September 21, 2013

Pope Francis encourages doctors not to perform abortions

The Associated Press

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis offered an olive branch of sorts to the doctrine-minded, conservative wing of the Catholic Church on Friday as he denounced abortions as a symptom of today's "throw-away culture" and encouraged Catholic doctors to refuse to perform them.

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Pope Francis meets Hungary's President Janos Ader during a private audience at the Vatican on Friday.

The Associated Press

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Francis issued a strong anti-abortion message and cited Vatican teaching on the need to defend the unborn during an audience with Catholic gynecologists.

It came a day after he was quoted as blasting the church's obsession with "small-minded rules" that are driving the faithful away. In an interview that has sent shockwaves through the church, Francis urged its pastors to focus on being merciful and welcoming rather than insisting only on such divisive, hot-button issues as abortion, gay marriage and contraception.

Even before the interview was published, some conservatives had voiced disappointment that Francis had shied away from restating such church rules. Francis explained his reason for doing so in the interview with the Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica, saying church teaching on such issues is well-known, he supports it, but that he doesn't feel it necessary to repeat it constantly.

He did repeat it on Friday, however. In his comments, Francis denounced today's "throw-away culture" that justifies disposing of lives, and said doctors in particular had been forced into situations where they are called to "not respect life."

"Every child that isn't born, but is unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of Jesus Christ, has the face of the Lord," he said.

He urged the gynecologists to abide by their consciences and help bring lives into the world. "Things have a price and can be for sale, but people have a dignity that is priceless and worth far more than things," he said.

Francis' comments to Civilta Cattolica contained no change in church teaching, but they represented a radical shift in tone and stood in stark contrast to the priorities of his two immediate predecessors.

John Paul II and Benedict XVI were both intellectuals for whom doctrine was paramount, an orientation that guided the selection of a generation of bishops and cardinals who, in countries like the United States, have put themselves on the front lines in opposing abortion and gay marriage. They now find themselves being asked to preach more to those who have fallen away from the church and offer them a compassionate welcome home.

Greg Burke, the Vatican's senior communications adviser, insisted Friday that Francis was by no means calling into question the papacies and priorities of his predecessors.

"The pope is not condemning his predecessors," Burke told The Associated Press. "What he is saying is 'We've spent a lot of time talking about the boundaries. We've spent a lot of time talking about what is sin and what's not. Now let's move on. Let's talk about mercy. Let's talk about love.'"

Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Ireland's most reform-minded Catholic leader, said Francis' comments will be tough for the church to put into action because there is a tendency to get "trapped" into the right and wrong, white and black of Catholic teaching.

"It's a way of thinking that will actually be very hard for the right and the left of the church, either of them, to accept," he told RTE radio. But he said Francis wasn't dismissing everything that has been taught to date.

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