On Facebook there’s a funny little guy who runs around interrogating people on whether they agree with John Paul II that abortion is just like the Holocaust. He’s a self-appointed Inquisitor who seems to think that it’s not enough to accept Church teaching that abortion is a grave sin; you must also accept a particular metaphor, or historical comparison, one pope used to describe it. Even the metaphors are infallible on this topic. If you reject them, you’re a heretic, you’re not pro-life enough, you might even enjoy killing babies. Who knows what the thinking is behind this line of Inquisition?
Well, then, Pope Benedict XVI is a heretic. In fact, Ratzinger went further and said that not even John Paul II compared abortion to the Holocaust. (Benedict XVI was Cardinal Ratzinger at the time, and John Paul II was still alive.) “The pope,” said Ratzinger—this was at a press conference in which he presented John Paul II’s book Memory and Identity—“recalls men’s permanent temptation and tells us that we are not immune either to the destruction of human life; however, the identification between the Shoah and abortion is foreign to the book and to the Holy Father’s idea.”
Echoing Ratzinger, Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro Valls added: “The Pope has no desire to compare systems of evil; what he wishes to do is to identify the roots of moral evil.”
This is an important distinction. Abortion and the Holocaust have similar causes (i.e., human sin), but they are not similar to each other. The comparison of abortion to the Holocaust, said Navarro Valls, “is a mistake which has no basis in [JP2’s] book [Memory and Identity].”
So there you are. The idea that John Paul II compares abortion to the Holocaust is based upon a misreading of John Paul II, according to Ratzinger and the Vatican spokesman. And yet funny little guys on Facebook run around turning a misreading into a dogma and engaging in petty little Inquisitions.
So it goes.
Update. An earlier version of this post mistakenly attributed to Cardinal Ratzinger some words that actually belonged to the Vatican spokesman. The post has been updated accordingly.
Some are attempting to claim that saying abortion is a holocaust is substantively different from comparing it to the Holocaust. This is, in my view, a facile distinction without a difference. The word “holocaust” is so connected to the Shoah that its use will always elicit the connection in people’s minds. I can not for the life of me figure out why anyone would be so attached to this one descriptor, as though the horror of abortion could not possibly be described without it, as an evil wholly incomparable to any other.