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Pope Francis and the life issues

The assumption among many is that doctrinal and moral clarity, on the one hand, and pastoral sensitivity and inclusiveness, on the other, are mutually exclusive. That is nonsense.

Pope Francis greets a child as he visits the pediatric oncology ward of Rome's Gemelli hospital July 13, 2021. The pope continued to recover on the 10th floor of the hospital, which is also where the children’s cancer ward is located. (CNS photo/Holy See Press Office)

Pope Francis’s tendency to use colorful expressions and abrasive adjectives in commenting on ideas, habits, and practices of which he disapproves has puzzled Catholics for over eight years now. Is this how popes talk? From my own study of papal history, I can easily believe that Pope Pius XI had a few choice (even brutal) words to say on occasion. But his verbal smackdowns were always delivered behind closed doors, while many of Pope Francis’s most memorably deprecatory locutions have been quite public.

There is one thing to be said for this current papal habit, though, especially in light of the endless media effort to spin the Pope into a softie on the life issues — most recently in light of the U.S. bishops’ efforts to address the incoherence of self-professed Catholics who reject a fundamental truth of Catholic faith by facilitating the slaughter of the innocent unborn.

Thus it’s worth remembering the quite robust terms in which Pope Francis has condemned abortion, most memorably at a Vatican conference in 2019. There, the Holy Father asked, “Is it legitimate to take a human life to solve a problem? Is it permissible to hire a hitman to solve a problem?” So-called “therapeutic” abortions that willfully destroy unborn children who suffer from some illness or deformity were, the pontiff insisted, a matter of “inhuman eugenics.” He added that “human life is sacred and inviolable and the use of prenatal diagnosis for selective [i.e., abortive] purposes should be discouraged with strength.”

All of which seemed a bit odd to the New York Times reporter covering the conference, for, as he wrote, the Pope had previously downplayed issues like abortion “in order to promote his pastoral and inclusive vision of the Church.” The assumption here, of course, is that doctrinal and moral clarity, on the one hand, and pastoral sensitivity and inclusiveness, on the other, are mutually exclusive. That has been nonsense since Jesus’s encounter with the woman caught in adultery, in John 8:1-11; it remains a gross falsehood today; and indulging it demeans the inclusive and sensitive work done by thousands of religiously-inspired crisis pregnancy centers throughout the country, which offer women something better than a lethal “procedure” that often causes long-term emotional damage.

Media imagery, alas, is like bamboo; once it’s implanted, it’s virtually impossible to root it out. Thus early in his pontificate, Pope Francis’s “Who am I to judge?” comment, addressed to the particular case of a repentant priest who was trying to live an upright life, was stripped of all context and turned into media bamboo, the endlessly repeated claim being that this pope is not a moral hardliner (subtext: unlike his predecessors).

I submit, however, that anyone who compares an abortionist to a Mafia hitman — and who in January 2014 deplored a “throwaway culture” in which aborted children are “discarded as unnecessary,” declaring it “horrific even to think that there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day” — is no moral relativist. Typically, however, the BBC reporter covering that papal address found this denunciation in contrast to “the Pope’s stance favoring mercy over condemnation.”

(Memo to the BBC: It was John Paul II, author of the passionately pro-life encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), who spread the Divine Mercy devotion throughout the world Church, who wrote an encyclical on God the Father entitled Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy), and who made the Octave of Easter “Divine Mercy Sunday.”)

Media distortions are not simply annoying; they can have serious public effects. Just before the bishops voted overwhelmingly to address the question of the Church’s eucharistic integrity (immediately spun by most reports into merely an attack on President Biden and other pro-abortion public officials), the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the religious freedom right of Catholic Social Services (CSS) of Philadelphia to decline to place foster children with same-sex couples. In his lengthy addendum to the Court’s opinion, Justice Samuel Alito noted that a Philadelphia public official had derided “the Archdiocese’s position as out of step with Pope Francis’s teaching and 21st-century moral views,” suggesting that it “would be great” if CSS “followed…Pope Francis.”

