What Have Popes and the Vatican Said About Catholic Politicians, Abortion and Holy Communion?
A collection of quotes
San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has instructed that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not to be admitted to Holy Communion, should she present herself in the archdiocese. In letters to priests and laypeople issued on May 20 explaining his decision, he cited papal teaching.
Here’s what popes and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith have said about Catholic politicians, abortion and Holy Communion.
John Paul II
In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II wrote: “In a democratic system, where laws and decisions are made on the basis of the consensus of many, the sense of personal responsibility in the consciences of individuals invested with authority may be weakened. But no one can ever renounce this responsibility, especially when he or she has a legislative or decision-making mandate, which calls that person to answer to God, to his or her own conscience, and to the whole of society for choices which may be contrary to the common good.”
“Although laws are not the only means of protecting human life, nevertheless they do play a very important and sometimes decisive role in influencing patterns of thought and behavior. I repeat once more that a law which violates an innocent person’s natural right to life is unjust and, as such, is not valid as a law.”
“For this reason, I urgently appeal once more to all political leaders not to pass laws which, by disregarding the dignity of the person, undermine the very fabric of society.”
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
In its 2002 doctrinal note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life, signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and approved by John Paul II, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recalled “some principles proper to the Christian conscience, which inspire the social and political involvement of Catholics in democratic societies.”
It said that when legislative proposals are put forward that “attack the very inviolability of human life,” Catholics have “the duty to recall society to a deeper understanding of human life and to the responsibility of everyone in this regard.”
The note referred to John Paul II's reiteration in Evangelium Vitae of the Church’s constant teaching that legislators have a grave and clear obligation to oppose laws attacking human life and added: “For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them.”
The congregation went on to say, “When political activity comes up against moral principles that do not admit of exception, compromise or derogation, the Catholic commitment becomes more evident and laden with responsibility. In the face of fundamental and inalienable ethical demands, Christians must recognize that what is at stake is the essence of the moral law, which concerns the integral good of the human person. This is the case with laws concerning abortion and euthanasia. … Such laws must defend the basic right to life from conception to natural death.”
Before he was elected pope in 2005, taking the name Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote a letter to the U.S. bishops.
In the 2004 letter, the then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that “when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.”
“When ‘these precautionary measures have not had their effect …,’ and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, ‘the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it.’”
Benedict XVI was asked during a flight to Brazil in 2007 whether he agreed with the excommunication of deputies in Mexico City for supporting abortion.
He replied: “Excommunication is not something arbitrary but a measure prescribed by the Code [of Canon Law]. Thus, it simply states in canon law that the killing of an innocent child is incompatible with going to Communion, where one receives the Body of Christ.”
“Consequently, nothing new, surprising or arbitrary has been invented. Only what is prescribed by Church law has been recalled publicly, a law that is based on the doctrine and faith of the Church, on our appreciation of life and of the human individual from the very first instant.”
Months after his election in 2013, Pope Francis said: “In a frail human being, each one of us is invited to recognize the face of the Lord, who in his human flesh experienced the indifference and solitude to which we so often condemn the poorest of the poor, whether in developing countries or in wealthy societies.”
“Every child who, rather than being born, is condemned unjustly to being aborted bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord, who even before he was born, and then just after birth, experienced the world’s rejection.”
In his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si, he wrote: “When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities — to offer just a few examples — it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected.”
“Once the human being declares independence from reality and behaves with absolute dominion, the very foundations of our life begin to crumble, for ‘instead of carrying out his role as a cooperator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature.’”
Speaking to reporters on a flight from Slovakia in 2021, Pope Francis said that “abortion is murder,” while urging priests to be pastoral rather than political when faced with the question of who can receive Communion.
“What should the pastor do?” he asked. “Be a shepherd, do not go around condemning, not condemning, but be a pastor. But is he also a pastor of the excommunicated? Yes, he is the pastor, and he has to shepherd them, and he must be a shepherd with God’s style. And God’s style is closeness, compassion and tenderness. The whole Bible says that: closeness. Already in Deuteronomy, he says to Israel: What people have gods as close as you have me? Closeness. Compassion: The Lord has compassion on us. We read Ezekiel, we read Hosea, right from the beginning. And tenderness — just look at the Gospel and the works of Jesus.”
“A pastor who does not know how to manage with God’s style slips, and he adds many things which are not pastoral. For me, I do not want to particularize [...] the United States because I do not know the details well. I give the principle.”
“You can tell me: But if you are close, and tender, and compassionate with a person, you have to give Communion — but that’s a hypothetical. Be a pastor, and the pastor knows what he has to do at all times, but as a shepherd. But if he stops this shepherding of the Church, immediately he becomes a politician. And you will see this in all the denunciations, in all the non-pastoral condemnations that the Church makes.”
He added, “With this principle, I believe a pastor can act well. The principles are from theology; the pastoral care is theology — and the Holy Spirit, who leads you to do it with the style of God.”