Last week, Live Action President Lila Rose wrote an open letter asking that Pope Francis “continue pray for us and speak out for a culture that truly respects life.” Sadly, it is hard to look at his visit to the United States last week and conclude it was anything other than a lost opportunity for the cause of God’s tiniest children.
In fairness, Francis is unambiguously pro-life, and he did take the time to meet with the Little Sisters of the Poor, targets of the Obama Administration’s persecution campaign against dissenters from his vision of compulsory abortifacient coverage.
But leadership is about more than occasionally saying the right thing that someone can go look up if they’re so inclined. It demands more than just paying attention to the oppressed. In short, more than what we got.
In his speech to Congress, the pope made only one indirect reference to abortion:
The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.
He did not use the words abortion, unborn, preborn, womb, or baby. He did not ask why our government was infringing on the Little Sisters’ religious liberty. He did not mention the slaughter Planned Parenthood has been perpetrating or challenge the president, senators, congressmen, or bureaucrats who protect it, despite his willingness to speak at length about immigration, the environment, U.S.-Cuba relations, economic inequality, and “global abolition of the death penalty,” which he saw fit to specify was a direct application of his above statement while not explicitly discussing abortion.
Pope Francis’s speech to the United Nations gave slightly more acknowledgment to abortion’s victims:
The common home of all men and women must continue to rise on the foundations of a right understanding of universal fraternity and respect for the sacredness of every human life, of every man and every woman, the poor, the elderly, children, the infirm, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic.
But again the word abortion went unmentioned and the issue received no discussion in a speech that did not hesitate to engage a range of lesser political issues, from lecturing financial agencies for “oppressive lending systems” to an extended argument that “a true ‘right of the environment’ does exist” (while leaving an argument for a prenatal right to life to be inferred).
Francis also praised the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as “an important sign of hope”…but did not challenge the body on the Vatican’s own reservations about the document’s talk of “reproductive health,” “reproductive rights,” “contraception,” and “family planning” being used to promote abortion or trample on conscience rights.
The result: a trip that did not wake up more Americans to the injustice happening in front of them, that did not move public opinion closer to life, that did not convince more American Catholics to get off the sidelines, and that did not shame any of abortion’s enablers currently in power.
This is not a matter of nitpicking a pro-life leader who could have done a little better. Yes, we all know Francis is pro-life and has spoken beautifully about protecting children in the womb on other occasions. But you and I were not the important audience last week. Unlike his predecessors, the media likes this pope, widening the reach of whatever he was going to say. His views on other issues have made connections religious leaders don’t normally make, creating an opening in the hearts and minds of people who could have been won over.
Can you imagine if the pope had used his spotlight and position, his bipartisan credibility and goodwill, to pull back the curtain of antiseptic respectability abortion hides behind? To speak clearly and boldly about the evil that we allow to happen every day (on a scale that dwarfs the death penalty), and to unambiguously condemn the decision of Barack Obama and his fellow pro-aborts to protect and promote bloodshed? To tell so many people with blood on their hands, in person, that they are neglecting and rejecting their most basic duty as public servants? Glenn Beck exaggerated a bit when he said “the pope could have ended abortion in America yesterday,” but his underlying point was dead-on:
These Catholics, these people who have been following the doctrine of our church for a long time, have been leading the way and have been waiting for an opportunity and have been waiting and praying, “Dear Lord, help us stop abortion right now!” And the Pope could have said, “And I am an answer to that prayer. I look at you in your eyes right now and tell you, stop the abomination of abortion today.” That opportunity would have been historic.
Instead, not only were our government’s child-slaughter enablers not pressured or shamed for their stance, but the pope’s message was so vanilla that Obama actually concluded he could get away with using it as a talking point for passing a budget that funds Planned Parenthood. Yes, really:
We’ll continue to have significant fights around issues like Planned Parenthood and significant fights around issues like immigration but perhaps the visit by the Holy Father to Congress may have changed hearts and minds […] I would just ask members to really reflect on what his holiness said, not in the particulars, but in the general problem that we should be open to each other, we should not demonize each other, we should not assume that we have a monopoly on the truth or on what’s right, that we listen to each other and show each other respect and that we show regard for the most vulnerable in our society […] I’d like to think that that spirit will continue to permeate Washington for some time to come and I know that in his heart that’s who John Boehner was. It was sometimes hard to execute but as I said, he was a good man and a reasonable man and he’s going to be around for a while. And I hope that we can get things done before he steps down.
Obama may be as arrogant as they come, but not even he would have dared to make those comments if the pope’s message had included, “President Obama needs to stop supporting the murder of children.”
I am grateful for the Catholic Church’s unambiguously pro-life theology, for its role as a force for good throughout history, and for the millions of Catholics whose faith has driven them to fight for the preborn. But there’s a reason pro-abortion leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden have always gotten away with flaunting their rosaries one minute and carrying water for Planned Parenthood the next, and Pope Francis’s visit illustrated it.
It is the difference between God’s clear, infallible word on how we must treat the least among us, and the fallibility of earthly leaders to teach, prioritize, and fight for it – too many of whom have forgotten Christ’s example that cordiality and cooperation must never come at the expense of Truth.