Pope Francis has added to the divisive issue of whether pro-abortion politicians should receive Holy Communion. In light of his recent comments, one must ask a question; Is he acting politically or pastorally?
Several months ago, Pope Francis made comments on the issue of pro-abortion politicians. The pope stressed the importance of priests acting as both pastors and shepherds without becoming political, but said that he did not know enough “details” to discuss problems presented by pro-abortion Catholic politicians in the U.S. “Scientifically it’s a human life,” the Holy Father said, according to CNA. “The textbooks teach us that. But is it right to take it out to solve a problem? And this is why the Church is so strict on this issue because it is kind of like accepting this as accepting daily murder.” Pope Francis responded to a question about U.S. bishops and the possibility of denying Communion to pro-abortion politicians by emphasizing that clergy should be pastoral in their responses, rather than political. “What should the pastor do,” the pope asked, according to CNA. “Be a shepherd, do not go around condemning … but be a pastor. But is he also a pastor of the excommunicated? Yes, he is the pastor and … he must be a shepherd with God’s style. And God’s style is closeness, compassion, and tenderness.” He continued: “For me, I don’t want to particularize […] the United States because I don’t know the details well, I give the principle … Be a pastor and the pastor knows what he has to do at all times, but as a shepherd. But if he comes out of this shepherding of the Church, immediately he becomes a politician.” The Holy Father has frequently been criticized by conservative and traditional Catholics for not addressing whether high-profile pro-abortion Catholic politicians, specifically President Joe Biden, should be denied Communion. Various news commentators have suggested that the pope’s silence on the matter “speaks volumes.” The debate about denying Communion to politicians who support abortion must be handled in a pastoral way, not by public condemnations that seek to “excommunicate” Catholics who are not in line with church teaching, Pope Francis said. Pope Francis, over the years has come out strongly against abortion. However, Pope Francis, who is head of the Catholic Church, has previously urged bishops to tread softly on the issue of denying people the Eucharist—which Catholics consider the body of Jesus Christ—and advised the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops against adopting a policy that would have denied communion to President Joe Biden.
Adding to the confusion is that Pope Francis on Sunday named as cardinal San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy, a Roman Catholic leader who had spoken out against the calls for bishops to exclude pro-choice politicians like President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from Holy Communion over their stances on abortion. He is also known, among theologians, as one of the most left-leaning religious leaders in the Church and a political ally of Pope Francis. The move comes in the wake of San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone's announcement earlier this month that he would bar Pelosi from receiving Holy Communion due to her stance on abortion. In naming McElroy, Francis passed over Cordileone, who holds a higher rank.
Recently, Pope Francis made some comments regarding the war in Ukraine. On March 16th, in response to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill’s initial support for Putin’s initiatives, Pope Francis “met” with the Russian religious leader by video conference. According to the Holy See Press Office, the meeting was motivated “by the desire to show, as shepherds of their people, a road to peace, to pray for peace so that there may be a cease-fire.” Regarding the ethics of war, Pope Francis stated the following:
There was a time, even in our Churches, when people spoke of a holy war or a just war. Today we cannot speak in this manner. A Christian awareness of the importance of peace has developed. Wars are always unjust since it is the people of God who pay. Our hearts cannot but weep before the children and women killed, along with all the victims of war. War is never the way.
However, as far as the Russian invasion of Ukraine is concerned, Francis doesn’t need this argument. What Russia has already done to Ukraine, even without recourse to nuclear weapons, is condemned under Catholic Just War Doctrine. Following many Theologians, rather than scrap the teaching, still on the books, Francis, with the entire People of God, should invoke it, stand by it, and stand upon it. It is as relevant as ever.
Pope Francis seems to be blurring the line between politics and religion, especially on these two issues. He works “fast and loose” with the settled Doctrines of the Church, with little thought given to traditional Catholicism. He seems to make politically provocative remarks and, in the face of resistance, wraps himself in Pastoral Theology. From his remarks and actions, he seems to be torn between two agendas. Hopefully, the words of Jesus Christ might guide him in a sure path; “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. [s1] You cannot serve God and mammon”.(Matthew 6:24)