Tomorrow’s meeting between President Obama and Pope Francis will, no doubt, be the subject of much commentary about what the Pope might or should tell the president and much speculation afterwards about what was said and why.
I have no concerns about the content of the meeting. Pope Francis and his advisers will know what should be said and how to say it. Nor do I doubt the Pope’s pro-life credentials; in fact, I have had the honor of discussing the topic of pro-life with him more than once.
But here’s what I am concerned about: Spin and commentary about the meeting will reinforce what can only be described as a blind spot in our national discourse — our ability to affirm human rights and forget the rights of children in the womb.
Reinforcing that concern are some of the things that have already been publicly said by the president and by U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Ken Hackett.
At this year’s National Prayer Breakfast in Washington on Feb. 6, the president said he was looking forward to meeting with the Pope. Then the president went on to make the following affirmations:
“The killing of the innocent is never fulfilling God’s will; in fact, it’s the ultimate betrayal of God’s will.”
“Today, we profess the principles we know to be true. We believe that each of us is ‘wonderfully made’ in the image of God.”
“We, therefore, believe in the inherent dignity of every human being — dignity that no earthly power can take away.”
That’s the blind spot I’m concerned about. All that he says here is true, and yet it is contradicted by his policies allowing those “wonderfully made” in the womb to have their “inherent dignity” taken away by “earthly power” that allows “the killing of the innocent” by abortion. We as a society affirm human rights but deny the most basic right: life itself.
I do not doubt that Hackett is pro-life. However, in an Oct. 25 interview with the Register, his comments raise concern that the approach he will take for the administration will reinforce the blind spot noted above:“I don’t have a problem representing this administration. ... We are a nation that is concerned about the poor in the world, the injustices in the world and the issues of peace. … Certainly, there will be differences. … I like to focus on the positive. … There’s recognition that on some things we agree on, some things we don’t.”
“It is always a temptation to say, ‘We agree on so many good and important things. Let’s not make anybody feel bad, and let’s not be negative. After all, we agree on more than what we disagree on, so why should we focus on areas that we’re not going to change our position on after all?’”
That’s a smooth temptation and a very dangerous and deceptive route. It’s like trying to build a house together and disagreeing on the foundation, and then saying, “But wait! Look at all the other parts of the house that we do agree on. The foundation is only one part. Let’s focus on how we build strong walls and beautiful roofs.”
Pope Francis himself referred to this problem in his recent apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel):
“Yet this defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems. Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be” (213).
The right to life is the foundation and condition for every other human right. For a government, whether the United States or any other, to permit abortion is to change the very nature of that government and to become a tyrant state. This is a point also made by Blessed John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae (On the Value and Inviolability of Human Life). And that is no minor point that can be ignored.
The solution to abortion is not to “agree to disagree.” When someone is perpetrating violence against others, you don’t sit back and “agree to disagree” with the perpetrator. Rather, you stop the perpetrator. And that’s what the Pope — and all the rest of us — need to make clear, in season and out of season.
Father Frank Pavone is a priest of the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas. He is the national director of Priests for Life and the chairman of Rachel’s Vineyard, an organization that offers healing from the effects of abortion.