Respect for human life is not a single issue. That’s the message, as I understand it, in the Apostolic Exhortation “Gaudete et Exsultate” (Rejoice and Be Glad) that Pope Francis released today.
From womb to tomb, all life is sacred. The Church’s teaching on that has never changed, and certainly Pope Francis is not suggesting a change in his new document. But try telling that to the mainstream media, which is interpreting the document to mean that pro-lifers should divide or abandon their efforts to fight other social injustices, like poverty, human trafficking and euthanasia.
There are Catholic groups that focus on all of these issues. Catholic Charities works to reduce poverty in the U.S. Catholic bishops in Canada are fighting that nation’s physician-assisted suicide law. A number of Catholic groups, including Catholic Relief Services, combat human trafficking.
These other issues are not being ignored, and that’s a good thing. But a person who donates his or her time to help feed the homeless at a soup kitchen cannot also be expected to be engaged in sidewalk counseling outside an abortion mill. People must choose their battles, and at Priests for Life, we choose to focus on ending abortion because the right to life is the most foundational right we have as human beings.
But even we are not just fighting for the unborn. Currently we are helping to fight a British hospital that would rather let an innocent boy of 22 months die rather than allow his transfer to another hospital. In 2011, we helped lead the effort to get a Canadian baby out of the hospital that wanted to end his life, and we flew with him to a Catholic hospital in St. Louis. Father Frank Pavone was at the bedside of Terri Schiavo hours before her court-ordered death.
Pope Francis’s exhortation is 103 pages long and, predictably, the media has latched on to a few paragraphs that mention abortion.
“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 the elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.”
I don’t think you would find anyone in the pro-life movement who would disagree. But none of us would interpret those words to mean we should abandon our fight. All life is sacred, and we are fighting to have that recognition given to the most marginalized group in the human family, the unborn.
As Pope Francis has said before, he doesn’t want anyone sitting on the couch while our brothers and sisters are being killed, trafficked or living in misery. He wants all of us to strive to be every day saints.
We miss the point of this teaching if we see it as nothing but a criticism of the pro-life movement.