Pope Francis delivered his most direct admonishment yet of the US bishops who want to refuse Communion to President Biden and other political leaders who support abortion rights. Speaking to reporters Wednesday on a flight returning him to Rome after a trip to Hungary and Slovakia, the pope spoke of bishops going wrong when they become involved in politics. Atrocities have resulted, committed in the cause of faith, he said, per the New York Times. Given that history, he asked, "What must the pastor do?" The answer, Francis said, is: "Be a pastor, don't go condemning. Be a pastor, because he is a pastor also for the excommunicated."
At the same time, the pope strongly reaffirmed his opposition to abortion. "Abortion is homicide," he said Wednesday. "Whoever has an abortion kills." But Francis appeared to steer away from deciding who is entitled to the sacrament, saying, "Communion is not a prize for the perfect." The Vatican had warned the bishops in June against denying the Catholic president Communion, but it seemed to have little effect on attempts in the Conference of Catholic Bishops to approve a document codifying such a policy. On Wednesday, the pope stepped out from behind the institutional cover. "God's style is closeness, compassion and tenderness," he said, per the Washington Post.
The pope said he didn't know if he'd had a politician come to him for Communion whose positions were in conflict with the church's. But, he said, "I have never refused the eucharist to anyone." Other popes also have declined to set rules for disqualifying Catholics from receiving Communion, per the Post. John McGreevy, a history professor at the University of Notre Dame, said it seemed clear that the pope was saying "not to use Communion as a weapon against particular politicians for particular issues." (Read more Pope Francis stories.)