Editor’s note (December 30):
Sadly, the Senate of Argentina voted 38-29 earlier today to legalize abortion on demand in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. Please pray for the people of Argentina and for our society. May we experience a conversion of heart so that our culture learns to recognize and respect the value the dignity of all human life, from conception until natural death.
In 2013, before they turned against him due to their ideological opposition, LifeSiteNews lauded Pope Francis for personally attending the Italian March for Life. In their May 2013 article on his appearance at the March, Hillary White—at the time their Rome correspondent—affirmed, “The pope is known for his strong defense of the right to life.” Less than two months after his election to the papacy, this was clearly a reference to his record of defending the unborn in Argentina as archbishop of Buenos Aires.
His record of advocating for the unborn is corroborated by many other sources. For example, in a September 2015 article in the left-leaning newspaper El País, two pro-choice activists are quoted criticizing his record on abortion during his time as archbishop. One of them asserted,[*] “Bergoglio radically opposed abortion, even in cases of rape,” while the other stated, “in Argentina, Bergoglio was a model of conservatism.”
This becomes even more relevant when we bear in mind that legalization of abortion is now at the forefront of Argentine politics. Right now, abortion is only legal in cases of rape or when there is danger to the life of the mother. But on December 11, the Argentine parliament’s lower house passed a bill legalizing abortion-on-demand in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. Tomorrow, December 29, the bill will be brought before the senate for a vote, where hopefully it has a chance to be stopped.
The abortion debate has been raging in Argentina for at least 20 years. According to The Times, this is the ninth attempt to pass such a bill in Argentina, with the most recent legislation stopped in the senate in 2018. Several attempts were made to legalize abortion during Francis’s tenure as archbishop of Buenos Aires. The record shows that Jorge Mario Bergoglio fought tooth and nail against each of those attempts.
Bergoglio and Néstor Kirchner
In 2003, Néstor Kirchner was elected as President of Argentina. Given the traditionally strong cultural and religious influence of the Catholic Church in the country, the newly elected president received the representatives of the Argentine Episcopal Conference a few months later. Among these representatives was Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires.
The meeting did not go well. Though Kirchner lauded the Church for its social services, he also said that it should be “the rector of its [own] thoughts and not the actions of the state.” (La Nación, 07/08/2003). During his presidency, Kirchner would say that—though personally opposed to abortion—he would allow freedom of opinion on this issue. This had a significant impact on his appointments for certain key political positions.
In 2004, Kirchner nominated Carmen Argibay, a militant atheist and feminist, as a Supreme Court Justice. It was the second pro-choice pick of this president for the country’s highest judicial body. Immediately, Bergoglio’s archdiocese reacted through its official spokesman, Rev. Guillermo Marcó, who said, “One is fine, two is excessive.” Marcó added, “I think certain ideological currents go against what the people think, so when one seeks to represent the people, one should not seek individuals representing only a minority sector.”
Justice Argibay would later declare, “My beliefs, or my non-beliefs, do not have anything to do with the function I am going to perform. The State is secular, and so Justice too is secular.” Fr. Marcó, as Bergoglio’s spokesman, replied that abortion “is not a religious issue, but a human rights issue.”
This position—that abortion is not a “religious issue,” but a matter of human rights—is not just Fr. Marcó’s opinion. In fact, this approach to the issue has been a hallmark of Bergoglio’s pro-life advocacy, both during his time in Argentina and during his papacy.
It wasn’t only Kirchner’s supreme court appointments that were given to pro-choice advocates during his presidency. In 2005, he nominated a vocal pro-choice politician as his Minister of Health: Ginés Gonzáles Garcia.
Shortly thereafter, Cardinal Bergoglio said in a speech to catechists, “We must have a look of compassion in the face of the arrogant and disrespectful march of those who, like gurus of groupthink—even from official positions—want to force us to give up our defense of the dignity of the person.”
