Pope Francis speaks to the media on board an Alitalia aircraft
Pope Francis said on Wednesday that abortion is "murder", even soon after conception, but appeared to criticise some U.S. Catholic bishops for dealing with U.S. President Joe Biden's pro-choice position in a political rather than pastoral way.
On the flight returning from Slovakia, Francis was asked for his opinion about the debate within the U.S. Bishops Conference, about whether Biden, who is Catholic, should be denied communion because of his support for a woman's right to choose even though he is personally against abortion.
"I never denied communion to anyone. But I never knew that I had in front of me anyone such as you described, that is true," he said, without elaborating.
Last June a divided conference of U.S. Roman Catholic bishops voted to draft a statement on communion that may admonish Catholic politicians, including Biden.
"Communion is not a prize for the perfect ... communion is a gift, the presence of Jesus and his church," the pope said.
"Abortion is murder.. Those who carry out abortions kill," he said.
"At the third week after conception, often even before the mother is aware (of being pregnant), all the organs are already (starting to develop). It is a human life. Period. And this human life has to be respected. It is very clear," he said.
"Scientifically, it is a human life," he said.
On Tuesday the Biden administration formally asked a federal judge to block enforcement of a new Texas law that effectively bans almost all abortions in the state under a novel legal design that opponents say is intended to thwart court challenge.
The Republican-backed law forbids abortions performed once cardiac activity has been detected in the embryo, typically starting at six weeks of gestation.
Church law says a Catholic who procures an abortion automatically excommunicates themselves from the Church.
But there is no clear policy on Catholic politicians who say they have no choice as elected officials to support abortion rights even if they are personally opposed.
This has led to heated debates in the U.S. Church.
The pope said bishops should deal with the problem in a pastoral instead of a political way.
"A pastor knows what to do at any moment but if he leaves the pastoral process of the Church he immediately becomes a politician," Francis said.
REUTERS / Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Jon Boyle
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