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The Pope, the President, and the Right to Life

obamappPope Francis and President Obama met in Rome today, and the meeting has naturally generated commentary, both before and after the fact, including by the President himself at the National Prayer Breakfast last month.

I am confident that the meeting itself will bear good fruit. I am not so confident that the commentary about it will bear as much fruit.

What I mean is that I believe we are heading for a media and blogosphere circus in which commentary after commentary will reinforce the error that we can promote “human rights” and “social justice” while ignoring the most fundamental right of the most vulnerable people: the right to life of the children in the womb.

It’s not because I think the Pope or his advisors aren’t fully committed to protecting them. They certainly are. And I have had the privilege of conversing with the Pope about the pro-life efforts of the Church.

But there is a profound contradiction between Obama’s position in favor of abortion and the Church’s position against it, and my concern arises from the fact that so much commentary makes light of this contradiction, either by saying it’s not important, or by pretending it’s not there.

And sometimes this impression is given in commentary even by those who share the Church’s pro-life position.

Miguel Diaz, a Catholic theologian who served as Obama’s ambassador to the Vatican until recently, commented, “Some said that under [Pope John Paul II] and [President Ronald Reagan] there was a meeting of the minds, and it’s potentially true again under Obama and Francis around the issues of social justice.”

But in reality, that is not potentially true at all.

The contradiction between Obama’s position and the Pope’s position on the right to life is a contradiction about the very core and foundation of social justice. Without the right to life, everything else falls. Pope Francis himself made reference to this in his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, when he said,

[D]efense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable…Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be. (n. 213)

Pope John Paul II, about to be canonized as a saint, made a similar point 25 years ago in another Apostolic Exhortation, Christifideles Laici,

[T]he 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 for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination. (n. 38)

And Cardinal Renato Martino, who served as President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, that is, the Vatican’s office charged with fostering the understanding and pursuit of social justice within the whole Church, explained,

The Holy Father speaks of the protection of life as the fundamental realization and respect for human rights. Without that realization, without that respect for the right to life, no other discussion of human rights can continue. (Interview on EWTN, 2004.)

That’s the kind of commentary we need to see about the discussion between the President and the Pope.


Fr. Frank Pavone is the National Director of Priests for Life.
  • goral

    There will surface the usual nonsensical comparison to Christ meeting with the sinner. The only catholic groups impressed by this scandalous meeting are the same ones who brought us the sex scandals.
    As a diplomatic meeting it’s without any groundwork and substance. As a personal meeting it’s without any rapport and as a spiritual meeting it’s void of any clear moral message or purpose. So why do it?
    I suppose on a certain level there is the compatibility of equivocation.
    The pope’s statements always need interpretation and the presidents lies always need to be spun with more lies.

    • goral

      As I expected the propaganda game has been won by the propagandists. No surprise. While many of our bishops are braving the wilderness conditions, perhaps for the first time in their lives, the big lie is circulating in the Media.
      One, so called, journalist has announced that Obama is going to address the immigration problem, get this! “As he promised the Pope”.
      Of course, in their perfect Pharisaical timing the bishops are underscoring that contrived mandate and lending spiritual support to the lie. There exists now the gov’t-media complex – Rule them by force and propaganda. What’s missing is the moral underpinning of that marriage.
      Our bishops, as well as so many phony moralist ministers, are now closing ranks with this complex to create a triumvirate of power and persuasion.

  • Soliloquized

    IMHO, President Obama has very skewed priorities. He does not appear to be an objective man, he does not appear to be willing to debate, and that in itself made this meeting pointless, serving more to shore-up Obama’s (and democrats and liberals) flagging popularity among Americans, especially American Catholics in an election year where democrats fear losses.

    Also, if the Catholic Church is as dedicated to the unborn as they profess, excommunication of Catholic politicians that vehemently advocate and support abortion should occur, how could it be otherwise? To provide the Sacrament of Communion to the architects of these laws and pretend that all is well is disingenuous.

    • goral

      I’m afraid, Soliloquized, that our Church has taken a turn towards secular popularity over doctrinal integrity. The Vatican always has to play the game of politics, the Church is in the world. However, when the Church surrenders its sacred moral superiority allowing the persecutors and the godless to advance their agenda, then the Church and its leaders expose themselves to further diabolical onslaught.
      The Catholic and other Christian faithful look to the Roman Pontiff for clarity and definition. I’m afraid our current Shepherd is doing little towards that purpose and as a result the sheep are scattering more, especially in this land of minimal cohesiveness.

      • Soliloquized

        I’m afraid I have to agree with you.

  • Struble
    • Soliloquized

      Thank you for the link. I read the article and have commented on a few points. Essentially, I perceived the article thus:

      Obama: grateful to have the opportunity to speak with him about the responsibilities that we all share to care for the least of these, the poor, the excluded…… Same old topics for the president, and same topics that honestly concern Pope Francis.

      Vatican: “Views were exchanged on some current international themes,” ……as well as the issue of immigration reform.”…… Something Pope Francis and Obama can agree on but is well past my understanding how continued influx of illegal immigrants from Mexico is fair to immigrants from Europe that wait for years to legally enter.

      Other accounts: the meeting at the Vatican comes two days after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two lawsuits challenging the Obama mandate….. [on] coverage for drugs and procedures……to which they have moral or religious objections.

      Bottom line, Obama gave nothing and picked up Vatican concurrence for immigration reform. I’m hoping that American Catholics can see beyond this meeting to understand that many Democrats in their current iteration are inimical to beliefs held sacred by Catholics.