ROME—Since the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has been determined to be less vocal than his predecessors on the “culture wars,” once even saying that he didn’t need to talk much about abortion, gay marriage, and so on, because people already “know perfectly well what the Church’s position is.”
Hence, if one calculated an average of how many times each pope talked about abortion in a year, the total for Francis probably would be lower than his two immediate predecessors. However, when he does talk about it he’s often more blunt about it than St. John Paul II or emeritus Pope Benedict XVI ever were.
On Wednesday, during his weekly general audience, he said that it “hurts the soul” to think that a beautiful woman once told him she had an abortion to protect her figure, in language that’s sure not to play especially well in some circles.
All three popes have spoken of the defense of the unborn as a matter of “human rights.”
This is how the Polish pope phrased it: “If the right to life is not defended decisively as a condition for all other rights of the person, all other references to human rights remain deceitful and illusory.”
Benedict, on the other hand, defined the right to life as “the fundamental human right, the presupposition of every other right.” This, he continued, “is true of life from the moment of conception until its natural end. Abortion, consequently, cannot be a human right — it is the very opposite. It is a deep wound in society.”
Francis had a very similar message, but this is how he put it: “The right to life is the first human right. Abortion is killing someone that cannot defend him or herself.”
On multiple occasions, Francis has used even stronger language.
Addressing the Italian Movimento per la Vita in 2014, Francis said that once conceived, life must be protected because “abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.”
Talking to Italian media TV2000 and Blue Radio last November, he called abortion a “grave sin” and a “horrendous crime.” The full quote reads, “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.
When he addressed the Science and Life Association at the Vatican back in 2015, he listed several modern-day attacks on life, with abortion topping the list: “The scourge of abortion is an attack on life. Leaving our brothers on the boats in the Sicilian channel is an attack on life. Death at work is an attack on life because it does not respect the minimal security conditions,” the pope said.
In a different setting, he’s left the “scourge” rhetoric out, but has been equally strong. For instance, addressing the ambassadors accredited to the Holy See in January 2014 he said that not only food and dispensable objects are “thrown away,” but often “human being themselves, who are discarded as ‘unnecessary.’”
“For example, it is frightful even to think there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day; children being used as soldiers, abused and killed in armed conflicts; and children being bought and sold in that terrible form of modern slavery which is human trafficking, which is a crime against humanity,” he said at the time.
In his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, he wrote that unborn children are among those the Church wishes to care for with particular concern, denouncing that presently efforts are being made to “deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this.”
The passage is rather long, but it goes on to say that the Church can’t be expected to change her position on this question and it’s not “progressive to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.”
His encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, released in 2015 and praised in many progressive quarters for Francis’s call to reduce carbon emissions, had an equally pro-life message and a clear warning to those who see global warming as a justification to reducing the world’s (human) population.
In rather blunt terms, the pope argued that concern for the protection of nature is simply “incompatible with the justification of abortion.”
Despite his harsh words on the issue, however, the often dubbed “pope of mercy” lives up to that title when it comes to abortion too. He’s granted every priest the faculties to forgive the sin of abortion, which was the norm throughout the United States but not elsewhere.
Francis has also called for the Church to accompany women who are thinking about terminating their pregnancies and to be supportive of the many who, having had the opportunity to send the baby “back to the sender” decided to go through with the pregnancy despite eventual difficulties.
Yet when it comes to defending life, the pope is not above leaving merciful words behind to get his message across, comparing abortion activists to the Italian Mafia, drawing a parallel between abortion and Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, and asking how “modern” societies can get up in arms over parents spanking their children when they have laws “allowing them to kill their children before they are born.”