“I have never refused the Eucharist to anyone. No one,” said Pope Francis last week. Speaking to the press on his plane after returning from a trip to Hungary and Slovakia, the pope signaled that he wants Communion distributed to Joe Biden and other pro-abortion politicians.
He did acknowledge that “abortion is murder” and, at first, sketched out the Church’s “theology” of Communion: “Communion is a gift, a gift, the presence of Jesus in his Church. It is in the community. This is the theology. Then, those who are not in the community cannot take Communion.… Because they are out of the community, excommunicated, they are ‘excommunicated’ it is called.”
But he ended his answer by declining to back up the bishops who are calling to deny Communion to Catholic public figures who oppose magisterial teaching. As usual, he put a bewildering spin on his permissive position, presenting the application of canon law to these defiant figures as “political” while describing the suspension of canon law as “pastoral.” The truth is the exact reverse. By exempting Biden and company from canon law, the Church under Pope Francis is bowing to the politics of the age and shirking her pastoral duties.
For the pope to describe the few bishops who support the unfashionable position of applying canon law to Biden as “political” is pretty rich, given the relentlessly political character of his pontificate. No one in the Church has behaved more politically than he has. Yet he can say with a straight face to orthodox bishops: “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.”
What exactly is pastoral about appeasing the politically powerful? What is pastoral about permitting sacrilege and scandal? The application of canon law to manifest opponents of Catholic teaching is not contrary to the shepherdly duties of the Church, but a requirement of them. How else can the flock be protected? The good shepherd, as Jesus Christ said, closes the gate, lest the wolves devour his sheep.
Pope Benedict XVI once described the neglect of canon law as “pseudo-pastoral.” He argued that the abandonment of canon law shows an indifference to the good of souls. “Canon Law is at times undervalued, as if it were a mere technical instrument at the service of any given subjective interest, even one that is not founded on truth,” he said. “Instead, Canon Law must always be considered in its essential relationship with justice, in the recognition that, in the Church, the goal of juridical activity is the salvation of souls…”
The sophistries of Pope Francis rest on that pseudo-pastoral view his predecessor decried. Implicit in many of Pope Francis’s comments is that adherence to orthodoxy and discipline impedes, rather than fulfills, the Church’s mission. The crisis in the Church, he frequently argues, is not the product of laxity but of rigidity, as if the Church has been too strict toward pro-abortion pols.
“Always condemnation, condemnation, enough with excommunication. Please let us not place any more excommunications. Poor people,” he said on the plane. But what is he talking about? There haven’t been any excommunications. The U.S. bishops, decades ago, decided to go soft on pro-abortion Catholic politicians. The handful of bishops who wanted to apply canon law to them were ignored. Consequently, the ranks of bad Catholic pols grew larger with each passing year. Joe Biden is the product of that passive policy. He represents the very lax Catholicism that the pope presents as a cure to the Church’s ills.
It is not “God’s style” to close the Eucharistic gate, the pope suggested at the press conference. That is hard to square with the sayings of Jesus Christ, who told his disciples to guard holy things. St. Paul said, “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” Was that unpastoral? Was that political?
It is the pope’s casual view of sacramental requirements that jars with the Church’s long-standing understanding of the care of souls and smacks of temporal concerns. It is hard to imagine any pope prior to this one speaking so whimsically about sacramental discipline. The Church plays politics not by upholding those sacramental requirements, but by dispensing with them, lest she upset the worldly and powerful.
The pope’s supposed “pastoral” approach is disguised politics, an unwillingness to offend his left-wing political partners. That everyone from Nancy Pelosi to Lori Lightfoot goes up to Communion illustrates the Church’s submission to the spirit of the age. This deference to a corrupt political order would have been inexplicable to past popes, for whom the defense of the sacraments constituted their highest duty.