For traditional Catholics, for pro-lifers, the visit by Pope Francis has been a series of missed opportunities. In his address to Congress not only did he make fleeting reference to abortion by stating the need for Americans to respect life at every stage of development, he then followed that with immediate specific reference to capital punishment. If he didn’t mention the unborn specifically, at least they are in good company. He didn’t mention Jesus, either. (Though he did mention “God,” which invites non-Christians to the table.)
The list of complaints on social media is endless. In sum, they paint a picture of a pope who has ignored the red meat issues of American Catholicism’s troubles in favor of a left-wing socio-political agenda. How do you solve a problem like Francis? How do you catch a cloud and pin it down? (Cue the Sound of Music)
But as this papacy has unfolded, something about traditionalists’ complaints over Francis calls attention back on the traditionalists and their hero popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. In thirty-five years of these two giant popes, we have witnessed all of the heavy-lifting both philosophically and theologically on the sexual revolution and the decline of the status of human persons in the twentieth century. We’ll be unpacking their writing for decades to come. As western civilization has crumbled, we clamor for more writing, more words, more defense of the sacred. And we get to the point where this author needs to ask, “What more needs to be said?” How many more words? How many more documents? How many more encyclicals? How many more speeches, homilies, press conferences?
In the span of two years I lost my two great mentors in life, one personal and one scientific. It’s a cold and lonely feeling to have them gone, to have the book closed on more words, more thoughts, more wisdom, more direction. But at some point the mentors, the parents, the elders have said and done all that needs to be said and done. At some point it’s time to leave the nest, to become the mentor for the next generation, to employ all that has been imparted and to add one’s own wisdom and experience. At some point, more words become just that: more words.
Words, words, words…
We don’t need more John Pauls and Benedicts. And this pope is right. It isn’t necessary for popes to always talk of sex and abortion. Where he comes from, those are secondary in magnitude to the evil of avoidable poverty, and all of the secondary violence and evils spawned by abject, grinding poverty. And to be brutally honest and completely fair to Francis, in 35 years of John Paul and Benedict, I heard comparatively little in traditional circles about third world poverty and the social justice teaching of the Church.
I have put my doctorate on the line in the service of the Gospel of Life. I have been a warrior in the cause. I have blogged for six years and rebuked my own scientific community for ignoring the truth of science in the headlong pursuit of assuring the slaughter of 60 million human beings in the womb. But I also worked for seven years with runaway and homeless teens in the bad and wild days of Times Square, New York in the 80’s.
And I and others see clearly what Francis sees clearly.
Jesus isn’t just being butchered in the womb. He’s dying 760,000 times a year of diarrheal disease (children under age five). Jesus faces the great dilemma tens of thousands of times per week in India of having just enough money to either buy food or firewood. If food, there is no fire to cook it, or boil the water to make it safe.
Jesus lacks basic medical care, shelter, or even a dignified place to die from His poverty and neglect.
Gay marriage is an affront to God, as is abortion and euthanasia, as is Planned Parenthood’s trafficking in fetal human remains-remains often harvested from babies still alive. But the issues Francis will not allow to remain in the shadows are just as pernicious, and even more perilous for the souls of traditionalists.
I didn’t marry a man. I married Regina 23 years ago. We didn’t abort our babies, we welcomed them with open hearts. We did it right. But I would be a liar if I said that patches in our marriage weren’t characterized by a lack of charity. I’d be a liar if I said that we did it perfectly, or even well at times. But for all that we have done right on the life issues, for Regina’s 25 years as a pediatric nurse and my work in the pro-life movement, we are called to place equal emphasis on the poor and the least.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have not done so on this pro-life blog, that the focus has been pretty tight on abortion, euthanasia, assisted reproduction, and marriage. No one person can do it all.
But no one Catholic has grounds to excoriate a pope for bringing matters of at least as great an importance out from their second-class status and into the heart of his papacy. How else do we combat the assertion of the proaborts when they charge us with only caring for babies until they are born?
If society crumbles, if the life issues move from bad to worse, we cannot lay that at the feet of the popes, or even most bishops. We are the ones responsible for evangelizing, for presenting the truth in a compelling manner. And to be fair to us, we have.
In six years of blogging on the scientific front, it is safe to say that we have won the debate on the human identity and status of the embryo and fetus. We have won the debate on chemical contraceptives and their harmful effects. We have won on every major scientific issue by revealing the scientific literature in every field. But for all that we have won, the truth has emerged that the other side never cared about the facts. Now, under Obama and company, it is the exercise of raw political power and will. Now it is simply about Choice as a virtue, rather than choice being the mechanism that takes us to either virtue or vice. All decisions are moral because all are the product of choice.
Perhaps Francis knows something that we do not. Perhaps Francis sees that we are still fighting the last war. We are trying to correct the vision of the blind. What is needed now is not so much a pro-life apologetic. That was John Paul’s papacy. The ground has shifted seismically since then. What is needed now is a new evangelization altogether.
We are arguing for the dignity of the unborn to those who do not see, and even disavow their own fundamental dignity, who sneer at even the Natural Law of the secular Enlightenment philosophers. We are faced with the malevolence that John Paul foresaw and trembled at the thought of.
So, perhaps Francis is on to something. Perhaps it is easier to awaken the world to its collective humanity, its fundamental dignity by addressing all of those criteria Jesus said He would judge us by in Matthew 25. One thing, though, is for certain.
The life issues didn’t improve (though our understanding of them did) in 35 years of John Paul, Benedict, and the ascendency of traditionalism. In fact, it has become much worse. That is through no fault of those popes, or of us in the traditionalist and pro-life camps. But there is one thing else that is for certain…
It isn’t Francis’ fault, either.