Note: This is part 2 of a 3-part series; Click here for part 1 and here for part 3

In part 1, I have talked about how conventional pro-life media, namely LifeSiteNews (LSN) have unfairly attacked the Pope through guilt by association, when His Holiness has demonstrated commitment to the pro-life cause.

But on this article I would wish to focus on the Pope’s contributions to the pro-life movement through his teaching office as the Vicar of Christ, to whom every Catholic owes assent of will and intellect.

It is noteworthy that every single encyclical or apostolic exhortation written by Pope Francis mentions abortion, without exception. Condemnation of euthanasia figures in one of them too.

It’s interesting that the most polemic mention of abortion on an official papal document is also the latest one. This happened many years after a section of the pro-life movement started their anti-Francis campaign, by arguing that he was not pro-life enough for focusing too much in other issues.

«Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection. We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as others look on from afar, living their entire lives in abject poverty.

 We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue. Some Catholics consider it 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, for whom the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children»

 — Gaudete et Exsultate #101-102

Many pro-lifers think that this seems to downplay the importance of abortion relatively to other political problems of the day. However, if it would be so, Pope Francis would not have said that our defense of the unborn should be “clear, firm and passionate”, or that abortion puts the “dignity of a human life” (which is “always sacred”) “at stake”.

What Pope Francis seems to be discussing here is not pro-life activism, but how some may use said activism to oppose Church Social Doctrine in some other issues, namely the humane treatment of migrants. But this is very different from saying that we shouldn’t fight abortion. In fact, such an erroneous interpretation is plainly contradicted by Francis’ call for a “clear, firm and passionate” “defense of the innocent unborn”.

However, the question remains: has Francis made a clear, firm and passionate defense of the innocent unborn, as he urges us to do? Well, let’s see the other papal documents, namely the much defamed Amoris Laetitia (AL):

«The upright consciences of spouses who have been generous in transmitting life may lead them, for sufficiently serious reasons, to limit the number of their children, yet precisely “for the sake of this dignity of conscience, the Church strongly rejects the forced State intervention in favour of contraception, sterilization and even abortion”. Such measures are unacceptable even in places with high birth rates, yet also in countries with disturbingly low birth rates we see politicians en­couraging them. As the bishops of Korea have said, this is “to act in a way that is self-contradic­tory and to neglect one’s duty”.»

— AL #42

Remember when in part 1 Francis was accused by LSN of hosting Paul Erlich, father of the population control movement, on a Vatican conference? Here we can plainly see the Holy Father rejecting population control, therefore distancing himself from Erlich. And he does so on his capacity as binding teacher for the entire Catholic Church. Let’s keep exploring Amoris Laetitia:

«The family protects human life in all its stages, including its last. Consequently, “those who work in healthcare facilities are reminded of the moral duty of conscientious objection.»

— AL #83


«It is important to insist that legislation help facili­tate the adoption process, above all in the case of unwanted children, in order to prevent their abortion or abandonment.»

— AL #179

Also in Amoris Laetitia we find evident condemnations of the practice of euthanasia:

«Euthanasia and assisted suicide are serious threats to families worldwide »

— AL #48


«Similarly, the Church not only feels the urgency to assert the right to a natural death, without aggressive treatment and euthanasia”, but likewise “firmly rejects the death penalty»

— AL #83

It is a shame that many in the pro-life movement in general and LSN in particular have decided to focus themselves so much on the completely unrelated issue of whether divorced and remarried can receive Communion. Instead of bashing the apostolic exhortation on this, they should be bringing up attention to these awesome quotes.

Then we have the encyclical Laudato Si (LS) which was also chided by pro-life sectors because it fostered concern for the environment and anthropogenic climate change, since those issues are viewed as closer to pro-choice political parties. However, even here, Pope Francis talked unfavorably of those who use pro-environmental activism to promote a kind of population control that relies on abortion:

«Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away»

 — LS #120

Please note how integrating all issues into a single consistent ethic doesn’t always turn out as a weakening of the importance of abortion relatively to other problems. In this instance, the seamless garment strengthens the importance of abortion. Just like Pope Francis taught many pro-lifers in Gaudete et Exsultate (GE) that they shouldn’t use abortion to justify disregarding the Church’s teaching on immigration, here we see Francis teaching the environmentalists, using the exact same logic (“since everything is interrelated”), that they cannot pit the defense of the planet against the unborn child.

Finally, we have the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, which states on #213-214:

«Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this. Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative. Yet this defence of unborn life is closely linked to the defence of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems. Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defence of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be. Reason alone is sufficient to recognize the inviolable value of each single human life, but if we also look at the issue from the standpoint of faith, “every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out in vengeance to God and is an offence against the creator of the individual”.

Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question. I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or “modernizations”. It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.»

Francis’ pro-life stances are not, however, limited to his encyclicals or apostolic exhortations. There is a wealth of speeches and letters where the Holy Father has advocated for the rights of the unborn child. I will talk about them on part 3 of this series.

[Photo credit: Osservatore Romano]

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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.

Pope Francis, pro-life champion (part 2)

10 Responses

  1. Yaya says:

    “Francis’ pro-life stances are not, however, limited to his encyclicals or apostolic exhortations. There is a wealth of speeches and letters where the Holy Father has advocated for the rights of the unborn child”

    And thus these truths will stand the test of time regardless of all the bashing of our Holy Father.

    Viva il Papa!

  2. Christopher Lake says:

    Thank you for this series, Pedro. As you are showing, there is much solid evidence, throughout the Papacy of Francis, of his strong advocacy for the lives of the unborn.

    Sometimes, though, I wonder just exactly what would be necessary to reassure some of his persistent critics that he *is* passionately pro-life, or that he *does* believe in, and preach about, the reality of Hell, or that he *does* consistently call sinners to repentance, and so on.

    On that latter point, a few years ago, I had many online exchanges with a fellow Catholic who repeatedly, in more than one forum, stated that Pope Francis was always talking about mercy, but that he did not seem to think it important to remind us of the need for repentance. Several times, I provided basically incontrovertible evidence, for this fellow Catholic, of times when Francis *did, strongly*, call sinners (me, you, all of us) to repentance, and when he also made it clear that it is repentance which helps us to *experience* God’s mercy.

    Again, these online discussions, with the aforementioned fellow Catholic, happened years ago. Recently, I visited a very solid, orthodox, “pro-Francis” Catholic blog that I hadn’t perused in some time… and I saw this fellow Catholic, in the comments sections for new blog entries, *still stating* that this Pope doesn’t call sinners to repentance, and that he seemingly advocates for God’s mercy *without* our repentance being a part of the equation.

    I was saddened, partially because I just hate to see fellow Catholics unfairly criticizing the Pope with no legitimate basis, but also because I had provided this person with *so much evidence* that Francis was actually “on his side,” so to speak (because the Pope is Catholic!!), on the matters which concerned him so much… and yet, he continued to persist in believing, and openly stating, that Francis is apparently pro-mercy and anti-repentance.

    For some critics of this Pope, it seems that no amount of evidence is sufficient to convince them that he is faithfully Catholic in his thinking and teaching. Perhaps part of the problem is that it can simply be hard to let go of a narrative, if one has strongly held onto it for a number of years?

    I’ve been there myself, so I have some understanding of what it can be like. For several years, I was a very strongly anti-Catholic Protestant who had left the Catholic Church and found myself in ecclesial circles where it was believed that the Church had, long ago, forsaken the “true, Biblical Gospel, and that, therefore, faithful Catholics were not even Christians. I became so convinced by this narrative and shared it with others, even helping to convince at least one Catholic to leave the Church. This narrative was literally as much a part of my life, at this time, as was Christ Himself.

    For various reasons, though, over a period of time, this narrative was strongly challenged– and it terrified me. I even wondered if Satan were possibly trying to deceive me. I finally encountered so much evidence that not only was the Catholic Church Christian, but that she was actually the original Church that Christ founded, that I had to let go of my long-held anti-Catholic narrative, and return to her– but it was not easy. There was much personal pain, loss, and humiliation involved.

    For this reason, I can understand, to a degree, how at least some anti-Francis critics might not *want* to let go of their negative narratives about him, even when given clear, strong evidence which refutes those narratives.

    • Pedro Gabriel says:

      Confirmation bias is a very human thing, but it’s also an error. Unfortunately, people prefer simplistic interpretations of reality with which they are comfortable with instead of letting themselves be guided to wherever Truth may take them, even if it is a place they don’t know.

  3. carn says:

    It would be nice, if you could the – in my eyes – the “elephant in the room”:

    1. If there are no intrinsic evil actions, then abortion would sometimes in very, very dire circumstances be morally ok.

    2. The Pope declined to answer dubia 2 and 5, which effectively ask whether there are instrinsic evil actions.


    There is with some people some doubt, that the Pope considers to be abortion always and ever forbidden under any circumstances.

    • Pedro Gabriel says:

      The fact that the Pope doesn’t answer dubia 2 and 5 does not mean he doesn’t think there are not intrinsically evil actions. There are many reasons not to answer the dubia, namely the way they were presented to him so as to force him to renounce his clear intention: to allow some divorced and remarried to receive Communion is some circumstances.