I seriously doubt that the Philadelphia Department of Human Services commissioner who got Pope Francis so spectacularly wrong is a regular reader of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. He got the nonsense with which he badgered CSS from American media sources. I hope the fourth estate gets its act together as the bishops develop their statement on the meaning of the Eucharist. But I’m not sanguine about that. Bamboo is bamboo.


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About George Weigel 346 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), and Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021).

21 Comments

  1. Meanwhile, George, Pope Francis continues to largely promote an inclusive Church when it comes to LGBTQ, communion for those endorsing abortion, critical race theory, socialism/communism, women as priests, etc. How? Not by what he says but rather by what he does not say, by what he does, and by what he does not do. Silence or passivity on social and cultural issues contrary to Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium is a form of endorsement.

    • Jorge Bergoglio’s heresy was external and made public and notorious, when as a cardinal, he stated in his book, On Heaven and Earth, in regards to same-sex sexual relationships, and thus same-sex sexual acts, prior to his election as pope, on page 117, demonstrating that he does not hold, keep, or teach The Catholic Faith, and he continues to act accordingly:
      “If there is a union of a private nature, there is neither a third party, nor is society affected. Now, if the union is given the category of marriage, there could be children affected. Every person needs a male father and a female mother that can help shape their identity.”- Jorge Bergoglio, denying The Sanctity of the marital act within The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, and the fact that God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Through The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, Is The Author Of Love, Of Life, And Of Marriage, while denying sin done in private is sin.

      From The Catechism Of The Catholic Church:
      II. THE DEFINITION OF SIN
      “1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.”121
      1850 Sin is an offense against God: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.”122 Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become “like gods,”123 knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus “love of oneself even to contempt of God.”124 In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.125
      1851 It is precisely in the Passion, when the mercy of Christ is about to vanquish it, that sin most clearly manifests its violence and its many forms: unbelief, murderous hatred, shunning and mockery by the leaders and the people, Pilate’s cowardice and the cruelty of the soldiers, Judas’ betrayal – so bitter to Jesus, Peter’s denial and the disciples’ flight. However, at the very hour of darkness, the hour of the prince of this world,126 the sacrifice of Christ secretly becomes the source from which the forgiveness of our sins will pour forth inexhaustibly.”
      It is a sin to accomodate an occasion of sin, and thus cooperate with evils “

      It is also not a sin to refuse to recognize an apostate “ false pope “, who, prior to his election as pope, had rejected Christ’s teaching in regards to The Papacy.

      “For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the Revelation, the Deposit of Faith, delivered through the Apostles. “

  2. The theme that “the media is distorting Pope Francis” is a meaningless and worn out narrative.

    It is the Pontiff Francis who distorts his voice, and makes it unrecognizable as the voice of “a good shepherd.”

    As to abortion and politics the Pontiff Francis’ preference for contradicting and distorting the truth can be seen in the case of his conferring the papal medal of the Order of St. Gregory to Frau Ploumen, the radical abortion rights politician of Holland, in January 2018.

    So much for the Pontiff Francis and his concern for the unborn.

    Francis will say whatever he wants to curry favor with whatever audience he deals with on a given day, and when he wants to be thought of as pro-life, he preaches to the choir about that on Sunday, and then on Monday, he gives papal medals to abortionists.

    This is the same meaningless public relations as the USCCB is doing with Holy Communion and Biden. The USCCB will bleat that politicians that support abortion should obey Canon 916 and not present themselves for Communion, all the while knowing that they themselves have no intention whatsoever to obey Canon 915, and withold Holy Communion from Biden et al.

    The cheap talk will continue from the Bishop of Rome and the Bishops of the US, but it all amounts to nothing.

    Because when it comes to being “good shepherds,” they cannot imitate Jesus, and lay down their lives. Their lives are just too comfortable to trade for “the old evangelization.”

