NARAL Thanks Pope Francis: In Translation

NARAL Thanks Pope Francis: In Translation September 21, 2013

Well, Pope Francis has confounded the media again.  One day after he was reported to have told Catholics not to talk about abortion, the Pope himself talked about abortion in what Lifesitenews rather ridiculously called his “strongest pro-life comments to date.”  But, as Mark Shea clearly sees, the only reason groups like Lifesite are forced into making such statements is because they themselves buy the New York Times party line about what the Pope had actually said the day before.

The simple fact is that, in his landmark interview, Francis did not say not to talk about abortion, but he told us how to talk about abortion so that our message may be heard.  In particular, he highlighted the essential nature of discussing abortion in context, which, as Charlie Camosy has pointed out, is more or less the angle taken by Benedict in Caritas in Veritate.  The day after the interview was released, Francis followed his own prescription to the letter by speaking about abortion within a larger context, particularly that of a “throwaway culture.”

Of course, Lifesitenews sees this as a kind of rescue mission and the debate in the comboxes is whether Francis managed to avert disaster or not, and the secular press has to presuppose that Francis was bowing to some kind of pressure from conservatives in the Curia.  But does anyone actually think that the man who has been governing the Church since March is someone who bows to curial pressure?

In this rather bizarre situation one of the more troubling misunderstandings of what Francis is about comes from those who think he has somehow appeased the abortion lobby.  They point to this NARAL meme:

As one LSN commenter put it, in defending LSN’s earlier negative coverage of Francis’s interview, “When the devil’s henchmen cheer you on, you know we’re all in trouble!”  But is NARAL really cheering Francis on?  I doubt it.  Here’s my translation of the NARAL meme:

Dear Pope Francis, = Dear Gullible Catholics Everywhere,

Thank You. = Some of you have serious questions about your Church’s teaching about abortion.  Do we ever have good news for you!  You no longer have to struggle with that teaching and its implications.  Your conscience can rest easy now, knowing that you have permission from the highest spiritual authority on earth to ignore everything the Church has said about abortion in the last 2000 years.  The Church is finally catching up with the times.

Some of you oppose abortion but have very serious concerns about voting for the political party in this country that says it opposes abortion and you struggle very deeply every time you need to cast a vote in our political system.  Worry no more!  You have permission to vote for NARAL-endorsed candidates from the Pope himself.

Some of you believe abortion is the greatest human rights violation of our era and that it must be fought tooth and nail.  To you we say, “Despair!”  You are on your own.  You have been forsaken by the very Chair of Peter, the last great opposition to our agenda in the world.  This is game over people.  If you insist on continuing this fight, you do it alone and you will dwindle to insignificance.  Even the Pope is on our side.

Signed, Pro-Choice women everywhere = Please try to forget that there are pro-choice men and pro-life women.  Otherwise you will see right through the phony pretense that abortion is a male vs. female question with men as oppressors and women as victims.  To oppose abortion is to use and victimize women and has nothing whatsoever to do with the taking of an innocent human life.  Anyone who suggests as much is merely a misogynist trying to cover his misogyny.  And it gets awkward if we acknowledge that a very significant number of such mysogynists are women.

NARAL may just be bad at reading.  But I doubt it (while agreeing with the Bad Catholic’s more basic point).  They know exactly what they’re doing here.  This is a divide and conquer move.  Pro-life Catholics, I beg you:  don’t take the bait!

Brett Salkeld is Archdiocesan Theologian for the Catholic Archdiocese of Regina, Saskatchewan. He is a father of four (so far) and husband of one.

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  • Dante Aligheri

    So…no matter what the Pope says we’re destined to receive in our myopic Western society only soundbytes?

    “The Church has said something ‘we’ (whoever is on the media’s pulse – whether Fox News, CNN, or otherwise) don’t like. War on the Church!” or “the Church has finally woken up!”

    Either way, there’s no critical reflection. No attempt to think or even attempt to be truly counter-cultural, to be truly against the zeitgeist. And all this is manufactured content which is running 24/7, consumed, and then called producing authentic “information,” “communication,” or even “globalization.”

