Will Pope Francis Raise the Abortion Issue in Meeting with Biden?
‘Please challenge President Biden on this critical issue,’ Bishop Thomas Tobin tweeted today in an online appeal to the Holy Father.
As President Joe Biden, the second baptized Catholic U.S. president, prepares to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican Friday, there has been speculation regarding whether the Holy Father will broach the topic of abortion with the president, given that his pro-abortion stance marks a significant break with Church teaching and with numerous remarks the Pope has made calling abortion “murder.”
The meeting also comes just ahead of the U.S. bishops’ fall meeting where they will be voting on a document on the Eucharist that will include a section on worthiness to receive Communion, a hot-button topic given the prominent U.S. pro-abortion Catholic politicians like Biden who continue to receive Communion.
Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, tweeted a message to Pope Francis Wednesday saying, “You have boldly stated that abortion is ‘murder.’ Please challenge President Biden on this critical issue. His persistent support of abortion is an embarrassment for the Church and a scandal to the world.”
Abortion and Communion
Pope Francis recently told reporters on a papal flight, “Communion is a gift, a present; it is the presence of Jesus in the Church and in the community. Then, those who are not in the community cannot take Communion. ... Out of the community — ex-communicated — because they are not baptized or have drifted away.” He said of abortion that “it's more than a problem. it's homicide. Whoever has an abortion, kills. No mincing words. Take any book on embryology for medical students. The third week after conception, all the organs are already there, even the DNA. ... It is a human life; this human life must be respected; this principle is so clear. ... That is why the Church is so harsh on this issue, because if it accepts this, it is as if it accepts daily murder.”
Regarding Communion for pro-abortion politicians in the U.S., Pope Francis said “the problem is not theological, it is pastoral, how we bishops manage this principle pastorally.” While he said he was “not very familiar with the details of the United States,” he would urge bishops to “be a pastor, because he is a pastor also for the excommunicated.”
In the past, Pope Francis has made strong remarks against abortion, calling abortions after a prenatal diagnosis of disability “what the Nazis did” but “with white gloves.” He has also likened abortion to “hiring a hitman.” Before he became pope, he was the lead author of the 2007 Aparecida document that stated, “We hope that legislators, heads of government, and health professionals, conscious of the dignity of human life and of the rootedness of the family in our peoples, will defend and protect it from the abominable crimes of abortion and euthanasia. ... We must adhere to ‘Eucharistic coherence,’ that is, be conscious that they cannot receive Holy Communion and at the same time act with deeds or words against the commandments, particularly when abortion, euthanasia, and other grave crimes against life and family are encouraged.”
Interaction Between Francis and Biden
President Biden and Pope Francis have areas of agreement when it comes to issues like the environment and encouraging vaccination to combat the coronavirus pandemic. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told EWTN’s Owen Jensen Wednesday that “there's a great deal of agreement and overlap with the president and Pope Francis on a range of issues — poverty, combating the climate crisis, ending the COVID-19 pandemic — these are all hugely important, impactful issues that will be the centerpiece of what their discussion is when they meet.” She did acknowledge the area of disagreement on abortion in response to Jensen, saying, "We expect a warm and constructive dialogue. You are familiar with where the president stands. He’s somebody who stands up for and believes that a woman’s right to choose is important. The Pope has spoken differently."
The Pope has met with Biden twice before, during his tenure as vice president in the Obama administration. In dealing with the Obama administration, Pope Francis has done things to signal the importance of the pro-life issue. He touched on “the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection” in his first meeting with President Obama in 2014 and, during his trip to the U.S. in 2015, the Holy Father made a surprise visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor as they faced a lawsuit from the Obama administration due to their conscientious objection to covering contraceptives in their employees’ healthcare plan.
More recently, Francis announced a plenary indulgence for those who participated in the annual March for Life protesting the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, which took place in January just after Biden’s inauguration. The Church teaches that “an indulgence is the remission before God of temporal punishment for sins whose guilt is already forgiven, which a properly disposed member of the Christian faithful gains under certain and defined conditions by the assistance of the Church.”
In a January statement to President Biden during his inauguration, the Pope said, “I pray that your decisions will be guided by a concern for building a society marked by authentic justice and freedom, together with unfailing respect for the rights and dignity of every person, especially the poor, the vulnerable and those who have no voice.”
U.S. Bishops’ Voice on Abortion
USCCB president Archbishop José Gomez issued a statement at the time of the inauguration more pointedly addressing his concerns over the president’s abortion stance, but also invoking the Pope’s past remarks on abortion.
“For the nation’s bishops, the continued injustice of abortion remains the ‘preeminent priority,” he wrote. “Preeminent does not mean ‘only.’ We have deep concerns about many threats to human life and dignity in our society. But as Pope Francis teaches, we cannot stay silent when nearly a million unborn lives are being cast aside in our country year after year through abortion.”
“Rather than impose further expansions of abortion and contraception, as he has promised, I am hopeful that the new president and his administration will work with the Church and others of good will,” Archbishop Gomez said. “My hope is that we can begin a dialogue to address the complicated cultural and economic factors that are driving abortion and discouraging families.”
Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, a member of the committee that drafted the document on the Eucharist being considered by the bishops at their fall assembly, told The Wall Street Journal that the Pope’s meeting with the president would be an example for the bishops of dialogue with political leaders who break with significant Church teaching, but he saw it as “in no way hampering us bishops in our role as teachers on the inestimable value of unborn human life.”
The Vatican abruptly canceled a planned live broadcast of the visit Thursday and said it would provide footage of the meeting to media outlets.