For months the US Conference of Catholic Bishops attempted to create rules to deny communion to those faithful who are pro-choice. While they were unsuccessful, Pope Francis stunned the world by ordering all clergy to withhold the sacrament to anti-vaxxers.
Francis, 85, has generally shied away from speaking about vaccination as a “moral obligation,” though his COVID-19 advisors have referred to it as a “moral responsibility.” Rather, Francis has termed vaccination as “an act of love” and that refusing to get inoculated was “suicidal.”
On Monday he went a step further, saying that individuals had a responsibility to care for themselves “and this translates into respect for the health of those around us. Health care is a moral obligation,” he asserted.
The new declaration is controversial. However, defenders of the Pope pointed out it is Catholic doctrine to deny communion to those "obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin." And not getting vaccinated during a pandemic fits that definition perfectly.
Insiders say the pontiff's stance became hardened after considering the plight of the immunocompromised, elderly, and others who are at high risk.
"Pope Francis understands leadership means making tough decisions," Cardinal Andrew Canard said. "Millions of people are dead from the virus. Those who refuse the vaccine are selfish and aren't being good neighbors. They are not following the spirit of Christ."
Many expect Republicans in leadership positions to defend the right to spread COVID-19. Some in the GOP are whispering that they should make their own "American Pope." Would Donald Trump be willing to fill that position? Only time will tell.