“Some Catholics consider it [migrants] a secondary issue compared to the ‘grave’ bioethical questions. That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian…” ~ Pope Francis
Deal Hudson doesn’t think Pope Francis should equate caring for immigrants with abortion. He takes issue with Pope Francis’s words in Gaudete et Exsultate that: “Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned.”
His problem isn’t merely with Pope Francis though, because Pope John Paul II said similar things in his encyclical on life, Evangelium Vitae. For example:
Where life is involved, the service of charity must be profoundly consistent. It cannot tolerate bias and discrimination, for human life is sacred and inviolable at every stage and in every situation; it is an indivisible good. We need then to “show care” for all life and for the life of everyone. Indeed, at an even deeper level, we need to go to the very roots of life and love.
Hudson boasts that Catholic voters have ignored the bishops on this issue.
‘In 2016, Catholic voters rocked the liberal, Democrat-aligned, Catholic establishment by ignoring the nonstop attacks on Trump and his “wall” by Catholic bishops, priests, nuns, professors, and journalists. Indeed, their voices chimed in with the same message throughout the campaign: Immigration is a “life issue,” putting it on par with the defense of innocent life. Pope Francis now seeks to codify that message. But it won’t succeed..’
It won’t succeed because Hudson thinks there’s a basic “moral problem” with the pope (and the Church) allowing immigration to be or to become a life issue. Hudson describes it like this.
His [Pope Francis] apostolic exhortation ignores the basic moral problem in equating immigration with abortion: prudential judgment. Any Catholic’s opinion and action on what the bishops have called “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us” has no single answer.
Do we support the “catch and release” ordered by President Obama? Do we support enforcing our laws pertaining to entering the United States? Do we build walls? No church teaching obligates a Catholic to a specific answer to these questions of public policy.
On the other hand, the question about whether to abort or not to abort has only one answer — no. Abortion is not a prudential matter. Some have called it one of the “non-negotiables,” others a “settled issue,” but the moral difference is clear.
So Hudson is accusing the pope of making a false equivalency between things that are prudential and things that not. This is a fallacious but common argument that we are bound to see again and again in this election year. What Hudson fails to mention is that abortion too has its prudential dimension. How should society deal with the problem of abortion? Should it be illegal or reluctantly tolerated to avoid greater evils? If it’s illegal, then who do we punish? Some would like to punish the mother, others want to punish only the doctors. And what should the punishment be? Jail time? Capital punishment? Nothing? The answers to these questions have no single answer.
Likewise, immigration has its non-negotiables, its intrinsic evils, questions to which the only answer is NO. A deliberate policy of traumatizing children and families because it brings the president negotiating leverage and frightens would-be migrants is also “non-negotiable”. You don’t torture children and parents because it’s an efficient deterrent, that’s intrinsically evil. The question about whether to torture children or not to torture children is always the same – no. Hudson compares apples to oranges by selectively comparing the prudential areas of immigration to the non-prudential aspect of abortion while ignoring the fact that there are also non-prudential aspects to immigration as well.
Furthermore, Hudson is the one making the false equivalency because voting is also a prudential judgement. The evilness of the act of abortion may be non-negotiable, but whether or not to vote for a politician that has the wrong opinion about abortion is not (Ratzinger affirmed that the Catholic voter could in good conscience vote for a pro-choice politician according to the principle of remote material cooperation with evil). The act of abortion is one thing, how we deal with the social problem of abortion, and how voters strategically vote for the common good is another – these last two things are quite negotiable and capable of many different answers. So Hudson’s argument is empty.
Hudson says the claim the Pope is trying to make cannot be rationally defended. Well, when people flee violence in their home country, like the Holy Family did fleeing the persecution of Herod by migrating to Egypt, it certainly doesn’t seem irrational to care with a “profound consistency” for the safety of children at home, at the border, and in the womb. A threat is a threat. A danger is a danger regardless of the location of the child, or if the border between life and death is geographical or biological. The only thing that is irrational is drawing a line absolutely and arbitrarily with “life” on one side and “immigration” on the other.
Would it help or hinder the cause of protecting the unborn children if we stand in the shoes of these brothers and sisters of ours? Would we be more or less sympathetic with the plight of the children in the womb if we cared a little about the plight of children at the border? Is sympathy for the weakest members of society even the goal? No, consistency is of the essence of both rationality and of witness to the value of these children.
Hudson is right though that Pope Francis understands well the political motivations for attacking the equal sacredness of human life. There are those that use “life” to gather votes for politicians. But that is not the way of Christians.
Husband and father of six, idea-tinkerer, failed graduate student, amateur pianist. Used to live amongst the Christmas trees, now lives surrounded by cacti and coyotes. Brian is a co-conspirator of Where Peter Is.