  3. Pope Francis said that Catholics have a moral obligation to take the Covid vaccines, yet, according to this article, he has asked two pertinent questions:
    “Is it legitimate to take a human life to solve a problem?
    Is it permissible to hire a hitman to solve a problem?”
    So, even though the abortion connected to the Covid vaccines in stages of research, development, production or testing is what the bishops call “remote,” it apparently solved a problem — the spread of the pandemic. However, taking the vaccines currently available — all have some connection to abortion — certainly does implicitly approve using cells from abortions for medical research. The Biden Administration has re-funded fetal cell research and has disbanded the committee that formerly provided oversight to the ethics involved in fetal cell research projects. A two-part article on Catholic World Report this year detailed the means of obtaining such cells following abortions, and stated that the cells are most often obtained, including organs, prior to the death of the baby.
    I, for one, am still awaiting a vaccine that has no immoral connections in its research, development, production or testing. “Is it legitimate to take a human life to solve a problem? Is it permissible to hire a hitman to solve a problem?” Pope Francis asked.

  4. It is not just what Pope Francis says, but what he does. Look at some of his appointments. He criticized our most pro-life president, and says nothing about our most pro-abortion president.
    It is the same with his LGBTQ statements. Look at his appointments, and who he praises.

    • Crusader, your comments are right on. I respect George Weigel but can’t understand why he doesn’t address these critical points, which make the Pope’s statements George cites look like head fakes.

  5. The media may have got some things wrong about Francis. But they got a lot of right things about him. What kind of a Pope would destroy a whole Religious order for no reason and still have its founder under house arrest with restrictions that are cruelly rigid. The cruel rigidity of Francis can be found in “The little book of insults” volumes 1 and 2.

  6. I am all on board, Mr. Weigel, with eviscerating what has become of the press. However, any attempt to rehabilitate the pope’s credentials as a dogged defender of Catholic teaching is undermined by the pope’s own words and actions. The pope is the problem. He loves the attention and approval the press gives him; does nothing to disabuse the press of “misleading” characterizations; and continues to give the press fodder to promote an ideology he and they share. Circling the wagons around this catastrophic pope leads only to disaster for the Church. Propping him up is complicity.

    • Bravo, John Pfannenstiel. While some people walk in their sleep, sometimes Weigel seems to write in his sleep. He is sometimes far off the mark, sometimes so self-promoting I’m made sick, and sometimes he is spot-on. Here he makes a half-baked attempt at saving and serving a dead fish.

      • Some writers use a public forum to appear as though they are writing for the general audience, yet are writing for a specific and smaller audience that the writer wishes to ingratiate himself with. We readers and commenters are mere props (nuisance) for the real intent.

        I certainly hope all those cardinals and bishops circling the wagons around the pope are still taking Weigel’s calls. The moment he takes the side he knows he must, it’s over. And he knows it.

        • Who’d a thunk it? Your point makes a lot of sense. Some writing may not be intended for our edification. It totally explains some half-baked views some writers put out to the large general audience. In the long run, doesn’t it tend to tbheir ruin? The Aesop fable, “The Bat, the Birds, and the Beasts” has a message for flip-floppers.

  7. I do not trust P.Francis. He appears to be a deceiver,certainly not forthright about correcting what misinformation the media reports. He doesn’t seem to be concerned about the confusion it’s causing among Catholics. Sad to say but it’s very much like the tactics of the evil one, Satan.

  8. HEGELIANISM: “That the History of the World, with all the changing scenes which its annals present, is this process of development and the realization of Spirit—this is the true THEODICAEA [italics: the mystery of how a good God could create a world containing so much evil], the justification of God in History. Only THIS [italics] insight can reconcile Spirit with the History of the World—viz., that what has happened, and is happening every day, is not only not ‘without God,’ but is essentially His Work” (Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, “The Philosophy of History,” 1837).

    Turned on its head, this Hegelian dialect of human consciousness became Marx’s “dialectical materialism” of economic class warfare…and, massaged further, is the path to Globalism.