Later in 2005, Bergoglio gave a homily during a Mass honoring St. Ramón Nonato (“nonato” meaning “unborn” in Spanish), the patron saint of pregnant women. In this homily (translated by LifeSiteNews), Cardinal Bergoglio made a number of bold and provocative statements in defense of the unborn. For example, lamenting the worldview that we now know as the “throwaway culture,” he decried a mentality that thinks, “This child who is on the way is a bother to the family. ‘Oh no, for what? I have no idea. Let’s discard him and return him to the sender.’”
He continued, “That’s what the culture of death preaches. It’s not interested in life. What interests it? Egoism. One is interested in surviving, but not in giving life, caring for life, offering life.” Bergoglio countered with the message of Jesus, who says of human life, “Care for it! I came to bring life, and life in abundance, but care for it! You are going to be surrounded by wolves; you are to be the ones to defend life, to care for life.”
He went on to remind the congregation, “We care for life, because He cares for our life from the womb. We have it in the motto for this year: ‘From the womb you were our protector.’ He cares for us and he teaches us that.”
Blessing a group of people who were designated as “messengers of life”—Catholics who would be going out and bringing pictures of St. Ramón Nonato to people’s homes—the cardinal explained:
Each time the image arrives at a house, it’s not for saying “Oh how lovely! I have it to myself.” Rather it is to remember that I have to struggle for life, to care for life, that there shouldn’t be even one child who doesn’t have the right to be born, there shouldn’t be even one child who doesn’t have the right to be well fed, there shouldn’t even be one child who doesn’t have the right to go to school.
He went on to offer encouragement in the face of so many challenges, so much opposition to the protection of human life and dignity:
Caring for life from the beginning to the end. What a simple thing, what a beautiful thing. Father, is that why there are so many wolves who want to eat us? Is that why, tell me? Who did Jesus kill? No one. He did good things. And how did he end up? If we go down the road of life ugly things can happen to us, but it doesn’t matter. It’s worth it. He first opened the way.
Bergoglio’s stance on the defense of life human dignity would lead Néstor Kirchner to eventually describe the Buenos Aires Archbishop as “the spiritual leader of the political opposition.”
Bergoglio and Cristina Kirchner
In 2007, Néstor’s wife Cristina Kirchner succeeded her husband as president in Argentina. Cristina’s administration was effectively pro-life and her presidency put a temporary halt to the projects proposed by Minister Gonzáles Garcia. Though Cristina and the Catholic Church would still butt heads on certain issues like same-sex marriage, she was able to forge a closer relationship with the Church than her predecessor thanks to her “consistent anti-abortion stance,” according to Argentine social scientist Pablo Gudiño Bessone. She was able to win the confidence of the Argentine Catholic hierarchy, and after Cardinal Bergoglio was elected to the papacy, she even made some political agreements with the Vatican.
But even during Cristina Kirchner’s presidency, the political infighting continued. In 2012, just months before the conclave in which he was elected pope, Cardinal Bergoglio opposed a Supreme Court decision affirming the liceity of abortion in cases of rape. The then-cardinal archbishop remarked, “Laws shape the culture of the people, and legislation that does not protect life favors a ‘culture of death.’” He also criticized the court for having “exceeded its competencies by encouraging the adoption of protocols” that went beyond the ruling.
Pope Francis and current Argentine pro-life advocacy
Bergoglio’s pro-life advocacy in Argentina did not cease when he moved to Rome from his home country. His involvement has been even more active since the Argentine debate on abortion was reignited in 2018 and came to full throttle in 2020, with the approval of this new bill.
On November 18, a network of pro-life women in Argentina sent a letter to Pope Francis (it can be read in its entirety here, in Spanish). These women, residing in poor villas, complained to the Holy Father that they have “never been heard, neither by politicians, nor journalists.” They also lamented that when seeking prenatal care, they are often advised to have abortions—just because they are poor. They express their concern that health officials are perpetuating offensive stereotypes about them. When they refuse to have abortions, they are called names like “poor people factories” and “leeches of the state.” They sent this letter expressing their concerns for their families and their teenage daughters, as they watch the government try to impose a culture in which “their lives are not wanted,” and where their right to have children is not respected because they live in poverty.
