So the Pope spoke to Congress yesterday and the righties of St. Blogs are going mad because, just like Benedict XVI addressing European Parliamentarians, he never mentioned the word abortion. But, of course, since he’s Francis and not Benedict, we are to conclude that this makes him (I am not making this up) the worst Pope since Alexander VI as well as Che Guevara’s Pope according to the not-at-all-unhinged assessment of the Rightwingosphere. Moral: If you say, ““The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development” nobody will understand that the Church still opposes abortion.
And so the Rightwingsophere is awash with outrage today because the Pope, in the ear of the Right “failed to mention abortion”.
Yet strangely, the ears on the Left had no difficulty hearing his mention of abortion and are under no illusion that he has somehow changed the Church’s teaching on the matter. Indeed, some on the Left are still furious at him for saying that there is any sin to forgive at all.
So why is it that Francis, doing the same thing Benedict did, is The Worst Pope Since Alexander VI?
I would submit it’s because of the other things he spoke about, and the fact that he upsets a treasured Movement Conservative strategy: the use of the unborn as human shields for its *real* policy goals.
The standard strategy for years has been to appeal to abortion and the other five “non-negotiables” as being the putative “core values” of American Movement Conservatism. But, in fact, they are not and the way you can see this is that Movement Conservatism spends very little time and energy on them while focusing its real energies on militarism, Mammon, fighting the Refugee Menace, gun rights, the death penalty, and the struggle to oppose anything to do with climate change.
Now these things are, as the Right *never* tires of saying “prudential judgements”, it’s true: things we can “agree to disagree about”. In short, there is room for give and take on them, while there is no room at all for give and take on the taking of innocent human life.
So: if that is true, why is there absolutely no give on the Right to the pope’s remarks on these things? If abortion is *really* the Pearl of Great Price, why not just go ahead and trust the pope’s prudential judgment on these matters (at least sometimes), get them out of the way, and then use the political leverage gained by that to really put the screws on the Left about abortion. The pope, with his consistent ethic of life, appears to do exactly this, according to Michael Sean Winters. And it would appear to be a strategy at least worth trying–if one is actually serious about abortion as a non-negotiable.
This brings us to the next point: The case for the superior prudence of American Movement Conservatism over that of the Magisterium is *severely* impaired. American Movement Conservative history over the past decade is littered with the wreckage of visible-from-space stupid judgment calls. Only a fool would trust its judgments when it directly opposes (as it so often does) the clear guidance of the Church. And the more shrill and hysterical it gets with cries of “Worst Pope Since Alexander VI!” and “Che Guevara’s Pope” the more certain we can be that trusting such voices is as smart as valorizing Cliven Bundy, backing John Corapi against his bishop, spending a decade cheering for Catholic defenses of torture and a foolish war, spending years obsessing over Obama’s birth certificate, or adoring Donald Trump.
We prolifers seem to me to have increasingly fallen prey to a kind of in-group thinking in which we have forgotten the goal: persuading hearts and minds to change their thinking on abortion. The reaction to the Pope’s Congressional speech from the right seems to me to be a perfect illustration of this. The pope did not (and in fact cannot) back down an inch on the bleedin’ obvious teaching of the Church on abortion. The Left got the message loud and clear. What he did, in fact, was say “Be *more* prolife” by insisting on protection of all human life and (as a reader astutely put it) appealing to the conscience Congress has rather than the conscience Congress does not yet have. His appeal was to “the better angels of our nature” and a very typical Catholic pastoral strategy: ask the penitent to do the next thing he can bring himself to do, not to perform seven herculean feats he cannot yet do to prove his sanctity.
But what we on the Right wanted was not really change in Congress. What we wanted was for the pope to pass a litmus test, make a loyalty oath, and speak the correct shibboleth so that he could prove to our skeptical, judgmental, and way more pure than him selves that he is One of Us. We reduced the word “abortion” to a password and when he failed to say it, we found him wanting, because the goal was not to present the full-orbed teaching of the Church, but to chew out liberals and expel them from the Fortress of Purity. And so, when Francis failed to do that, the internet crackled with anger because the pope, in addition to calling for respect for the unborn, also condemned the death penalty (which we should actually be supporting, despite what the Church says) and asked Congress to do something about that. There was fury over the immigrant issue which, despite being a supposed “prudential judgement”, is actually patient of only one response: go back where you cam from, invader. His words on the poor and the environment and violence were, likewise, sternly rebuffed, not considered as something people of good will can perhaps bend on for the sake of the *real* core issue of abortion. In short, it was not that the pope didn’t see abortion as a core issue: it is that the Right sees refusal to compromise on these supposed “prudential judgments” as the real core issue.
At every turn, the approach is never, “How might we compromise so that we can get past this to the *real* core issue of abortion?” It is always “We will never compromise on these issues, but you have to vote for us or the baby gets it.” It’s a strategy that has worked for Movement Conservatism for thirty years–and has consistently failed the prolife movement for thirty years. Yesterday, the pope mapped out a different strategy, and it seems worth trying rather than simply repeating more failure.
We can do better. Be *more* prolife.