What did Pope Francis mean when he said the unborn and the poor are equally sacred?

  Pope Francis speaks during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 18. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 

When Pope Francis insisted that the lives of the unborn and of the poor are "equally sacred," he was not trying to shift the focus of Catholics from fighting abortion to fighting poverty, he was trying to show they are part of the same battle, said Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

The life of the unborn must be "promoted and defended with great determination and given an effective priority," the archbishop told Catholic News Service April 17.

Advertisement

"At the same time," he said, "we must keep in mind that the dignity of every human being is equal and inviolable at every stage throughout his or her life."

In "Rejoice and Be Glad," his apostolic exhortation on holiness, Pope Francis wrote that living a Christian life involves the defense of both the unborn and the poor, and he criticized what he termed the "harmful ideological error" of thinking one's own cause is the only important one.

"Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred," Pope Francis wrote. "Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection."

Pope Francis' words reminded many people of the "seamless garment" approach to life issues promoted by the late Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin of Chicago. While applauding its recognition of the sacredness of all human life, some people criticized the approach, saying it could give people a mistaken impression that, for example, the church teaches abortion and capital punishment are equally serious sins. Others worried that some Catholics would claim their defense of life in one area meant that they did not have to pursue the protection of life in other areas.

"We must keep in mind that the dignity of every human being is equal and inviolable at every stage throughout his or her life."

But "Pope Francis has reaffirmed that abortion is evil without mincing words," Archbishop Paglia said. At the same time, he asks that "the pro-life commitment be enlarged."

The pope's words in the exhortation reflect the same vision the pope had in renewing the statutes and membership of the Academy for Life, he said; the pope believes "true support for life cannot be limited to isolated moments of its existence, but also must promote the conditions of justice and peace" life needs to thrive.

What Pope Francis is telling Catholics, he said, is "to be pro-life always, in every situation and everywhere, not only in one moment, in one country or one aspect. We must rediscover the prophetic call to defend life in its concrete situations, not as an abstraction, by defending human beings from the very beginning of life to its end."

Rather than watering down Catholics' commitment to ending abortion, the archbishop said, attention to defending life at every stage and in every circumstance "should make us stronger, including in effectively combatting the absurd prospect of abortion."

By putting together abortion, euthanasia, hunger, immigration, the death penalty, weapons trafficking, war and other serious issues, he said, Pope Francis makes it clear that all human life always must be defended.

A prophetic pro-life stance, Archbishop Paglia said, "has no limits," while an "ideological approach" zeroes in on particulars. "Ideology moves the mind, while prophecy moves the mind, but also the heart and the hands because it dares to dream of a future that is beautiful for everyone."

"We must never do death's job," the archbishop said. "Never."

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Floyd Grabiel
4 months ago

The article posits, "While applauding its recognition of the sacredness of all human life, some people criticized the approach, saying it could give people a mistaken impression that, for example, the church teaches abortion and capital punishment are equally serious sins."
Why would abortion and capital punishment NOT be considered equally serious sins"? If all life is sacred, then all life is sacred. Period.

Christopher Lochner
4 months ago

Yes, but, does this then imply that anyone who kills while fighting in a war is guilty of a grave sin?

J Cosgrove
4 months ago

does this then imply that anyone who kills while fighting in a war is guilty of a grave sin?

There is a whole range of issues here not being addressed. There are primary actions such as abortion and capital punishment and your example of war and what could be included is killing in self defense.

Then there are thousands and I mean literally thousands of actions that lead to the death of others. And there are similarly thousands of actions that lead to the well being or harm to others.

It seems that this exhortation by the Pope is too simplistic to take any action because the issues are too broad. For example, the Pope said

to be pro-life always, in every situation and everywhere, not only in one moment, in one country or one aspect. We must rediscover the prophetic call to defend life in its concrete situations, not as an abstraction, by defending human beings from the very beginning of life to its end.

This is so sweeping and vague that it could mean anything. And many of the things that people want others to do often has very negative secondary and tertiary consequences including their death. For example, advocating for unfettered migration or immigration has already led to tens of thousands of deaths as a result of these migrations. Or many foreign policy implementation has led to tens of thousands of deaths either through too much aggression of too much timidity.

David Sharples
4 months ago

Considering that it's said that 3000 unborn children are killed daily... if 3000 illegal immigrants were being killed at the border.. would that also ONLY qualify as a seamless garment issue, or would it be murder on a diabolical scale?

