Pope Reminds Bishops Not to Condemn Politicians Who Support Abortion, Use Compassion

Pope Francis on Wednesday reminded Catholic bishops to not condemn politicians who support abortion rights, but treat them with "compassion and tenderness," the Associated Press reported.

The pope's comments came when he was asked while traveling home from Slovakia whether politicians who back abortion rights, like U.S. President Joe Biden, should be able to receive Communion.

Francis did not directly respond "yes" or "no" to the reporter's question on the grounds that he didn't know the U.S. situation well enough, but he said that abortion was "homicide" and that Catholic priests should not give Communion to someone who was not in affinity with the beliefs of the church. This could include a Jew, an individual who has not been baptized or someone who has strayed from the church, he said.

Political figures like Biden receiving Communion in spite of pro-choice abortion stances led to a decision from opposing Catholic bishops to draft a "teaching document" aimed at rebuking them for making the sacrament. Francis urged bishops and priests to act "pastorally" and not "politically" when they encounter issues such as these, AP reported. He added that "if we look at the history of the church, we will see that every time the bishops did not act as shepherds," it became a "problem."

"What should a shepherd do? Be a shepherd and not going around condemning or not condemning," the pope said. "They must be a shepherd with God's style. And God's style is closeness, compassion and tenderness."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis said Wednesday that Catholic bishops must not condemn politicians who support abortion rights. Above, the pope speaks with journalists on an Alitalia aircraft flying from Bratislava back to Rome on Wednesday after a four-day pilgrimage to Hungary and Slovakia. Tiziana Fabi/Pool via AP

Francis recalled cases when the church had held fast to a principle on political grounds and it ended badly, citing the Inquisition-era condemnation of Giordano Bruno for alleged heresy. He was burned at the stake in Rome's Campo dei Fiori.

"Whenever the church, in order to defend a principle, didn't do it pastorally, it has taken political sides," Francis said. "If a pastor leaves the pastorality of the church, he immediately becomes a politician."

Francis said he had never denied Communion to anyone, though he said he never knowingly had a pro-abortion politician before him. And he admitted he once gave Communion to an elderly woman who, after the fact, confessed that she was Jewish.

U.S. bishops agreed in June that the conference doctrine committee will draft a statement on the meaning of Communion in the life of the church that will be submitted for consideration, probably an in-person gathering in November. To be formally adopted, the document would need support of two-thirds of the bishops.

Pro-Abortion Rights Demonstration
Amid the U.S. debate over abortion, Pope Francis said Wednesday that Catholic bishops should not deny Communion to politicians like President Joe Biden who support a patient's rights to get the procedure. Above, pro-choice activists march to the home of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh for a protest on September 13, 2021, in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Alex Wong/Getty Images