Pope Francis’ March for Life Plenary Indulgence — An Opportunity for Papal Admirer President Biden?
Biden would do well to accept the Pope’s challenge, present throughout the writings that he quotes, to protect the dignity and humanity of the unborn.
While the annual March for Life will look very different this year having switched to a virtual format, Catholics have been widely encouraged to participate and Pope Francis has announced a plenary indulgence for all faithful Catholics who participate virtually in the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Thursday, Jan. 28, and those who will participate virtually or in-person in the Mass for Life to be celebrated on Friday, Jan. 29. President Joe Biden, a baptized Catholic who is a longtime admirer of Pope Francis, could take advantage of this special opportunity for grace.
The Pope announced the plenary indulgence accompanying participation in these events on Jan. 13 that can be obtained “under the usual conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic Communion, and offer a prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father).” The Church teaches that “an indulgence is the remission before God of temporal punishment for sins whose guilt is already forgiven, which a properly disposed member of the Christian faithful gains under certain and defined conditions by the assistance of the Church which as minister of redemption dispenses and applies authoritatively the treasury of the satisfaction of Christ and the saints.”
President Biden has praised and admired Pope Francis since his time as vice president. Following the Pope’s encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si, Biden said in 2015, “I’m a practicing Catholic. I always joke — they say, ‘Why am I a practicing Catholic?’ I say, ‘Because of the nuns and Jesuits.’” He added, in reference to Pope Francis: “We have a good one now.”
While Biden quoted the portions of that text that stressed the importance of environmental responsibility and the need to deal with the threat of climate change, he did not reference the Pope’s words that “since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?”
On the campaign trail in October, Biden quoted the Pope’s latest encyclical Fratelli Tutti, asking, “At times, in thinking of the future, we do well to ask ourselves, ‘Why I am doing this?,’ ‘What is my real aim?’” Biden commented at the time that “Pope Francis has asked questions that anyone who seeks to lead this great nation should answer” and said “my answer is this: I run to unite this nation and to heal this nation.”
Again, here Biden did not reference the portion of the Holy Father’s encyclical that warned, “Some parts of our human family, it appears, can be readily sacrificed for the sake of others considered worthy of a carefree existence. Ultimately, ‘persons are no longer seen as a paramount value to be cared for and respected, especially when they are poor and disabled, ‘not yet useful’ — like the unborn, or ‘no longer needed’ — like the elderly.”
On Nov. 12, the Pope called President Biden to congratulate him on winning the U.S. presidential election. According to a readout of the call, “The president-elect thanked His Holiness for extending blessings and congratulations and noted his appreciation for His Holiness’s leadership in promoting peace, reconciliation and the common bonds of humanity around the world,” and Biden “expressed his desire to work together on the basis of a shared belief in the dignity and equality of all humankind on issues such as caring for the marginalized and the poor, addressing the crisis of climate change, and welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees into our communities.”
In September 2015, then-Vice President Biden wrote in Time magazine that Pope Francis is “challenging us” and “emphasizes what I have always believed to be the central mission of our faith — Catholic Social Doctrine — that cuts across all confessional faiths: What you do to the least among us, you do unto me; we have an obligation to one another; we cannot serve ourselves at the expense of others; we have a responsibility to future generations.”
Biden would do well to accept the Pope’s challenge, present throughout the writings that he quotes, to protect the dignity and humanity of the unborn. One way of doing this would be rather than allowing funding to go to abortions abroad and praising Roe v. Wade during his first days in office, instead to participate in, and perhaps even speak, at the 2021 March for Life — and participate in the Catholic events related to the March and consequently receive a plenary indulgence from the Jesuit pope he so admires.