A top Vatican cardinal says President Biden should not be denied Communion amid a push by U.S. Catholic bishops to withhold the sacrament from the president because of his support for abortion rights.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, who works closely with Pope Francis, said the sacrament, also known as the Eucharist, should "not in any way become a weapon," and denying it should only occur in "extreme cases."
"If you say somebody cannot receive Communion, you are basically doing a judgment that you are in a state of sin," Turkson said in an interview with Axios that aired on HBO on Sunday.
Asked specifically whether "state of sin" applied to Biden, the second Catholic president in the nation's history, Turkson said no.
Turkson heads the Vatican's Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and his comments are the most specific yet about the religiously observant Biden. Pope Francis was asked last month about the divisive issue, and speaking in general terms, said the decision about granting Communion to politicians who support abortion rights should be made from a pastoral point of view, not a political one.
"What should a shepherd do? Be a shepherd and not going around condemning or not condemning," Francis said. "They must be a shepherd with God's style. And God's style is closeness, compassion and tenderness."
While Turkson has no say in the matter, his comments, coupled with Pope Francis's general remarks, send a clear signal to U.S. Catholic bishops about where the Vatican stands on the issue.
In the Axios interview, Turkson was asked for an example of an extreme case and provided the example of a priest denying Communion to a known murderer.
U.S. bishops are scheduled to meet next month and discuss whether to deny Communion to Biden and other Catholic politicians like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., over their support for abortion rights.
In June, the bishops voted 168 to 55 to draft a "teaching document" on the Eucharist, and conservatives hope that the final document can provide the justification for withholding Communion from Biden.
The decision to give Communion to practicing Catholics is up to individual priests, and Cardinal Wilton Gregory, archbishop of Washington, has made it clear that he favors giving Communion to Biden.