On the eve of the next papal conclave, it seems fitting to reflect on the immense light that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has been for the life movement. The Holy Father exercised great influence with his support for authentic marriage and solid family life.
John Smeaton, the director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, stated after the announcement of Pope Benedict’s resignation:
On behalf of SPUC, I wish to express our gratitude to Pope Benedict for the many times in which he linked the protection of human life with defending the family based on authentic marriage and with the proper use of sexuality[.] … [I]n 2008 he linked ‘concern for human life’ with ‘responsible conjugal love’, in a statement marking the 40th anniversary of ‘Humanae Vitae’, Pope Paul VI’s encyclical against contraception. Pope Benedict’s statements were wake-up calls to the whole pro-life movement[.]
Understanding the importance of changing hearts and minds, Pope Benedict tirelessly proclaimed the message of unity in relationships. This is important because – as countless testimonies attest – abortion decisions often stem from brokenness in family and interpersonal relationships: a disconnect between girlfriend and boyfriend, or a pregnant teen who doesn’t see eye-to-eye with her parents. Pope Benedict recognized that solidity in relationships directly correlates with decisions about life (and death, as is the case with abortion).
When a young woman has support in her life, these healthy relationships are a strong foundation upon which she may choose life. Speaking of women as “messengers of love, models of mercy[,] and peacemakers,” Pope Benedict acknowledged the dignity of a woman’s call to love, and this call is manifested uniquely in motherhood. He acknowledged that “[t]he fundamental human right, the presupposition of every other right, is the right to life itself.” It is of great importance, therefore, that a woman have the support that allows her to focus attention on being a “messenger of love” as a mother and life-giver in particular, and this support comes from the people around her.
In a society in which so many young women find themselves faced with unplanned pregnancies that are crises because their male counterparts or families are not present with the support they need, the need to foster authentic family life and healthy relationships is imperative. We owe a debt of gratitude to Benedict XVI for being a voice for mothers, couples, and families looking for authentic love and fostering life in a broken world.