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On abortion and Communion, the Pope temporizes

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 15, 2021

Don’t fall for the facile headlines. Pope Francis did not say that it would be wrong to deny the Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians. Not quite.

In fact the Pontiff emphasized support for legal abortion is unacceptable. “Abortion is homicide,” he said, and if the Church accepts the practice, “it would be like accepting daily murder.”

The challenge, he continued, is “how do we bishops deal with this principle pastorally.” On that question, Pope Francis expressed his caution: “When the Church defends a principle in an unpastoral manner, it acts on a political level.” To avoid a politicized Church, he advised: “Be a pastor and don’t go around condemning.”

So the key is that pastors should act pastorally: always sound advice. But suppose a pastor decided to withhold the Eucharist from President Biden—not because he wanted to advance the Republican Party, not because he wanted to ban abortion (however welcome that result that might be), but because he wanted to save Joe Biden’s soul? Would it be wrong in that case to withhold Communion?

Pope Francis did not address that question. He claimed that he had never confronted the problem himself as a pastor. There is little doubt, I concede, that if he did confront the problem, he would not withhold Communion. But in his discussion with reporters today, he did not offer any instruction to other priests, other than the admonition to be pastoral.

Oddly enough, many of the Pope’s most enthusiastic supporters wanted him to address political issues during this papal trip, particularly when he met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose views on immigration are radically different from those of the Pontiff. But Pope Francis told reporters that when he spoke with Orban, the subject did not arise: “On immigration, nothing.” Evidently he chose (to the disappointment of liberal pundits) not to provoke a confrontation.

In a confusing conclusion to his comments on the abortion-Communion debate, the Pope mentioned “the storm that was whipped up with Amoris Laetitia” over the reception of Communion by Catholics who are divorced and remarried. That issue was “clarified” by Cardinal Schönborn, he said, implying that the storm has cleared and the issue is settled.

But that storm has not cleared, and the issue is not settled, because Cardinal Schönborn could not give an authoritative interpretation of a papal encyclical, and the man who wrote it has refused to answer the dubia submitted by a group of senior prelates, including the Cardinal Raymond Burke. As with his statements on the flight from Slovakia, so too with Amoris Laetitia: the Pope has given a gesture in one direction, but declined to make a clear statement—perhaps because a clear statement would be clearly at odds with perennial Church teaching.

And speaking of Cardinal Burke, Pope Francis made a characteristically ungracious reference to the American prelate during his airplane interview, mentioning that Burke, who has resisted the drive for Covid vaccination, is recovering from a severe bout with the disease. “Life is ironic,” the Pope said. But where is the irony here? It should not be surprising that a man who was not vaccinated suffers from the disease for which the vaccination was designed. It is far more surprising that many people who have been vaccinated have the disease. Now that is irony.

Pope Francis said that he could not understand why people resist vaccination. The apparent failure of the Covid vaccine to curb the spread of the virus would be one practical reason, along with the widespread reports of adverse effects from vaccination. But if he is looking for a moral principle behind the resistance, the Pontiff need look no further than the December 2020 statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued with his express endorsement. True, the CDF concluded that it is “morally acceptable” to use the available vaccines. But that judgment came only after the CDF confirmed that it is “evil” to produce vaccines using fetal cell lines, and added that vaccination “must be voluntary.”

When Church leaders say that there is no principled reason for Catholics to object to the Covid vaccines, or to resist a mandatory vaccination—while citing that very CDF document—they offend against both charity and honesty.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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Show 5 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: wendel2591 - Sep. 18, 2021 10:06 PM ET USA

    I think we need to take “yes” for an answer. Francis agrees with Cardinal Burke’s position. Pro-abortion advocacy estranges someone from the Church. You are not part of the community you are not to receive communion. The pastoral activities are in getting that someone back into communion. We all want that. Francis deserves better.

  • Posted by: feedback - Sep. 17, 2021 5:16 AM ET USA

    In 2014 Francis had no problem condemning Mafia, "Repent or face hell, Pope warns Mafia" [catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=20864] and "Mafia excommunicated, Pope says" [catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=21785]. Why is he suddenly so "pastoral" about politicians who claim to be Catholic but promote mass slaughter of innocents? Does he not realize the scandalous double standards he promotes?

  • Posted by: fatheratchley - Sep. 15, 2021 6:55 PM ET USA

    Nowadays, we tip toe around each other while bumping into tables and knocking over lamps.

  • Posted by: rghatt6599 - Sep. 15, 2021 6:19 PM ET USA

    What is the pastoral mind of the Church? Pope Francis gave us his example of a pastor in action when the abortion promoting president of Argentina visited the Vatican. Confrontation was avoided – the subject of abortion was not raised – and the president and his paramour received communion from bishop Sorondo a close ally of the pope. His comments on Cardinal Burke’s illness were unworthy of his office. It should have been easy for PF to say he is among those praying for the cardinal’s recovery.

  • Posted by: alypius299952 - Sep. 15, 2021 5:40 PM ET USA

    Church leaders have been offending "against both charity and honesty" for last eight years, none more so than Francis. Abortion supporters and priests who bless "gay unions" are to be treated "pastorally" while traditionalists are to be hounded out of the Church. What a disgrace.