    Then society turns around, pats itself on the back, and calls itself “educated.”

    Please forgive any inflammatory rhetoric as this is probably the most intemperate post I’ve written.


  • Jordan

    Brett (in criticism of the NARAL campaign): Some of you oppose abortion but have very serious concerns about voting for the political party in this country that says it opposes abortion and you struggle very deeply every time you need to cast a vote in our political system. Worry no more! You have permission to vote for NARAL-endorsed candidates from the Pope himself.

    I agree fully Brett that Pope Francis has never supported abortion or pro-choice ideologies. Pope Francis has made this clear both before and after his interview.

    However, the NARAL meme does one thing right: this message has pointed out how screwed up the American political system is. I’m one of those people who just can’t stomach voting for either party. The duopoly presents no third way (though, the four party Canadian federal system is little, if at all, better.) t’s a travesty that many American prelates and parish clergy have thrown all their might behind the Republican Party because of its ostensible pro-life policies, when both the Republicans and Democrats use pro-life and pro-abortion stances respectively as little more than strategic political footballs. Both parties happily raking in cash from their respective lobbies. Still, the trench lines have barely moved after forty years.

    What I’ve taken away from Pope Francis’s interview is that politically explosive issues such as abortion, same-sex-marriage, and contraception cannot engulf every aspect of a national Church’s catechesis, homiletics, and ministries, let alone public policy at the diocesan and episcopal conference levels. Institutional American Catholicism has allowed politics to influence nearly every level of Catholic life. The core message I get from Pope Francis’s interview is this: national Churches should be radically post-political. It’s important to fight the necessary fights required to protect the autonomy and moral integrity of Catholicism and Catholics, but an institution shouldn’t hand itself and its souls over to any one political ideology.

    Will the American Church rise above partisan politics? I doubt it. The Church is in too deep (albeit unfortunately not in a Phil Collins way), and I’ve long suspected that some prelates are intoxicated with political power. Ecclesiastical and political dynasties were built upon temperance, Volstead, and the 18th Amendment. One wonders why so few Catholics today remember that score.

  • Kurt

    On the other hand, maybe what NARAL was saying was “We have absolute and fundamental disagreements on this issue. However, both sides have become so politicized that we have made it possible for us, or for that matter third parites, to acheive common ground initiatives that both of us would view as positive in their results. We appreciate you taking the first step towards resolving this problem”

    I dunno.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      A charitable reading, Kurt, but honestly, I doubt it.

  • trellis smith

    I do not think a change in tone or how one presents these issues will persuade anyone, at least at the present time, for the battle lines are too clearly drawn. I do believe from what i have read in the article a more substantive approach that speaks to a true conversion of heart is really what he is addressing. He is engaging the power of heaven the space unoccupied by the temporal powers and which seems hidden and frankly powerless to us but reminds us that we exist in the grace of the gospel.. Though commanded to love we are not condemned by our failure to love anymore then though called to faith are we abandoned by our lack of faith. Not by a change of tone but only within this freedom granted by mercy can come a change of heart.

  • Commoner

    I dunno, I’m pro-life, and I know enough about NARAL to know they are the “enemy.” However, if I were a pro-choicer, I’d welcome Francis’ words–not because I thought they signified a change in Church teaching or that he doesn’t strongly oppose abortion, but because he is encouraging those “enemies” in the pro-life camp to actually look at pro-choice people (and all other sinners) as real persons to be encountered, not nameless, faceless “enemies” to be dehumanized in the name of the war.

    And really, perhaps that’s more engraging to some of the more right-wing types in the pro-life movement than anything else. PF has indeed taken the wind of out some of the sails–but only the sails that were never truly Christian in the first place.

    I’ve known some really unpleasant and unkind pro-life people in my life (I’m related to a few). I can only imagine what it would be like to be a pro-choicer on the receiving end of their special brand of “charity.” If I had been, I can imagine I’d be really grateful for PF’s words.

