I tell you again: Give no credence to Fake Site News. Never give them credence, but particularly give them no credence when they are bashing the pope. Never give them credence when they are bashing the pope, but particularly give them no credence when the author is John-Henry Westen. A look at his absurd attempt, here, to claim that Pope Francis somehow contradicts Benedict XVI and John Paul II on abortion, gives us one more example why.
But first, in Gaudete et Exsultate, here are the words Pope Francis writes:
Our defence of the innocent unborn … needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection. We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as others look on from afar, living their entire lives in abject poverty.
We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue. Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the “grave” bioethical questions. That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian, for whom the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children. Can we not realize that this is exactly what Jesus demands of us, when he tells us that in welcoming the stranger we welcome him (cf. Mt 25:35).
So! says Mr. Westen. The pope thinks immigration is just as important as abortion, does he? “The contrast with Pope Benedict XVI,” he says “is evident from Benedict’s 2006 remarks to members of the European People’s Party.”
Well, let’s check Benedict’s words, as quoted by Mr. Westen.
As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable.
Well, let’s stop here. Since when is abortion the only offense against “the dignity of the person”? To be sure, it is a big offense. But since when is it the only one? In Evangelium Vitae, St. John Paul II (and he is quoting Gaudium et Spes), lists a whole bunch of “insults [to] human dignity”:
- subhuman living conditions
- arbitrary imprisonment
- deportation [Here’s that immigration issue.]
- the selling of women and children
- disgraceful working conditions
“All these things,” says Vatican II, “and others like them, are infamies indeed.” And St. John Paul II thought it important to mention them in an encylical about the right to life.
So where’s the contradiction when Pope Francis mentions the poor, those already born, euthanasia, slavery, and human trfficking? This is a similar list of offenses against human dignity, as far as I can tell. Do only the unborn have human dignity? Is this what Mr. Westen means for us to conclude? He does not say.
And since when is abortion the only non-negotiable issue? There are eight others, as I pointed out here. Social justice is one of them. The right to an education is one of them.
So I can’t find the contradiction yet. But Mr. Westen quotes more Benedict XVI. One non-negotiable the former pope mentions is “protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death.”
I am afraid I don’t see the contradiction. You see, there’s that part about “protection of life in all its stages.” Not just protection of life in this stage or that stage, but all stages. Thus Pope Francis mentions “those already born.” Presumably those already born are in some stage of life, are they not? Presumably the poor are in a stage of life? Presumably the elderly are? Migrants are in a stage of life, right?
I don’t see where Pope Francis is saying anything different than Pope Benedict did, still less Pope St. John Paul II or Gaudium et Spes.
But Mr. Westen goes on and claims that Pope Francis also contradicts Pope St. John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Christifideles Laici. There he writes:
The inviolability of the person, which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, finds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition of all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.”
Right. Mr. Westen seems to want to say that “the right to health, home,” etc., are of lesser importance than the right to life. That’s fine, except for two things, and one of them is that this bypasses the point Pope Francis is making, which is that the right to life is larger than the right to be born. So Mr. Westen is begging the question. “Equally sacred,” says Pope Francis, “are the lives of the poor, “those already born, the destitute,” etc.
The second problem is that, in the passages in question, from Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis is not contrasting the right to be born with things such as health care or housing or employment. He does not mention those at all, in fact, and mentions only “the situation of migrants” in the abstract, in the context of saying that their lives are “equally sacred.” The pope is pointing out that welcoming the stranger is connected to his human dignity and his right to life. “They risk their lives,” he says, “to offer a future to their children.” None of this is at all in conflict with what John Paul II says in Christifideles Laici. Indeed, it is consistent with the teaching of that same pope in Evangelium Vitae. But even in CL, St. John Paul II, still quoting Gaudium et Spes, writes:
All offences against life itself, such as every kind of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and willful suicide; all violations of the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture, undue psychological pressures; all offences against human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, degrading working conditions where men are treated as mere tools for profit rather than free and responsible persons; all these and the like are certainly criminal: they poison human society; and they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator.
In telling us that the right to life is larger than abortion, Pope Francis being consistent with John Paul II, whose words here give the lie to Fake Site News’s rush to condemn and claim an exclusivity about abortion that the Church does not teach.
Never listen to Fake Site News. Listen to the Church. Listen to the successor of St. Peter.