As the media report on Pope Francis calling born humans “equally sacred” to the unborn, many forget that his words also mean that unborn lives are just as sacred as born lives.
On April 9, Pope Francis released his latest apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate (“Rejoice and Be Glad”), on the “call to holiness in today’s world.” While the Catholic document boasted 177 paragraphs, the media focused on one in particular – where the pontiff urged that the lives of “those already born” are “equally sacred” to the “innocent unborn.” But that’s not exactly how the media reported it.
In the exhortation, this comment came shortly after Pope Francis warned of a “harmful ideological error” that is “found in those who find suspect the social engagement of others” or “they relativize it, as if there are other more important matters, or the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend.”
To illustrate that last point, the pontiff pointed to “our defence of the innocent unborn.” It “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,” he affirmed.
But, he added, other lives are “equally sacred,” including 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.”
He also pointed to the “situation of migrants” and called out Catholics who “consider it a secondary issue compared to the ‘grave’ bioethical questions.”
While Pope Francis never once used the word “abortion,” the media did in their headlines. And in their use of “abortion,” they excluded the word “unborn”:
- New York Times: “Pope Francis Puts Caring for Migrants and Opposing Abortion on Equal Footing”
- NPR: “Caring For Migrants Is As Important As Opposing Abortion, Pope Says”
- CNN: “Pope Francis says helping the poor and migrants is as important as opposing abortion”
- Huffington Post: “Pope Francis: Helping Poor And Migrants Is ‘Equally Sacred’ As Fighting Abortion”
- Slate: “Pro-Lifers Dismiss Pope’s Declaration that Protecting Migrants Is Just as Important as Abortion”
- ThinkProgress: “Pope admonishes Catholics that poverty and immigration are just as important issues as abortion”
In other words, while Pope Francis called the lives of the unborn equal to migrants and the poor, the media treated them differently in their wording. Imagine if, for example, the headlines switched “opposing abortion” to “caring for the unborn.” It would look something like this [words in bold indicate edits]:
- New York Times: “Pope Francis Puts Caring for Migrants and Caring for Unborn on Equal Footing”
- NPR: “Caring For Migrants Is As Important As Caring for Unborn, Pope Says”
- CNN: “Pope Francis says helping the poor and migrants is as important as caring for unborn”
- Huffington Post: “Pope Francis: Helping Poor And Migrants Is ‘Equally Sacred’ As Helping Unborn”
- Slate: “Pro-Lifers Dismiss Pope’s Declaration that Protecting Migrants Is Just as Important as Unborn”
- ThinkProgress: “Pope admonishes Catholics that poverty and immigration are just as important issues as the unborn”
Yes, the born are as sacred as unborn. The beauty of the Catholic faith is that it realizes the intrinsic dignity and worth of each human person. But it goes both ways: If the lives of the born are “equally sacred” to the lives of the unborn, then unborn lives are “equally sacred” to born lives.
But the media, many of whom so frequently spin abortion as positive and prioritize other lives before the unborn, poked and prodded pro-life Catholics with Pope Francis’s comments.
Huffington Post religion reporter Carol Kuruvilla wrote about the pontiff’s “scathing rebuke of Catholics who prioritize some church laws and doctrines ― including those condemning abortion.” CNN Vatican correspondent Dehlia Gallagher noted the “pointed rebuke to Catholic anti-abortion activists.” ThinkProgress health policy reporter Amanda Michelle Gomez went so far as to say the move meant that Pope Francis had “softened the Roman Catholic Church stance on abortion yet again.”
One of the best responses to the attacks of pro-lifers following the publication of the exhortation came from CatholicVote managing editor Stephen Herreid.
“Of course, the human dignity of the poor is the same as the human dignity of the unborn,” he stressed. “As soon as the Supreme Court legalizes the ‘right’ to kill poor people, I’ll advocate for the poor just as strongly as I now advocate for the unborn.”
He added that “it’s a question of which one is more urgently under attack and in need of defense.” While “pro-lifers are advocating for the unborn because of their human dignity,” he continued, “they would do the same for the poor if they were just as much under threat.”
If only the media agreed.