    After all, I don’t think there are too many people in this world who don’t like being treated in a truly Christian manner–with all the respect and dignity due to the human person, no matter what differences in belief there might be.

    • Jordan

      re: Commoner [September 22, 2013 2:55 pm]: PF has indeed taken the wind of out some of the sails–but only the sails that were never truly Christian in the first place.

      Commoner, all you have written is excellent! Thank you.

      I was listening to BBC World Service a few days ago. A presenter was interviewing a Scottish Catholic woman who was frankly berserk. She stopped just short of cursing Pope Francis for his statements on the need to critically examine issues outside of the moral issues triad popular during the last two pontificates. The apoleptic woman could not believe that Pope Francis wanted to counsel souls first. “Now people are going to do whatever they want. Women will have abortions [as if this devout Catholic woman is the Virgin sine maculate, not sullied by sexual desires.]”

      I’ve long suspected that the screaming protesters outside of abortion clinics aren’t really there for the well-being of pregnant women or their unborn children. They’re there to show their election to the world, that God has glorified them even before particular judgment. What Pope Francis has done is admonish those who have puffed themselves up with self-righteousness by objectifying women who intend to have or who have had abortions, rather than work to end the root causes which lead to the decision to have an abortion. Pope Francis’s warning might well cause an existential crisis in the self-elected.

    • I think many a pro-choicer might feel just this way about Francis. On the other hand, I don’t think it is very likely that NARAL was not being shrewdly political here. It’s why they exist.

  • Julia Smucker

    Finally, a dose of sanity. And this is not the first time Pope Francis has critiqued the “throwaway culture” – the treatment of certain categories of humanity (the unborn, the poor, immigrants, the elderly, etc.) as disposable. It’s a perfect demonstration of what he meant by talking about abortion “in a context”.

  • trellis smith

    And as the pie gets smaller, thrown away frequently will be at even greater at odds with the needs of each other.

  • There are certainly plenty of things to confront NARAL about, but I’m a bit puzzled over where all this anger at them over this particular issue, and, in some circles, at the MSM in general, is coming from. I thought Bad Catholic’s graphic riposte to the NARAL ad was a bit over the top and certainly not made in the spirit that Pope Francis was looking for… We can use all the good will towards us we can get, no matter what the motivation is, if we can take it without having compromised our own consciences. Any opportunity to turn down the heat in a culture war, listen to the other, and encourage them to listen to us, should be looked at generously if can do it in good conscience. We’ve certainly taken a lot of bad press, often when the reporting is inaccurate and unfair. Why not take some good press for a change, even if the reporting is still inaccurate and unfair? Francis didn’t say we were wrong to have opposed abortion, or to have wasted our time talking about it. He didn’t say we shouldn’t continue to oppose it or continue to talk about it. He just told us to put it in the proper context and not to obsess over it. At the end of the day, the Faith is about Jesus Christ, and we always have to be careful about cultivating and nursing our own pet idolatries. What I mean by that is, for all the good work we do in the Pro-Life sphere, for some of us, opposition to abortion has not become just a marker of the Faith and primary moral concern, but the be-all and end-all of the Faith. In a sense, for some of us, it has become the Faith itself. This isn’t meant as a condemnation on my part of the doctrinally conservative, so please don’t read it that way The progressives can equally make an idol out of social justice, or the poor, or any other issue. All of us need to be cognizant of our own obsessions and tendencies, because idolatry is pernicious in the way it creeps up on us.

  • Ulysses de St. Germain

    “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.” Pope Francis’ interview in America magazine.

    I cannot find in the Pope’s later remarks that he speaks about “killing babies in the womb”. That is what abortion is, although it seems that even Catholics have become inured to the term. If babies are denied birth, just where do all those people, including the Catholic hierarchy, who support Christian and socialist government programs to obtain “social justice” expect to find anyone left to receive their largess? (And with the strong possibility in the United States of the election of an even more pro-death president in 2016, there will be a increase in abortions and an even lower birth rate.)