Is the pope Catholic?

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
December 3, 2021

As President Joe Biden’s 85-car motorcade made its way to the Vatican last Friday, the stage was set for an epic public relations event. The media gushed that the world’s two most famous Catholics would be meeting in a much-anticipated spectacle, but reporters were highly peeved that the Vatican refused to share video of the entire event. The Vatican was well advised to edit carefully. The handlers of President Biden and Pope Francis are accustomed to clean-up work after public statements by both men. Putting the two prominent Catholics together in front of cameras certainly raised the stakes.

But the stakes were already high. Joe Biden is only the second Roman Catholic to serve as president of the United States, but his ever-expanding support for abortion puts him squarely in contradiction to Catholic doctrine on a matter of life and death. For decades, Biden attempted to hide behind the argument made by the late New York Gov. Mario Cuomo that a Roman Catholic political figure can be personally opposed to abortion but still support abortion rights. Through years in the Senate, Biden bragged of consistent support for the Hyde Amendment, restricting tax funding for abortion. Running for the 2020 Democratic nomination, however, Biden caved to pressure from the dominant left wing of his party and promised to eliminate the Hyde Amendment, coercing the American taxpayer into further complicity with abortion. Just months ago, Biden denied the Catholic teaching that life begins at conception. “I respect that—don’t agree with that—but I respect that,” he said.

Accordingly, prominent American Catholic bishops have called for Biden to be denied communion. The church officially rejects the Cuomo separation of faith and policy, and Biden has put himself out of communion with his church by rejecting its doctrine, supporting the murder of the unborn, and committing the sin of “scandal”—leading others into sin.

For his part, Pope Francis has a well-earned reputation for trying to liberalize Catholic practice by issuing what can generously be described as confusing statements on issues related to an array of LGBTQ issues and doctrinal questions. Keep in mind that according to official Roman Catholic doctrine, “the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.” But, in the eyes of many Catholics, Pope Francis is himself the great danger to Catholic doctrinal fidelity.

Francis has publicly opposed any effort by U.S. bishops to deny President Biden access to communion. The great defender of Catholic doctrine has said that “abortion is murder,” but a Catholic president who has seized every opportunity to support abortion, used every power of appointment, exploited every political platform, and demands a vast expansion of the abortion industry, is welcomed to the Vatican. So much for defending the Catholic faith—and the unborn.

President Biden emerged from his long meeting with the pope, declaring that Francis told him he was a good Catholic. In the President’s words: “We just talked about the fact he was happy I was a good Catholic and I should keep receiving Communion.” The Vatican has turned down all requests for clarification.

Just days before meeting with Biden, the pope met with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the second most powerful Catholic politician in America, and a veritable dynamo for abortion rights and taxpayer funding. That meeting was shorter, but the media effect was the same. A majority of American bishops may believe that politicians supporting abortion should be denied communion, but not the pope? The pope just called abortion murder but greets the agents of abortion rights as Catholics in good standing? This president of the United States, who constantly touts his Roman Catholic identity as central to his moral vision and his personal character, is allowed to declare that the pope declared him a “good Catholic” and the Vatican feels no need to clarify?

Did abortion even come up in their conversation? When asked, President Biden said “that’s a private conversation.” Well, if it was private, why did Biden gleefully tell the media about Francis calling him a good Catholic who “should keep receiving the sacrament?”

The central Protestant charge against the papacy is that it is unbiblical, theologically without warrant, and inherently vulnerable to corruption and abuse. Protestants reject the very idea of an authoritative magisterium and the pope as holder of Christ’s keys and “shepherd of the whole flock.” Protestants do not recognize the papacy in terms of either temporal or eternal authority. Evangelical Christians are not looking for a pope, but the parable of the pope and the president is instructive for all. Doctrinal fidelity and the defense of unborn life does not always lead to happy photo opportunities.

Conservative Catholics express dismay, almost to the point of despair, about the genial liberalism of this pope. President Biden’s version of Catholicism is a disaster for Catholic witness to the sanctity of unborn life. But what about Pope Francis? Is the pope Catholic?

This article originally appeared at WORLD Opinions on November 3, 2021.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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