ROME — Often faulted by critics as not being sufficiently clear when it comes to the Church’s negative judgment on abortion, Pope Francis on Sunday couldn’t have been more firm in calling it a “very grave sin” and a “horrendous crime.”
“I was thinking on the attitude of sending the kids back before they’re born, this horrendous crime, they send them back because it’s better like that, because it’s more comfortable, it’s a great responsibility- a very grave sin,” Francis said.
The comments came in an interview with the Italian Catholic media outlets TV2000 and Blu Radio, released on Sunday after the closing of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
His words came as he was remembering two moments of the Holy Year which he found to be particularly memorable, asked specifically about the 12 “Fridays of Mercy.”
The pope talked about two situations: visiting 15 women, survivors of modern day slavery, forced prostitution and exploitation and visiting a hospital ward for new born babies.
In the hospital, Francis was especially touched by the crying of an inconsolable mother, who’d been pregnant with triplets. One of the babies, however, didn’t survive.
“There was this woman who cried, cried, cried in front of her twins… very small, but very beautiful: the third had died,” the pope said, visibly moved by the recollection. “She cried for her dead son, while she caressed the other two. The gift of life.”
It was in this moment, he continued, that he thought about the attitude of “sending the kids back.”
The pope visited the newborn ward of the Roman hospital San Giovani on Friday, September 16.
When meeting the women rescued from human trafficking, Francis said he was particularly moved by the story of a “really beautiful” African woman who’d been abused, forced to work, even as a prostitute, and who’d delivered her baby, alone, in the street.
The newborn didn’t survive.
“They forced her to work even that day…” the pope said, adding that she’d not only been prostituted, but also heavily beaten with wooden sticks.
“And I thought about the men who paid the girls: Don’t they know that with that money, to have some sexual satisfaction, they helped the exploiters?” Francis said.
The fight against human trafficking and modern day slavery are issues with which the Argentine pontiff has long been involved.
Asked about those who in the Church put justice ahead of mercy, Francis said that the two go hand in hand: “In God, justice is merciful and mercy is just… How do you explain this? Go to a theology professor!”
In the end, the pope said, it’s a problem of “moral rigidity,” present in the parable of the Prodigal Son, when the older brother questions the fact that the younger one is welcomed back after spending his inheritance on a life of sin.
“This rigidity is not [from] Jesus,” he said. “[In the Gospel] he so many times admonishes the doctors of the law against rigidity. He uses for them an adjective I wouldn’t want to be used on me: hypocrites.”
In another portion of the interview, which is set to be broadcast on Italian television Sunday night, Pope Francis said that “the greatest enemy of God is money.”
“The devil always enters through the pockets, always,” he said. “It’s his entryway. One must always struggle for a poor Church for the poor, according to the Gospel.”
Francis also spoke about his experience of phoning prisoners, saying that he always feels, “Why them and not me?”
“There can’t be a true punishment that comes without hope,” he said. “If a penalty doesn’t have hope, it’s not a Christian penalty, it’s not human.”
Life imprisonment, the pontiff said, is a “sort of hidden death penalty,” arguing that prisoners should always be given some hope of eventually being reinserted into society.
Francis also said he has an “allergy to adulators,” insisting he prefers criticism to praise.
“To adulate someone is also to use them for your own purposes, whether hidden or visible, but in order to obtain something for yourself,” he said.
“Critics speak badly of me, and I deserve it, because I’m a sinner,” he said. “That doesn’t worry me.”
Earlier in the day, Pope Francis celebrated a Mass to mark the close of the Year of Mercy, telling a crowd estimated at 70,000 people in St. Peter’s Square that “God has no memory of sin” and is always eager to forgive.