VATICAN CITY (RNS) – Returning from his papal visit to central Europe on Wednesday, September 15, Pope Francis weighed in on the debate over whether Catholic politicians who support the right to abortion should be denied the right to abortion. communion, declaring that he has never denied the Eucharist to all and that the question must be dealt with in a pastoral way.
“If we look at the history of the church, we can see that whenever the bishops have not acted as shepherds when faced with a problem, they have aligned themselves with political life, with political problems,” he said. declared the Pope in the usual conversation with journalists who traveled with him.
Francis also spoke in favor of vaccination, highlighting the success of past vaccines in saving people from polio and other diseases. “In the Vatican everyone is vaccinated except for a small group that we are trying to help,” he said.
Echoing parts of his message to Catholics in Slovakia and Hungary, the Pope stressed the need not to politicize the faith and urged bishops to “be a shepherd” by showing “closeness, compassion and tenderness” .
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Last summer, bishops in the United States discussed whether Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, including President Joe Biden, should be denied Communion for their views. The American episcopate is currently working on a document on “Eucharistic Coherence,” amid concerns that American Catholics are not being properly trained on the sacrament. Bishops are expected to vote on the document in November.
Francis did not go into the details of the discussion that took place in the United States, but chose to address only “the principle of the matter.” The pope said vehemently that he had never refused Communion to anyone, adding that although he did not know whether Catholics who supported the right to abortion had ever asked him for Communion, he had not. “never refused the Eucharist, since the time when I was a priest”.
The pontiff has been clear on his anti-abortion stance, saying the embryo is “human life” and “abortion is homicide”. He praised Catholic anti-abortion activism because abortion “is kind of like daily murder is accepted,” he said.
Drawing on a now famous framing of the sacrament of his 2013 Apostolic Exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), Francis said on the flight that “Communion is not a price for the perfect” but a “gift” marking the presence of Jesus in his church and his community.
Communion, he added, “is linked to community”.
Consistent with his efforts to reform power structures in the church with an emphasis on pastoral proximity rather than doctrinal authority, Francis said it was up to pastors to “know how to act at all times.”
Especially when it comes to those who have strayed from the Catholic faith, he said, pastors must remember that they “are sons of God and need our closeness.”
Francis spoke of the “storm” that followed his 2016 apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia”, which opened the door for divorced and married couples to take Communion. The break with established teaching was viewed as “heresy” by some in the church.
“They are the poor who are temporarily outside, but they are children of God and they need our pastoral action”, he declared.
Regarding LGBTQ Catholics, the Pope has said marriage according to the Catholic Church is between a man and a woman, but he has shown his support for countries giving same-sex couples “security” and “stability” by through civil unions.
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During his visit, traditional family values were at the heart of discussions between François and Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, who have opposing views on the migration crisis in Europe. While Francis called for the integration of immigrants, Orban aggressively blocked people trying to enter Europe from Syria and North Africa.
But the pope told reporters aboard the papal flight that migration was not on the agenda when he met Orban, which was about family and environmental protection. He praised Orban’s policies in favor of young people and families.
The Pope admitted to being “much more tired” on the trip, which took place after undergoing surgery in July. Francis plans to attend the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, in November and hopes to visit Greece and Cyprus in December.