t know if someone came to me under these conditions, but I have never refused them the Eucharist.”
The debate about denying Communion to politicians who support abortion must be handled in a pastoral way, not by public condemnations that seek to “excommunicate” Catholics who are not in line with church teaching, Pope Francis said.
During his return flight from Bratislava, Slovakia, Sept. 15, the pope said that while there is no question that “abortion is homicide,” bishops must look take a pastoral approach rather than wade into the political sphere.
“If we look at the history of the church, we can see that every time the bishops did not act like shepherds when dealing with a problem, they aligned themselves with political life, on political problems,” he said.
The pope told journalists that when defending a principle, some bishops act in a way “that is not pastoral” and “enter the political sphere.”
“And what should a shepherd do? Be a shepherd. Not going around condemning,” the pope added. “They must be a shepherd, in God’s style, which is closeness, compassion and tenderness.”
“A shepherd that doesn’t know how to act in God’s style slips and enters into many things that are not of a shepherd.”
The pope said that he preferred not to comment directly on the issue of denying Communion in the United States “because I do not know the details; I am speaking of the principle” of the matter.
During their virtual spring general assembly in June, 75% of U.S. bishops approved the drafting of a document, addressed to all Catholic faithful, on eucharistic coherence. During long discussions on the document before the vote, several bishops specifically pointed to President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who are Catholic, for not actively seeking to end legal abortion, and they said such politicians should be denied Communion.
When asked if he had ever publicly denied Communion to someone, Pope Francis emphatically said, “No, I have never denied the Eucharist to anyone; to anyone! I don’t know if someone came to me under these conditions, but I have never refused them the Eucharist, since the time I was a priest.”
But, he added, “I was never aware of anyone in front of me under those conditions that you mentioned.”
Recalling his apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium,” the pope said that “Communion is not a prize for the perfect,” but rather “a gift, the presence of Jesus in his church and in the community. That is the theology.”
However, Pope Francis also said he understood why the church takes a hard stance because accepting abortion “is a bit as if daily murder was accepted.”
“Whoever commits an abortion, murders,” he said.
Some observers have noted that pope’s remarks are consistent with this direction, given by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger:
Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.
“When ‘these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible,’ and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, ‘the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it’.”
This decision, properly speaking, is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgement on the person’s subjective guilt, but rather is reacting to the person’s public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin.