Open Letter to Pope Francis on Prenatal Justice
January 22, 2021 | Published first in Public Discourse
by Charles C. Camosy
Dear Holy Father,
I’ve been an admirer of your pontificate from the very beginning, and I have remained excited over the last eight years. Your vision has been transformational for developing my own pro-life vision, especially when it comes to resisting throwaway culture with a culture of encounter and hospitality. And yours has of course been a transformational pontificate for the Church at large—upholding the orthodox teaching of the faith while offering a pastoral and Gospel-centered plan for both reaching new people and keeping our focus squarely on the poor.
From the beginning of your pontificate, you have self-consciously decided to incorporate a “new balance,” one that rightly insists on seeing more traditional pro-life and pro-family issues in a moral and social context that gives a new priority to the poor and the stranger in the Catholic Church’s preaching and advocacy. This vision has power and the potential to bring unity across the left–right polarization afflicting our Church in a way that remains deeply faithful to Christ’s teachings.
Some have criticized your attempt to find this new balance, particularly when it comes to a perception that you are downplaying the seriousness of abortion. Given how the major media have covered your pontificate, Holy Father, this is understandable, though I have pointed out in Resisting Throwaway Culture how forceful you’ve been on prenatal justice. Indeed, the very next day after your interview about the new balance was released, you addressed OB-GYN physicians in Rome by saying, “Every unborn child, though unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of the Lord.” In the face of a throwaway culture urging us to look the other way, you have been willing to refer to abortion as the “white-gloved Nazi crime” that it is. You’ve even gone so far as to analogize abortion to hiring a hitman in order to make a problem go away.
Those are incredibly powerful statements. But, Holy Father, I must respectfully point out a significant difference between you and your predecessors, who also spoke powerfully on these matters, at least at this point in your pontificate. Your direct and forceful language in favor of prenatal justice has almost always come in off-the-cuff remarks or in less-than-high-profile situations. When it comes to your most authoritative teachings and statements, you often do mention abortion, yes, but it is almost always as a secondary consideration or something thrown in as part of a longer list of problems to address.
Most recently, in a discussion of your otherwise fantastic encyclical Fratelli Tutti, I made my disappointment known that you didn’t even address prenatal children at all when giving an extended set of reflections lamenting insufficiently universal human rights. This was a major disappointment, especially since you have had no problem invoking this, the most vulnerable bearer of the Face of Christ, in other encyclicals. I believe in submitting to your teaching, Holy Father, but I also note that you have welcomed disagreement from those who are faithful to you and the Church you lead. And here I urge you to bring your forceful defense of prenatal children into a more central place of your pontificate. It is time to stand up firmly and forcefully for their dignity in a culture that increasingly sees them as disposable thing that can be violently discarded.