    And, today, instead of the Second Vatican Council’s fidelity to the incarnate Christ through both aggiornamento (engagement) and ressourcement (return to sources), do we now simply revert back to Hegel and the dialectic of the “Spirit”(?): (1) The Deposit of Faith (and morals) is reaffirmed in word and on paper, but is also marginalized as the (“rigid, bigoted, fixistic”!) THESIS; (2) A disconnected, parallel and fluid pattern of accommodation to the world becomes the ANTITHESIS, and (3) The new SYNTHESIS is the ongoing “process of development” through polyglot synodality.

    Clearly, the so-called “right side of history” is God! Wine is turned back into water.

  9. For an advocate of the underdog, the poor and disenfranchised Pope Francis receives a lot of bashing, particularly Catholic blogs on the Internet. Also his favorability ratings have dropped in the USA from near hysterical admiration to indifference. We can read all sorts of things in that as we can referring to public remarks. Just released from Gemelli it’s fine to say something kindly, as is this essay in strong support of Pope Francis on the abortion issue. Francis’ “robust” defense of the unborn, calling abortionists hitmen and like remarks, there is a record that is said to demonstrate he’s indeed a “hardliner”. And others of course besides George Weigel hold to that; although we find he’s a hardliner when critical of presbyters, seminarians for their rigidity. Or is it that he’s accusing them of being hardliners. Now opinion of what others intend, and what their leanings are remain what they are. What author Weigel might consider perhaps more seriously than public remarks are Pope Francis’ actions, or inactions. At the moment Eucharistic coherence and the Pontiff’s silence. On the issue of political expediency and conscientious conviction the 2004 letter authored Ratzinger approval John Paul II clearly addresses it. Apparently, there’s an appeal in this Cardinal Ladaria counsel, at times pressure and warning for inaction to proportionalism and the greater good, a moral perspective dismantled and censured by John Paul in Veritatis Splendor. Edward Pentin recently [2 weeks past] wrote once again on the now complete decomposition of the Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute indicating an irreconcilable break with the legacy of John Paul. Again, matters for thought, perhaps reconsideration.

  10. Of course, Francis receives a lot of bashing, and he’s brought it upon himself. The latest coming from Cardinals and Bishops in the Vatican is that Francis has a Motu Propio ready to severely damage Summorum Pontificum and Quo Primum. Catholics are gearing up, ready for a hard resistance. Quo Primum carries a threat, “if anyone adds or removes from this Missal, he will incur the wrath of Sts. Peter and Paul.” “let him be anathema.” If Francis knows he has great opposition now, wait till his Motu Propio is released. It will be his own FAULT!!! He will put on his “funeral face,” and his false love and false mercy theatrics for all to see. But very few buy that anymore except for the fanatical Modernist heretics, and it’s all theatrics as well.

  11. Excellent article Thanks.
    I do believe that words have been put into the Pope’s mouth by columnists and atheists. Sadly, these distorted views are what many people read.

  12. if the truth is such that Martin Luther is a heretic and King Henry VIII the creator of a cult what should we say then concerning Pope Francis and his (not our Lord’s) liberal quest to reform our Church given that liberalism is the fruit of atheism and atheism is the poisonous tree planted by satan himself on this earth

  13. God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Through The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, did not order man and woman according to sexual desire/inclination/ orientation, for to do so, would be a direct violation of God’s Own Commandment regarding lust and the sin of adultery. I wonder who the moderator on this site is?

  14. I Pray iMr. Weigel, that you will have, “The Courage To Be Catholic”, and thus not be afraid to speak the truth about how the “Lifting Of The Veil” has exposed The Great Apostasy, physically separating The True Church from The Counterfeit Church, which separated itself spiritually from The True Church the moment it claimed it was possible to have Sacramental Communion without Ecclesial Communion, thus denying The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, And The Divinity Of The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Father, Son, And Holy Ghost.

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