If you search through the 166 posts published on this blog since its launch over a year ago, you won't find any mention of abortion. If, like soviet historians who, when they failed to find any sign of telephone cables during their excavations, inferred the use of wireless communication in 19th century Russia, you interpret this as my not considering the topic important, you'd be wrong. Fundamentally I find myself in the same boat as Pope Francis, whose first and until two days ago only public reference to it has been during the off-the-cuff interview with the press on his return flight from Rio, where he said that "[t]he Church has already addressed [this] issue and its position is clear."
In his interview with Jesuit media two days ago ("the" interview), he returned to the topic and essentially just expanded on his point from the Rio flight:
“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."In fact, the root of this reluctance is not born of attempts to please or to be popular, but of a profound care for those who are affected by suffering, as is clear from the example that Francis gives just before the above declaration:
"The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better. I also consider the situation of a woman with a failed marriage in her past and who also had an abortion. Then this woman remarries, and she is now happy and has five children. That abortion in her past weighs heavily on her conscience and she sincerely regrets it. She would like to move forward in her Christian life. What is the confessor to do?"On the above basis, Francis proceeds to lay out his vision of how the teaching of the Church on questions like abortion, which he adheres to and upholds, fits into the bigger picture:
"The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. […] We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow."While the above may (with a stretch of the imagination) sound like a move away from what the Church teaches about abortion, that is decidedly not the case, as Francis' immediately following point (made in the context of what sermons ought to be like) demonstrates:
"[We] must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. […] The message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ."The picture here is very clear: God loves all and wants all to love each other, like he loves them. Only once this is internalized and felt can its consequences be understood also with one's reason and "imperatives" make sense. Yet, in spite of their clarity, the interview that the above words are taken from has by many media outlets been taken as a departure from the condemnation of abortion. E.g., the Daily Mail summed it up by saying that Francis "condemned the church's obsession with such 'small-minded things' [as abortion]." The mind boggles!
Not by coincidence, I believe, Francis then addressed a group of Catholic gynecologists the very next day (yesterday) and spoke very clearly and at length about the evil of abortion, in a context where that made perfect sense:
"A widespread mentality of the useful, the “throw away culture” which today enslaves the hearts and intelligences of so many, has a very high cost: it requires eliminating human beings, especially if physically or socially weaker. Our answer to this mentality is a decisive and unhesitant “yes” to life. “The first right of a human person is his/her life. He/she has other goods and some of them are more precious; but life is the fundamental good, condition for all the others” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Procured Abortion, November 18, 1974, 11). Things have a price and are saleable, but persons have a dignity, they are worth more than things and they have no price. Because of this, attention to human life in its totality has become in recent times a real and proper priority of the Magisterium of the Church, particularly for life which is largely defenseless, namely, that of the disabled, the sick, the unborn, children, the elderly.Francis then points to the fundamental logic behind the Church's teaching:
Each one of us is called to recognize in the fragile human being the face of the Lord, who in his human flesh experienced indifference and loneliness to which we often condemn the poorest, be it in developing countries, be it in well-off societies. Every unborn child, condemned unjustly to being aborted, has the face of the Lord, who before being born, and then when he was just born, experienced the rejection of the world. And every elderly person, even if he/she is sick or at the end of his/her days, bears in him/herself the face of Christ. They cannot be discarded!"
"[Life] is always, in all its phases and at every age, sacred and is always of quality. And not because of a discourse of faith, but of reason and science! There is no human life that is more sacred than another, as there is no human life that is qualitatively more significant than another."I wholeheartedly agree and absolutely fail to see how a Catholic can possibly think otherwise: abortion, like euthanasia and any neglect, torture or killing of a human person, is an absolute evil. By the exact same logic, it is necessary to treat all with mercy and compassion though, and I equally fail to understand how a Catholic can possibly think otherwise. Directing hatred at another human being, absolutely regardless of what they have done or who they are, is as much contrary to the sanctity of life as abortion or euthanasia.