«Pope [Francis] is known for his strong defense of the right to life.»
— LifeSiteNews; “Pope surprises, delights 40,000 Italian pro-lifers, joins March for Life”; May 12th 2013
Soon after Pope Francis’ election, LifeSiteNews (one of the most well-known pro-life news outlets) ran a story about how the newly elected pontiff had, in an almost unprecedented way, attended a pro-life march in Rome. The tone with which they described Francis at the time was very optimistic, and they highlighted his pro-life credentials as a cardinal who opposed the legalization of abortion in Argentina.
Sadly, all that optimism has faded away. Nowadays, LifeSiteNews (LSN) gets busy planning webcasts about how the pope is “subverting Catholic tradition… and what we can do to resist his agenda”.
Before that, they created a “Catholic Edition” besides their “Standard Edition” on their site which is highly critical of the Pope. They actively publicize books bashing Francis. They published blog posts accompanied by subliminal pictures reminiscent of comic book supervillains to illustrate the “climate of fear” coming from the Vatican. They interviewed a Protestant scholar who indicted the Pope on being a Protestant instead of a Catholic. They reported that a nude image evocative of the Work of Mercy to clothe the naked, on display some feet away from the Sistine Chapel, was tied to homosexual activism. They even went so far as – I kid you not! – claiming as a bad omen that Francis had scared off a colony of seagulls.
If this seems to you as a desperate way to dig up any possible excuse to make Pope Francis look bad (no matter how much they claim to “love him and pray for him”), then you agree with me. However it is not the purpose of this article to explain the reasons behind this shift on Pope Francis’ LSN coverage… but rather to check if this shift is fair given his actions as a pope. This is important, because many pro-lifers have started to oppose Pope Francis on account of all this bad rep in classical pro-life media.
Also, for the purpose of this specific article, I will disregard all the debate around “consistent life ethic” and “whole life” and use the term “pro-life” on its conventional way: as an adjective attributed to a person or initiative that tries to uphold the unborn child and the terminal patient’s right to life by opposing political measures enshrining in law a putative right to abortion or euthanasia.
However, if I must apply this pro-life definition, then that means I must disregard any accusations against the Pope coming from pro-life media and which do not befall on this category.
If pro-life efforts should be concentrated on abortion and euthanasia, and not on social justice, immigration, the abolition of the death penalty, gun control or healthcare, even if these issues also may take lives and may, in some cases, influence the amount of people who may “choose” abortion and euthanasia…
… then, on the same token, pro-life efforts should be concentrated on abortion and euthanasia and not whether a particular religion allows the divorced and remarried to receive the Eucharist, or whether some religious leader is allegedly subverting tradition… even if pro-lifers may think that it may somehow affect how many people may “choose” abortion and euthanasia. It’s only fair.
In so doing, I will completely ignore any LSN article accusing the Pope on Amoris Laetitia or any other faits divers, like naked nativity scenes or seagulls or whatnot. Especially since, as far as Amoris Laetitia is concerned, we have it already extensively covered in other posts here on Where Peter Is.
(Incredibly, this actually saves me a lot of work. It is quite baffling how pro-lifers who postulate we should focus on abortion are squandering so much time writing about Communion for the divorced and remarried instead of focusing on abortion)
Instead, let us turn our atention specifically on how Pope Francis has dealt with abortion and euthanasia since his election. The first part of this series will cover Francis’ actions, while the second and third parts will cover his teachings on these matters.
LSN has recently provided me a very succinct round-up of Pope Francis’ alleged faults against the pro-life movement.
The first two indictments are concerned with Francis’ teachings, a supposed shift away from abortion and unto other issues. I will deal with those on part 2.
But something is consistent in the remaining five accusations… they are exercises of blame by association. Francis is hanging out with the “wrong” sort of people (just like a certain Messiah two thousand years ago).
So, Francis has praised pro-choice activist Emma Bonino. However, he did not do so on account of her pro-choice stance, but because of her work on building cultural bridges between Africa and Italy.
Exactly for the same reasons, Francis hasn’t appointed Nigel Biggar to the Pontifical Academy for Life because of his views that abortion can be permissible under 18 weeks of pregnancy (even the LSN article admits Nigel stated abortion was not an issue he had considered for a very long time)… but because of his notorious work on the bioethical field opposing euthanasia.
And of course Francis has pushed for the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals because of his consistent concerns on the fight against worldwide poverty, not because of target 3.7 for sexual and reproductive healthcare services, which the Holy See still explicitly decries.
Finally, there are more reasons for Pope Francis to nominate his bishops besides their reputed opposition to the pro-life cause. Just like there are many reasons for him to have demoted Cardinal Burke besides his pro-life advocacy (his soft opposition to the magisterial document Amoris Laetitia comes to mind).
In other words, in none of these charges has Pope Francis embraced abortion or euthanasia… he just supported some people who have pro-choice leanings, but his support was for completely unrelated issues. In short, His Holiness supported them not because of their pro-choice ideology, but in spite of it.
Of course, the pro-life activist may retort that, by acting like this, Francis is indeed harming the pro-life movement, by turning it into a secondary concern, which must always yield to other issues, like social justice and the environment. He may say: “See? Pro-choicers may now receive praise from the Pope. He doesn’t think abortion is such a big deal”.
Well, then we should see if Francis has counterbalanced this by showing that abortion and euthanasia are actually big deals for him. Has the pontiff ever engaged in (pure) pro-life advocacy? Has he ever gone out of his way to fight for the pro-life cause in a visible and public way?
Why yes, in fact he has. Lest we forget, I again remind you of the time when Pope Francis joined the Italian Pro-Life March.
There was also that time when His Holiness, in a way not too different from Rachel’s Vineyards or other pro-life ministries, gave comfort and help to a single mother who was pressured to have an abortion and chose life instead.
Finally, I would like to recall the cases of Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans. The pro-life movement has taken both these cases under its wing… and in both instances the Pope has sided with the pro-life movement, both in words (see here and here) and in deeds.
Please note that, unlike the charges put forth by LSN, these papal actions were directly inspired by his pro-life convictions. They are not something that can be pinned on him only through indirect association with the “wrong kind of people”. As such, I firmly believe these pro-life deeds done by our Pope speak louder than anything his pro-life critics may accuse him of.
However, as papal critics usually remind us, there is a difference between the Pope’s actions and the Pope’s teachings, since the former may be disagreed upon on account of prudential judgment, while the latter mandate the assent of will and intellect from the faithful, even when the Pope does not speak infallibly.
And in fact, the main role of the Pope is not to be a politician or a diplomat (no matter how much good may come out of his stances), but to be a teacher and shepherd to his universal flock, by instructing the Church under his care about the good doctrine.
So, I think we should focus less on what the Pope has done and more on what he has taught. And here, he is even more consistent on his pro-life position. I will address this on the second and third part of this series.
[Photo credits: Osservatore Romano/AFP]
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.