Earlier in the week, Pope Francis approached the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities to encourage them with a reminder that, even though he has spoken publicly about issues like poverty and refugees’ rights, he still agrees that abortion is and should be “a preeminent priority” for the Church.
The Committee’s chair, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, passed information about his chat with the pontiff to Catholic News Services, reminding the world that, at the very top of the organizational structure, priorities still haven’t changed:
He said, ‘This is not first a religious issue, it’s a human rights issue’, which is so true… I think sometimes as he elevates [issues of immigration and poverty], people mistakenly think, ‘Well, that means the abortion issue will become less important.’
We can’t have that, not for a second — especially not now, as the March for Life in Washington, D.C., approaches within the week. Heaven forbid that somebody vulnerable to becoming pregnant might fall into a sense of bodily autonomy!
According to Missouri’s Bishop W. Shawn McKnight, Pope Francis elevated the abortion argument as the fundamental core of his take on social justice:
Without life, what other rights are there? So you have to begin with that. It’s not the only issue — I don’t think anybody has ever said that. But when you’re looking at the core beliefs and the more essential rights, the right to life of the unborn is very important. [Pope Francis] put it in a very beautiful way: Do we always want to simply eliminate those who are inconvenient? And, unfortunately, that’s part of our culture in the United States — the practice, the habit if you will, of just eliminating the uncomfortable, the unwanted, as the solution.
That’s a point that might be worth considering if the “pro-life” crowd didn’t immediately use it to value potential future lives over those already living in the world.
Francis remains masterful in downplaying the way he devalues the pregnant person in the abortion equation; he knows how to speak the language of social justice. In his January 1st homily he preached on the importance of valuing and upholding the dignity of women, who constitute the majority of those affected by restricted abortion access.
But his homily referenced the evil of “coerced abortions” with apparently little consideration of the problem of coerced pregnancy. He seems far less bothered by coercion if it’s being used to force people to do what he wants of them.
The sermon also emphasized the idea that men and women are innately suited for different sorts of work, with little overlap in between the two disparate gender categories, which are expressly and irrevocably tied to genital categorization at birth.
Speaking of gender categories, that was another topic Francis wanted to discuss during his conversation with the Committee. According to St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, the pope himself brought up the subject:
At the same time [Francis] said there’s another significant issue and that would be ‘transgender’ — where we are trying to make all human beings the same, it makes no difference, you can be whoever you want to be.
Generally speaking, trans people want to be allowed to express their gender outside of strict binary norms connected to genitals, and they want to avoid being punished by society for doing so. That is literally the opposite of “trying to make all human beings the same” — it supports human diversity.
But as far as Francis is concerned, this is a “significant issue in our day” because it flies in the face of Catholic doctrine on gender. Catholic News Services reported on the pope’s advice to bishops concerning “the transgender debate”:
Archbishop Carlson said the pope touched on the way proponents believe people are “all one and that there’s no difference, which would fly in the face of what John Paul II talked about on complementarity and it would fly in the face of the dignity of the woman and the dignity of the man, that we could just change into whatever we wanted.”
In other words, the advice is to repeat the party line and avoid getting too familiar with what trans people are actually saying about their experience.
It almost doesn’t seem like genuine news — same old Catholic Church, nothing to see here.
But as long as people keep mistaking Pope Francis for an actually progressive pope interested in improving the position of women and LGBTQ people in Catholicism and everyday life, it’s important to keep in mind what he actually says he believes, and what he tells other church leaders to believe as well.
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