Pope Francis has cautioned bishops about wading into politics as U.S. bishops question whether or not to deny communion to pro-choice politicians such as President Biden.
The pope spoke with reporters on a flight from Slovakia to Rome, during which reporters had asked about the debate that has returned to public focus following the passage of a new abortion law in Texas, which Biden has strongly opposed.
"I have never refused the eucharist to anyone," the pope said, noting that he did not recall a time when a politician stood staunchly against abortion and came to him for communion.
The point he stressed was that bishops should be pastors, not politicians, according to The New York Times. He referred to communion as "a gift" and not "a prize for the perfect."
"If we look at the history of the church, we will see that every time the bishops have not managed a problem as pastors, they have taken a political stance on a political problem," he added. "What must the pastor do? Be a pastor; don’t go condemning. Be a pastor, because he is a pastor also for the excommunicated.
The pope stressed, however, that the Catholic Church views abortion as homicide.
"Whoever has an abortion kills," the pope said. "It is a human life. This human life must be respected – this principle is so clear."
The Vatican earlier this year issued broad comments on the matter in a letter written by the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Luis Ladaria.
Ladaria issued the letter to Archbishop Jose Gomez ahead of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June, during which they drew up a document addressing how to approach the matter of communion for politicians holding views that stand in opposition to the church’s own.
He cautioned against focusing specifically on abortion and euthanasia as "the only grave matters" of Catholic moral teaching, NPR reported.
Other bishops did not support the idea of "weaponizing the Eucharist."
Bishop Michael F. Olson of the Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, claimed that the pope’s comments were not "at odds" with the stance of bishops who wish to restrict communion.
"We’re not at odds with the Holy Father and he’s not at odds with us," Olson told the Times. "He wants us to be pastors, and we also want to be pastors. But a pastor is not just a mascot for one’s private point of view."