Catholics and pro-lifers who were shocked at the “knighthood” of Dutch politician and abortion activist Lilianne Ploumen into the Vatican’s Order of St. Gregory the Great by Pope Francis, shouldn’t have been.
True, Ploumen’s militant support of abortion and homosexual rights (which includes raising $400 million for a “reproductive health” NGO she helped launch) is at odds with the purpose of the honor—to recognize personal service to the Catholic Church and Holy See—but her advocacy on climate change serves the pope on the issue he considers “a global problem with grave implications.”
So grave, that it was the only issue Francis raised to the level of moral urgency during his 2015 visit to Washington DC. Although Francis has called abortion a “very grave sin,” his remarks in DC were perhaps, an early signal for how the moral scale tips the balance between the two moral concerns.
When Francis Came To Washington
It was the strangest of exchanges, the prepared remarks of President Obama and Pope Francis on the South Lawn of the White House.
One man referenced Scripture and the Good News; he highlighted the ministry of the Catholic Church to the homeless and poor, spoke about the persecution of believers around the world, and called for the defense of religious freedom. The other man, after the usual salutations, made a passing reference to religious liberty, and then spent the rest of his podium time talking about environmental emissions and climate change.
If you think the former was the pontiff and the latter the president, you would be wrong. It was if, after shaking hands, the leader of the free world and the spiritual leader of one billion Catholics swapped speaking notes.
What Barack Said
“Here in the United States,” the president assured Francis, “we cherish religious liberty … we stand with you in defense of religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, knowing that people everywhere must be able to live out their faith free from fear and intimidation.”
I imagine the Little Sisters of the Poor along with the dozens of other religious groups and institutions embroiled in legal battles over the president’s Affordable Care Act with its requirements to provide insurance for contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion inducing drugs would beg to differ.
In sentiments that could have issued off the lips of the late Mother Theresa, Obama spoke of our duty to care for the “least of these” and the “powerless and defenseless.” However, the least of the least and the most powerless, defenseless, and voiceless of all are the unborn, a group of people that has proven to be beyond the president’s (and his Party’s) sphere of concern and compassion.
In whole, the speech was downright Orwellian, as if it were the work of some Minister of Information intent on papering over seven years of history with 1000 words of rhetoric. The president then turned to the podium over to Pope Francis.
What Francis Said
Francis began by characterizing his visit as one of “encounter and dialogue” in which he intended to “listen to, and share,” and “offer encouragement” to the leadership class. Perfect warm-up for the polite dinner guest intent on assuring the audience that he will not say anything that might make his hosts feel uncomfortable.
However, leaders of a country where nearly 3000 babies are aborted every day, marriage has been redefined elevating the desires of adults over the needs of children, and religious liberty is under increasing attack, do not need dinner party niceties; they need moral counsel and correction. Francis offered neither.
In one of the most televised and publicized appearances of his papal tenure, the pope devoted nearly one half of his address to climate change. It was the only issue in his 600-word talk that he called for moral action. Invoking Martin Luther King’s admonition from the civil rights era, “we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it,” El Papa urged, “we still have time to make the changes needed to bring about ‘a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change.’”
Sadly lost upon the pope, is that the changes he is lobbying for would most adversely affect those whom he is most passionate about: the poor.
In developed nations, the cost of carbon regulations will be passed on to customers, including low income households that are the least able to bear the added cost of goods. In developing nations, forced carbon reductions would have a detrimental effect on countries whose primary (even, sole) source of energy is fossil fuels. What’s more, the technological and economic resources required to mitigate any highly speculative, future consequences of global warming would be diverted from those needed to address the very real, and current, problems of AIDS, malaria, clean water, sanitation, and health care, among others.
What Francis Didn’t Say
The Pope made no mention of the recent redefinition of marriage, the assaults on religious liberty, or the real civil rights issue of our day: abortion. What made the pope’s silence on the unborn all the more stunning is that, just the day before, the U.S Congress blocked a pro-life bill aimed at banning late-term abortions, despite the recent conscience-raising videos of Planned Parenthood’s horrific abortion practices. If ever there was a moment for a spiritual leader to speak with moral authority, boldly and unambiguously, that was it.
More stunningly, on the following day Francis made no mention of abortion in his address to Congress. However, he did make a point, on no less than five occasions, to express his desire for “dialogue.”
To a body of legislators poised to continue funding Planned Parenthood, the nation’s biggest abortion provider, all the pope could muster was a reticent reminder “of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.” It’s a statement so modest that few in the pro-choice camp would quibble with it, as they view human life “human” only once that life breaks the plane of the birth canal.
The only sanctity of life issue Francis raised directly was capital punishment. However, considering that over one million children are killed from abortion every year versus 35 convicts under the death penalty in the prior year, the pope’s choice for moral clarity was, to put it as politely as possible, misplaced.
Francis’s deep and unquestioned care for the poor has earned him moral authority, among believers and unbelievers alike, that few other than Mother Theresa have ever achieved. But unlike El Papa, the diminutive nun from Calcutta, when given her chance on the world stage, spoke with arresting clarity in defense of the unborn.
As the keynote speaker at the 1994 National Prayer Breakfast with the President Clinton, Vice President Gore, and other administration officials attending, Mother Theresa used her opportunity before the halls of power to state, most pointedly,
I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child—a direct killing of the innocent child—murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?
After a prolonged standing ovation, President Clinton labored up to the podium and, with palpable awkwardness, replied, “How can one argue with a life so well-lived?”
If only Francis had made the most pro-abortion President in history feel equally awkward in 2015. If only he hadn’t made a militant pro-abortion advocate feel validated and honored in 2018.