A Pro-Life Pivot?

September 2018By F. Douglas Kneibert

F. Douglas Kneibert, a retired newspaper editor and a convert from Protestantism, is the author of a memoir, A Life Recaptured.

As a right-to-life volunteer for many years, I’m concerned about what’s happening in Rome as proponents of the “new paradigm” for the Catholic Church redefine what it means to be pro-life.

It started last year with Pope Francis’s stacking of the Pontifical Academy for Life. He replaced several prominent pro-life members with others who believe the Church’s traditional emphasis on abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem-cell research is too narrow. According to its constitution, the academy, which was founded by Pope St. John Paul II in 1994, is to conduct studies “relative to the promotion and defense of life” from the Catholic perspective. But that was before the progressives got hold of it. They have expanded the pro-life umbrella to include the impoverished elderly, migrants, technology, and the environment — and they’re just getting started. “We must broaden our horizons so as not to forget anyone,” said Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the academy’s new president.

But if everything is now a life issue, then nothing is. This is an exercise in moral equivalence on a grand scale.

Pope Francis doubled down in his apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, issued this April, in which he claims that care for migrants and the poor enjoys the same moral standing as opposition to abortion. But like much of what our Pope says, Church teaching says otherwise. The right to life of the unborn is “inalienable” and “fundamental,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church states (no. 2273). To abort that life is a mortal sin, resulting in automatic latae sententiae excommunication — “by the very commission of the offense.”

Migrants enjoy no such protection. Nations have always possessed the right to control immigration as they see fit. Political authorities may validly subject immigration to “various juridical conditions,” the Catechism states (no. 2241). There’s no inalienable right to immigrate, though we are being led to believe that there is. As for the poor, the Church has always shown them preferential charity.

If there were a “top five” of mortal sins that we humans commit, abortion would surely be among them. There are two major reasons for this: the sheer numbers of victims involved and the methods employed.

Abortion results in the death of more than 55 million unborn persons (unborn, but persons nonetheless) worldwide every year. What has been termed “the silent holocaust” out-kills the Nazi version annually by close to a factor of 10. To equate this dreadful toll with a variety of other social problems is a moral obscenity.

As for the methods involved, particularly the dismemberment instruments used in late-term abortions, what can be said, except that Hitler’s crimes no longer seem so dreadful.

John Paul II wrote in his great encyclical Evangelium Vitae (1995) that abortion is in a special category: “Among all the crimes that can be committed against life, procured abortion has characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable. The Second Vatican Council defines abortion…as an ‘unspeakable crime.’” John Paul II didn’t shrink from naming that crime: “The moral gravity of procured abortion is apparent in all its truth if we recognize that we are dealing with murder.”

Francis’s seeming inability to make such obvious moral distinctions in his exhortation is a mystery. One is compelled to ask, What was he thinking?

The Vatican’s uncertain trumpet in opposing abortion may well have contributed to Irish voters repealing a constitutional protection for the unborn in a nationwide referendum earlier this year. The vote drew worldwide attention, considering that Ireland once was considered the most Catholic of all countries. That Francis remained strangely silent about the referendum before it was held can only be seen as further evidence that opposition to abortion is not a high priority these days in Rome.

Catholics who work in the pro-life trenches are disheartened by their chief shepherd’s ambivalence, which contrasts sharply with his two predecessors’ firm commitment to protecting the unborn.

The pro-life movement in America is closing in on the half-century mark. Over those years there have been bitter defeats and gratifying victories, and I have grieved at the former and rejoiced at the latter. What has sustained Catholic soldiers in this seemingly never-ending spiritual war is, first, their rock-solid conviction that the unborn child is fully human and thus deserving of protection, and second, the knowledge that their Church was with them all the way. The latter is now in doubt.

Despite Rome’s pivot, pro-life Catholics will keep doing what they’ve always done. But a significant shift in emphasis has occurred that will have an effect. Their noble cause has been indirectly downgraded by raising other tangential matters to the same level of importance. Pro-lifers, including this one, will no longer look to Rome for inspiration as they continue to confront the greatest moral evil of our day.

But perhaps most disappointed of all will be the unborn, who may sense that something has changed, and that the Catholic Church, which for centuries has stood between them and the abortionist, now considers them only one agenda item among many.

DOSSIER: Abortion

DOSSIER: Pope Francis

DOSSIER: Pro-Life Issues & Culture of Death

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