      There is no “elephant in the room” but this one… Pope Francis has consistently spoke against abortion and many people will not accept it. We should form our opinions out of facts (like the Pope’s clear words here) instead of inferring intentions out of dubious contexts for which we do not have all the information (why has the Pope not answered the dubia)

      • carn says:

        “The fact that the Pope doesn’t answer dubia 2 and 5 does not mean he doesn’t think there are not intrinsically evil actions.”

        But it seems to make many people hesitant to actually say that there are intrinsic evil actions; got thrown out of some online places just for trying to get confirmation that there are intrinsic evil actions.

        “Pope Francis has consistently spoke against abortion and many people will not accept it.”

        But what he – at least as far as i know – was ever say that certain (defined) actions are always to be avoided no matter what (he does decry some things in that way, but these is usually not clearly defined stuff).

        And – probably you will not believe me as nobody ever seems to do – that it would be helpful for me personal to get an answer to dubia 2 and 5; the other dubia i do not care about.

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        First, let me assure you, I’m as faithful to Pope Francis as I am to Pope St. John Paul II. So I do think there are intrinsically evil actions. One of them is abortion.

        However, the dubia were put in place in a context different from abortion. They were asked in the context of remarriage after divorce.

        As I told you, you will not get answers from Francis to the dubia, be it no. 2, no. 5 or any other.

        However, we can read in Amoris Laetitia that Pope Francis does think that divorce is always evil.

        In Amoris Laetitia #291 we have: “The Synod Fathers stated that, although the Church realizes that any breach of the marriage bond “is against the will of God”, she is also “conscious of the frailty of many of her children””

        Pope Francis wishes to focus himself (as he does throughout Chapter 8) on the frailty of people in irregular situations and to ascertain the mitigating factors that may interfere with their subjective guilt, so as to know the best way to integrate them on the life of the Church.

        But still, Francis on this quote approves of the Synod Fathers statement that “any breach against of the marriage bond is against the will of God”. Hence, always evil.

      • carn says:

        Thanks, but that irritates me slightly.

        Because civil divorce was to my knowledge never considered to be an intrinsic evil.

        What was to my knowledge considered to be an intrinsic evil was being intimate with someone not the spouse one is married with before God.

        To make a blunt example, A and B married and also having the respective civil papers; A has anger issue, hits B often, etc., therefore B seperates and due to the good of the children files a civil divorce; so far B did nothing intrinsic evil.

        B gets to know C, they “marry” before the state, cause having C at her side legally is good for the children; still nothing intrinsic evil.

        B and C get intimate; that – at least to my understanding – might fall under intrinsic evil.

        C also develops anger issue, B again files a civil divorce; this is again not intrinsic evil; it might be prudent for her and her children.

        A meanwhile learned to overcome his anger issues; A and B decide to try it again and start living together, but do not yet have a civil “remarriage”; nothing intrinsic evil there, just husband and wife living together.

        A and B get intimate; again nothing intrinsic evil, presuming A and B had a marriage before God; that they do not yet have their civil papers does not change their status before God, so they being intimate is not intrinsic evil.

        Of course, having again a civil “marriage” would probably be a good idea.

        I know this is simplistic, blunt, heartless, without mercy, etc.

        But it seems that it is correct, at least until AL.

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        You’re technically correct, and I’m sorry if I was not precise enough. My comment was to answer your charge that Pope Francis doesn’t seem to think there are intrinsically evil acts. Pope Francis seems to think that a “breach on the marital bond” is always against the “will of God”. This should, in turn, direct you to try to find an intepretation of Amoris Laetitia that doesn’t doubt that Pope thinks there are no intrinsically evil acts, or that he thinks divorce and remarriage are sometimes justifiable, but to accept instead the explanations concerning mitigated guilt which are perfectly sound and don’t put his orthodoxy in question.

      • carn says:

        “My comment was to answer your charge that Pope Francis doesn’t seem to think there are intrinsically evil acts.”

        I am sorry, that i was perceived as my charge.

        My perspective with all this is mostly from some prolife work i try to do.

        It is sort of a battlefield with various actors with agendas fighting various other actors with agendas, the agendas being anything from pure prolife to pure proabort to a wild mixture.

        And for my personal task i try to guess/understand to what extent some actors can be allies and to what extent adversaries.

        One pattern i see quite consistently:

        Whoever is fond of the approach by Pope Francis regarding various issues tends to be more a potential adversary and tends to be less a potential ally.

        And the other way round, whoever is reserved about this tends to more a potential ally. (And especially people praying rosaries before abortion clinics are rock-solid allies, if they understand the quite complicated thing i try to do)

        Which irritates me a lot and i am trying to understand the underlying reasons; so not so much an issue with the Pope but with the way his words seem to be perceived on “my” battlefield.

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