Kristina Hawkins, the president of Students for Life of America, recently wrote an article titled “Where Pope Francis Misses the Mark” where she expresses her concerns for something the Holy Father taught in his Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate. Hawkins expresses many of the same criticisms that other pro-life organizations have stated about this document, so I thought it would be valuable to respond to her article to help clarify for everyone what Pope Francis has taught and to address some of her comments about Catholic Social Teaching.
Let’s start by looking at exactly what the pope said about abortion in his new document:
“Our defence of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection. We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as others look on from afar, living their entire lives in abject poverty.
We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue. Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the “grave” bioethical questions. That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian, for whom the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children” (GE 101-102).
What Pope Francis is saying here is that a Christian’s opposition to abortion comes from the belief that all persons are equally and radically valuable. Therefore, we cannot pit our efforts to end abortion against efforts to help the poor, the immigrant, and the refugee. In other words, if I’m opposed to abortion because of human dignity then I cannot be opposed to humane immigration and refugee policies. I’m deceiving myself if I work to undermine the dignity of immigrants and think that’s okay because I’m opposed to abortion.
However, like many people, Hawkins misunderstood the Holy Father and thought he was saying something quite different.