Dear Pope Francis,
I love you and what you have done for the Church.
Following popes like St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and especially reforming a poisonous curial culture built up over many years, were nearly impossible jobs. You are off to a wonderful start.
As a moral theologian, and especially one who focuses on bioethics, I was particularly heartened when very early on you signaled a resistance to the tendency of many Catholic thinkers (though not your predecessors) to single out abortion as separate from the rest of Catholic moral theology:
“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion….This is not possible…it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards.”
Contrary to the way the media covered it, this did not mean that you stopped talking about abortion. On the contrary, as I’ve mentioned here at Crux in a previous piece, the day after making these remarks you used powerful language condemning abortion in a speech to a number of OB-GYN physicians in Rome.
“Every unborn child, though unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of the Lord,” you said.
You have tweeted about abortion:
It is God who gives life. Let us respect and love human life, especially vulnerable life in a mother’s womb.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) May 15, 2013
In these and other cases, you have been at pains to contextualize abortion within your “new balance.” Indeed, when speaking out against abortion quite strongly in Evangelii gaudium, you said that the Church cannot change its teaching “precisely because” of “the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person.”
For the better part of four years you have been very successful in trying to highlight abortion within the context of our throw-away culture. No one who pays attention to your explication of Catholic teaching could possibly dismiss your concern as “pro-birth rather than pro-life.” This was an essential course correction for our pro-life movement.
But one downside of always putting abortion in the context of other issues is that it allows everyday folks to proceed without a sense of urgency to act on behalf of the Holy Innocents slaughtered by the millions.
If abortion is just one of many issues on which to focus, then this allows the Father of Lies to keep good people—often deeply uncomfortable with abortion—from acting on behalf of prenatal children.
Though abortion is intrinsically connected to other issues, it requires a unique sense of urgency. This is not just because its nearly unimaginable evil (millions of children killed plus millions of women coerced into situations which make killing their children seem like the least bad option), but because of shifts in how Western culture especially is thinking about abortion.
Debates about abortion in our culture used to be very much like debates about issues like war and poverty. We knew that it was bad, but we disagreed about the best way to limit it and how much we will “always have with us.”
That is no longer the case. Abortion-rights extremists have gained power in many high places, including within the Democratic party of the United States. Their platform now insists abortion-rights are central to the flourishing of every woman, man, and child on the planet.
Abortion, once thought an evil to be limited, is now in many circles becoming a social good to be promoted. Indeed, big money in the United States is currently being used in a neocolonial attempt to promote abortion around the world.
Your predecessors were better able to speak to those who, for lack of a better word, were more theologically and politically “conservative.” Your approach, however, can reach people with different political views. You can be heard on abortion by those who normally shut out the pro-life movement as politically- and theologically-“other.”
This is why, Pope Francis, I beg of you to have a new sense of urgency in highlighting the mass slaughter of Holy Innocents via abortion. We are at a cultural turning point in the developed West on this question—and the conclusions we come to will continue to be imposed on other cultures.
One place to begin might be in advance of the March for Life in the United States next week. Hundreds of thousands of Americans will once again march to raise awareness of the social justice issue of our day, but media will pay little attention and even intentionally downplay our numbers.
Your standing with media and other gate-keepers of our discourse puts you in a unique position to speak up for voiceless and vulnerable prenatal children. You have offered good words for the March before, but the blood of these children cries out for all of us to do more.
May God continue to bless your ministry—particularly when pointing to the face of Christ in those our culture chooses to throw-away.
Charles C. Camosy is Associate Professor of Theological and Social Ethics at Fordham University and author of Beyond the Abortion Wars.