Tim Donovan
4 months ago

I agree with the seamless garment approach/,the consistent ethic of life approach for educational purposes. That is, I believe that the Church should draw attention to the needs to defend all human beings in homilies by priests at Mass (when appropriately related to the readings) and in other settings. Also, I have for many years staunchly opposed capital punishment, and have participated in writing letters on line through the Catholic Mobilizing Network asking governors or parole boards to grant clemency to people who have been sentenced to death by execution. Also, for many years I've been a pen pal with a man serving life imprisonment for a serious crime. He's a devout Jehovah's Witness, and I believe he's reformed his life. Without boasting (I'm a very imperfect Catholic) I also send my writing "companion" on occasion modest contributions for his personal needs. However, I don't believe that abortion and capital punishment are "equally serious sins." Capital punishment , although immoral in my view because it (a) doesn't bring the murder victim back to life (b) has at times resulted in the execution of people who are later found to be innocent (c) hasn't been proven to be a deterrent to crime (d) is enormously expensive- the money used for capital punishment could instead be used to hire more police, pay prison guards more, and/or make the prison a more humane environment and finally (e) teaches that killing is an appropriate solution for a problem, no matter how serious, I believe abortion is more immoral. With respect to your view, I think the killing of an innocent human being is more immoral than killing a person convicted of murder of of a serious crime. I believe the same about war. I believe that war can only be justified when: diplomacy has been exhausted; it's water only as a last resort; innocent civilians aren't deliberately targeted for death; and there is a.likely means of success. Also, while I'm not a pacifist, I do admit their convictions. However, I do think that killing an innocent human being is more immoral than killing even a human being convicted of murder (although I think it's an unfortunate and inappropriate means of protecting society). If I was murdered, I wouldn't want unskilled to be executed. Take care.

arthur mccaffrey
4 months ago

"Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.".......and the abuse of children, right?
What's the point of being pro-life if you abuse the hell out of children after they are born? This seamless garment approach becomes just a blanket thrown over everything if you don't have stated priorities that lead to action in this life. Let's defend the living, and provide both the economic and moral resources to support the lives of children.

Robert Klahn
4 months ago

That last sentence is how we protect life.

Richard Bell
4 months ago

Equally sacred are the lives of the poor et cetera, including the rich. Very well. This truth implies that we should condemn acquisition of wealth in any way that treats another person's life as less than sacred. Prophets, take it away! (I expect cacophony.)

Robert Klahn
4 months ago

Your point is vague.

Richard Bell
4 months ago

My point is about vagueness of the principle that every life is sacred.

John Walton
4 months ago

The obligation to defend the "right to life" of the unborn is a rather binary option. You either allow it or deny it.

Sorry for the simple "blue-book" answer, but a few words suffice.

Robert Klahn
4 months ago

The obligation to defend the "right to life" of the born is a rather binary option. You either allow it or deny it.

Sorry, but it looks like you are trying to avoid protecting the born.

James Haraldson
4 months ago

It is infantile to advance a caricature, even by an intelligence challenged pope. Where does anyone get the gall to recycle the claim that pro-lifers "abuse" children after they are born? How evil can a mind get to believe such a thing!!! Where are the "pro-choice" Catholics who are providing food, clothing, and shelter for abortion turnarounds the way pro-lifers are, unless of course you are as dumb as a pontiff who blinds himself to these facts?

Robert Klahn
4 months ago

I accuse you of lying.

Nowhere do I see the Pope even suggesting pro-lifers abuse children. I do see pro-lifers who deny their responsibility to lift a finger to help the poor and the hungry and the homeless.

Unless you support feeding the poor and housing the homeless and providing medical care to the ill etc you are as guilty as those the Pope is talking about.

The problem is not the intelligence challenged, it's the integrity and decency challenged.

Tim Donovan
4 months ago

I certainly agree that Pope Francis isn't accusing pro-life advocates (of which he is one) of abusing children. I also agree that those of us who are pro-life must assist the born as well as the innocent unborn. Without boasting (I'm a very imperfect Catholic, but won't describe my sins as I don't want to use up too much space), I do each month contribute modest amounts to both Catholic and secular charities. These include Catholic Relief Services, a Philadelphia -area food bank, a gun control lobby, a homeless shelter, a home for women who are victims of human trafficking, my parish and another parish, a nursing home, a Catholic University, a Catholic high school, a Catholic ministry for prisioners, a Catholic High School for disabled students, a school and agency that serves disabled people (I'm a retired Special Education teacher), Habitat for Humanity, two orders of nuns, Alcoholics Anonymous, the Salvation Army, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, Samaritan's Purse (an overseas charity with Rev. Franklin Graham as its administrator), Integrity Restored (an anti-pornography ministry), a charity that assists disabled veterans, Food for the Poor, Catholic Climate Covenant (an environmental protection group), St. Luke Foundation for Haiti (A charity that assists impoverished people in many ways, similar to Catholic Relief Services), as well as several pro-life groups. One is political and educational in nature), two are legal advocacy groups, a shelter for homeless pregnant women, and a free day care for low-income women so that they can complete their educations. I again emphasize that my contributions never exceed $15 to any particular charity at a time, and this is the entire list that I contribute to at different times. Finally, I certainly don't intend to boast, as my failings in life are such that I go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation each month with my pastor, who is very compassionate. Take care.

Advertisement

The latest from america

Bishop Lawrence T. Persico of Erie, Pa., speaks during a meeting in late January at the headquarters of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
“I think we need complete transparency if we’re going to get the trust of the people back,” said Erie Bishop Lawrence T. Persico.
Mélanie Thierry as Marguerite Duras in “Memoir of War.” © Music Box Films
The film tells the story of a woman who worked for the German-controlled Vichy government but secretly joined the Resistance movement.
A. W. Richard Sipe (photo: Facebook)
Sipe's research into celibacy and priestly sexual behavior helped guide the work of church leaders and others responding to the clergy sexual abuse crisis.
Catholic News ServiceAugust 17, 2018
Did Pope Francis depart from Scripture and tradition in declaring the death penalty "inadmissible"? Or was his declaration rooted deeply in both?
Tobias WinrightAugust 17, 2018