Pope Francis last week pointed to the church's teaching as well as to science in condemning abortion as "murder," although he also urged the church to be "compassionate" on the issue.
The pope made the remarks during a flight from Slovakia to Rome in which he discussed multiple issues, including abortion and same-sex marriage. On both issues, he held to the church's traditional position, according to the Vatican's communications arm.
"Abortion is murder: the church cannot change its position," the pope said. He added, "Whoever has an abortion, kills. No mincing words."
"Take any book on embryology for medical students," he said. "The third week after conception, all the organs are already there, even the DNA. … it is a human life, this human life must be respected, this principle is so clear! To those who cannot understand, I would ask this question: Is it right to kill a human life to solve a problem? Is it right to hire a hitman to kill a human life? Scientifically, it is a human life. Is it right to take it out to solve a problem? That is why the church is so harsh on this issue, because if it accepts this, it is as if it accepts daily murder."
Pope Francis referenced an unnamed head of state who told him that the country's demographic decline began when abortion became popular.
The pope's comments on abortion were in response to a question about offering communion to politicians who are pro-choice.
"I have never refused the Eucharist to anyone," the pope said. "... Communion is not a prize for the perfect. … Communion is a gift, a present – it is the presence of Jesus in the church and in the community."
He also urged pastors to practice "closeness, compassion and tenderness" with individuals on the issue.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis said he opposes the recognition of same-sex marriage.
"Marriage is a sacrament, the church has no power to change the sacraments as the Lord has instituted them," he said. "... The Lord is good, He desires the salvation of all, but please, don't make the church deny her truth. Many people with a homosexual orientation approach penance, they seek counsel from the priest, the church helps them, but the sacrament of marriage is something else."
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Giulio Origlia/Stringer
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.