Note: This is part 2 of a 3-part series
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]
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.