It did not take long for them to receive a response from the pope. On November 22, Francis replied to them with a handwritten letter. He directed it to the attention of the deputy Victoria Morales Gorleri. (A picture of the original letter can be found here). This is my translation:
Thank you very much for your letter, as well as the letter from the women. These are women who really know about life. Please tell them that—from my end—I admire their work and testimony, that I thank them with all my heart for all they do, and that I urge them to keep going. The homeland is proud to have women like this.
About the problem of abortion, be reminded that this is not primarily a religious issue, but one that involves human ethics prior to any religious confession. And you would do well to pose these two questions: Is it fair to eliminate a human life to solve a problem? Is it fair to hire a hit man to solve a problem?
Thank you for all you do. Also, do not forget to pray for me. I will do it for you.
This was not the only letter Francis has sent during this political struggle. During a livestream of an Argentine congressional session, Fr. Pepe di Paola, a cura villero (priest who ministers in the slums) and an old acquaintance of Bergoglio, read from a letter that Francis had sent him on this topic. In this letter, Francis said (translation from Crux): “For me the deformation in the understanding of abortion is born mainly in considering it a religious issue … The issue of abortion is not essentially religious. It is a human problem prior to any religious option. The abortion issue must be addressed scientifically.”
According to Fr. di Paola, Pope Francis underlines the word “scientifically” in the letter.
A Human Rights issue
Interestingly, while Francis has frequently used the argument that abortion is a scientific or human rights issue, as opposed to a religious matter, I have seen some papal critics on social media twist this quote out of context to argue that Francis dismisses the Catholic doctrines against abortion. Yet the natural law argument against abortion has long been part of pro-life discourse, as well as the Church’s reasoning. Francis makes this point, of course, to counteract the erroneous idea that the case against abortion is purely based on religious belief. This is not true, of course. Even non-Catholics can appreciate arguments against abortion that are rooted in human rights and natural law.
Papal critics bent on finding fault with Pope Francis at all costs have ignored or dismissed his consistent and uncompromising opposition to abortion. This simply shows that they are disconnected from reality. Still, while there are some scattered English-language reports about Francis’s outspokenness in defense of the unborn, most of the Pope’s pro-life activism on behalf of Argentina has gone unnoticed and unacknowledged in the Anglosphere. LifeSiteNews, which has long abandoned any pretense of honesty in their coverage of the pope, has even gone to the lengths of reporting that “Catholics feel heartbroken that Pope Francis hasn’t spoken up in defense of the unborn where they are now newly threatened: his home country of Argentina.”
Whatever happens in the Argentine senate tomorrow, we can be assured that Francis cares deeply about the plight of the unborn in Argentina and abroad. The attacks against him from (primarily North American) antiabortion media are utterly incomprehensible. This shows just how unreliable they have become due to their ideological bias and partisanship. That they would so relentlessly attack such a faithful pro-life ally as Francis on account of ideological diferences in other political matters speaks volumes as to how much these media really consider abortion a preeminent issue or not.
On this, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, we must pray for Argentina. Let us pray that they may resist the ideological colonization imposed on them from journalists, politicians, and supranational organizations. Let us pray that the people of the beautiful country of Argentina will turn their focus towards promoting policies that defend the dignity of every human person, born and unborn, and that they will provide real solutions for pregnant women who struggle with socio-economic hardship.
It is abundantly clear that Pope Francis would be very pleased with this.
[*] Unless otherwise stated, the translation is my own.
Image: Marcha Por La Vida Argentina Facebook page. Light blue is the color of the pro-life movement in Argentina.
Pedro Gabriel, MD, is a Catholic layman and physician, born and residing in Portugal. He is a medical oncologist, currently employed in a Portuguese public hospital. A published writer of Catholic novels with a Tolkienite flavor, he is also a parish reader and a former catechist. He seeks to better understand the relationship of God and Man by putting the lens on the frailty of the human condition, be it physical and spiritual. He also wishes to provide a fresh perspective of current Church and World affairs from the point of view of a small western European country, highly secularized but also highly Catholic by tradition.