This September, a religious, political, and international leader will be presented with a unique opportunity. When Pope Francis visits the United States in a few week and addresses a joint session of Congress, he can change history, save lives, and save souls. To do so, he will have to look powerful politicians in the face, reaffirm that abortion is a moral evil, and demand that Caesar cease facilitating it. Pope Francis’ position as the leader of the Catholic Church demands nothing less.
The grim horrors shown in the Planned Parenthood videos over the last few weeks are well known to those who care to know about them. The Catholic Church’s condemnation of abortion beginning in the first century is also well known. That condemnation is a matter of historical and theological fact, despite the assertions of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Along with its condemnation of the act of abortion, the Catholic Church also teaches that, ‘[f]ormal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense.” When Republicans join Democrats to fund Planned Parenthood and thus permit that organization to use its other resources to fund abortion, Republicans are aiding Democrats in facilitating this grave offense.
Thus both political parties in the United States are, to varying degrees and for disparate reasons, caught up in the business of abortion. Democrats have provided philosophical, financial, and political support for abortion, and Republicans have silently funded it for years, hoping not to attract too much attention. Many politicians on the left and the right are to blame for the promotion of, or the benign acceptance that legal abortion and the federal government’s facilitation of it is an accomplished fact that cannot be changed.
In American politics, abortion is usually referred to in the abstract. Doing so is an attempt to sanitize it from evil and make it more politically palatable. The utility of that practice was shattered by the release of the videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing and engaging in the murder, dismemberment of babies and selling their body parts. No thinking person who knows about these videos can claim to be unaware of the diabolical nature of the abortion industry.
After being confronted with the reality of abortion and government funding of Planned Parenthood, the response of the political establishment has been unequal to the moral challenge facing it. President Obama and his Democrat colleagues have predictically underplayed the significance of the videos, Republicans in the Senate had a show vote to defund Planned Parenthood that was destined to be defeated, and their colleagues in the House are planning to hold investigations. Investigations are sometimes used by Congress to satisfy public anger without having to take legislative action. After the release of the videos, one wonders: what facts necessary for action to halt the funding of Planned Parenthood are not in evidence? What more does an investigation need to reveal to compel congressional action? The answer to both questions is that nothing more is needed apart from political courage.
In the midst of this political and moral morass, Pope Francis will arrive. He won’t be the first or the last pontiff to be in a position to confront leaders of nations acting in a way that fails to adhere to the truths taught by the Catholic Church. For over 2,000 years, the Church has often found itself at odds with the prevailing impulses and desires of a world that wants to reject the Gospel of Christ that the Church preaches. The mission of the Church is to emulate Christ by witnessing the truth of God’s word. In our times, as in ancient times, part of that mission is to demand the protection of the unborn from abortion.
As the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has a moral obligation to be a prophetic voice to the powerful and explain to them that they can no longer fund an organization that promotes and carries out abortions. Pope Francis must raise that voice in his address to Congress. It cannot be confined to a sentence or a passing reference. Pope Francis must elaborate eloquently on the duty of protecting the unborn. The rich tradition of Christianity provides many witnesses to the responsibility we have to our brothers and sisters who are in the womb. For the moment the most pertinent witness may be the pope’s own. In his recent encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis wrote,
“[s]ince 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?”
This encyclical was warmly welcomed by may Democrats who glossed over his words on abortion. Those same words have not been fully heeded by Republicans to impel them to immediate action depriving Planned Parenthood of taxpayer dollars. Pope Francis can use his moral authority, his clear teaching, and the words of his predecessors in the papacy to compel Congress to end to federal support for organizations that further abortion. Indeed, he must.
As the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has a responsibility to witness and proclaim the Word of God. That responsibility requires his passionate defense of life and call to action on abortion when he addresses Congress. He will be entering a land where the destruction of human life is taking place on a massive scale. He will be entering the House chamber where politicians who have voted to fund Planned Parenthood will be seated, alongside those who have tried to stop them.
Pope Francis will enter this coliseum as a Christian witness. He must not allow himself to be consumed by the lions within it, by failing to loudly and lovingly defend the unborn and tell Congress to join him in their defense. Pope Francis’ office requires this witness. The lives of the unborn are depending upon it.
Neil Siefring is president of Hilltop Advocacy, LLC, and a former Republican House staffer. Follow him on Twitter @NeilSiefring