FAUSTO GOMEZ OP
After the election of Pope Francis, many people throughout the world expected profound changes in the Church, in particular on the divisive issue of birth control, including abortion. In a previous piece, the author considered the teaching of the Church on abortion today. In this second text, he presents the specific teaching of Pope Francis on abortion.
According to the secular press and some theologians and social activists, the Church appears to focus more on specific issues of sexual ethics than on concern for social ethics. Be that as it may, it is easy to prove that the Church in most countries is likewise focusing on the problems related to forced poverty. In fact, it is no exaggeration to affirm that as an institution the Church is – with others, but of course – among the first in working really for and with the poor. The face of the Church throughout the world is in general caritas. The teaching of the Church underlines not only her opposition to abortion but also her commitment to social justice and mercy: the social teachings of the Church are definitely pro-poor, and so is unmistakably Pope Francis from his first authoritative text Evangelii Gaudium (2013) to the last, Amoris Laetitia (2016). Needless to say that the Church, that is, members of the Church (priests, religious and lay persons), and many others continue failing regarding the practice of the Church’s teaching.
Concerns for sexual ethics and for social justice and peace are necessarily connected: “Only respect for life can be the foundation and guarantee of the most precious and essential goods of society, such as democracy and peace” (John Paul II, EV 101). Pope Benedict XVI says that one cannot separate sexual ethics from social ethics, because the issues are intertwined: “Only if human life from conception until death is respected is the ethic of peace possible and credible; only then may nonviolence be expressed in every direction; only then can we truly accept creation and only then can we achieve true justice” (Meeting with Bishops from Switzerland: November 9, 2006; cf. Id., Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, 2009, 15). Pope Francis states: “This defense (of the Church) of unborn life is closely linked to the defense 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” (EG 213).
Since the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis is focusing on the option for the poor. This option for or commitment to the poor includes necessarily the unborn children, who are the most defenseless. Before his election as Pope, the then cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was, of course, openly against abortion. Likewise, after his election. Cardinal Bergoglio’s words: “The pregnant woman doesn’t carry a toothbrush in her womb or a tumor. Science teaches that from the moment of conception, the new being has all the genetic code. It’s impressive. It’s not, therefore, a religious question but clearly a moral one, based on science” (Quoted in book Pope Francis. Conversations with Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 2010 and 2012).
Furthermore, Pope Francis proclaims: “The first right of the human person is his life”; “Every unborn child, condemned unjustly to be aborted, has the face of the Lord, who before being born, experienced the rejection of the world” (Message to International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations; September 20, 2013). “Among the vulnerable, who the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern, are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us” (EG 213).
Pope Francis has called abortion a symptom of a “throwaway culture” that places too little value on human life. It is “frightful” to think about early pregnancy terminations. “It is horrific even to think that there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day” (cf. Address to Diplomats Accredited to the Vatican, January 14, 2014). “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 ‘modernization’. It is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life” (EG 214). Pope Francis adds: “Christ dwelt for nine months in the tabernacle of Mary’s womb” (EG 285).
In an Address to the Italian Pro-Life Movement, Pope Francis affirms: “We know it: human life is sacred and inviolable. Every civil right rests on the recognition of the first and fundamental right of life, which is not subordinated to any condition, either qualitative or economic and least of all ideological.” The Argentinian Pope adds: “For one who is a Christian, this evangelical witness must always be given: to protect life with courage and love in all its phases” (April 11, 2014).
On April 25, 2014, Pope Francis spoke to a group of African bishops thus: “Abortion compounds the grief of many women who now carry with them deep physical and spiritual wounds after succumbing to the pressures of a secular culture which devalues God’s gift of sexuality and the right to life of the unborn.” “Looking at the Child Jesus, my thought is directed to all the children that today are killed or maltreated, including those who will not see the light, robbed of the generous love of their parents, buried by the selfishness of a culture that does not love life…”(Pope Francis: “Urbi et Orbi,” Dec. 25, 2014, and Homily, Dec. 24, 2016).
In his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis reaffirms with clear and strong words the Church’s rejection of abortion: “So great is the value of human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb, that no alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life, which is an end in itself and which can never be considered ‘property’ of another human being” (AL 83). In his Apostolic Letter Misericordia et Misera (November 20, 2016) closing the Holy Year of Mercy the Pope affirms: “I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life” (MM 12, # 1). This is one side of the coin (true doctrine). The other side (merciful compassion) which completes the picture is worded by Pope Francis thus: “In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father”(MM 12, # 1). By the way, since November 20, 2016, the grave sin of abortion can be forgiven by every priest (MM 12, # 1).
Pope Francis is also very much concerned with the plight of women who have had an abortion or might be thinking of aborting the child in their womb. He said to the Italian Pro-Life Movement: “I encourage you to do so (to protect life) always with the style of closeness, of proximity: so that every woman feels regarded as a person, heard, received and supported.”
The acceptance and practice of abortion introduce us into a tunnel. Sooner or later we will realize that unless we get out of the tunnel, there will be no scape: after abortion, euthanasia, after euthanasia, eugenics of different kinds: the slippery slope of a culture of death. As human beings, as Christians, we can do something against the tide of the culture of death. We may light a candle: you and me, and the other and the other. We are a family, which is a community of life and love. As Christians in particular, we are asked to show priority love to the poor and defenseless. We remember the words that Christ the Lord will hopefully address to each one of us after crossing the passage of death: “Come in… for “what you did to the least of my brothers and sisters you did it to me” (cf. Mt, 25:31-46).
May I humbly ask Catholics, my dear brothers and sisters, to please try not to be “Cafeteria Catholics”: those who among us seem to believe what we like only – what is easy! All of us love and praise to the heavens Pope Francis, but some of us keep quiet perhaps on what we do not like – such as his sayings against abortion or against capitalism or against consumerism or against corruption or his insistence on the need of prayer or …
As human beings and as believers, we believe in life and justice, in prayer and compassion. We truly believe in faithful, loving and prayerful hope. We strongly believe that tomorrow will be better, because today we try hard to put love in all we do – to light a candle for life!
(Published by O Clarim, March 24, 2017)