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 Andrew Medichini

April 10, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – A number of prominent media outlets noticed how sharply Pope Francis veered from the positions of his predecessors by labeling immigration as important of an issue as abortion in his new exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate.

And leftist clerics and Church observers, like Father James Martin, S.J., celebrated the exhortation for its jabs at pro-life, doctrine-supporting Catholics.

“Caring for migrants and the poor is as holy a pursuit as opposing abortion, Pope Francis declared in a major document issued by the Vatican on Monday morning,” Jason Horowitz at the New York Times began. “Pushing back against conservative critics within the church who argue that the 81-year-old pope’s focus on social issues has led him to lose sight of the true doctrine, Pope Francis again cast himself, and the mission of the Roman Catholic Church, in a more progressive light.”

“To answer God’s call to holiness, Christians must care for the poor, the sick and the immigrant just as they care for preventing abortion, Pope Francis wrote in his latest major guidance to the Catholic Church, published Monday,” the Washington Post summarized.

Both of those liberal outlets pointed to the passages in the exhortation where Pope Francis criticizes the “harmful ideological error” of those who dismiss the importance of the “social engagement of others,” such as in immigration or service of the poor.

They “find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist,” the pontiff wrote. “Or they relativize it, as if there are other more important matters, or the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend.”

Migration shouldn’t be seen as a “secondary” or “lesser” issue to “‘grave’ bioethical questions,” Pope Francis continued, suggesting the people who say that are like politicians “looking for votes.”

CNN called this “a pointed rebuke to Catholic anti-abortion activists who focus on the issue to the exclusion of all others” and a rebuke of “narrow-minded Catholics.” Its article mentioned Cardinal Raymond Burke as one of the pope’s “principal critics,” noting Catholics are concerned about Pope Francis “trying to open up Catholic teaching.”

The New York Times used its article to say the pontiff has elevated the “plight” of migrants to “global attention perhaps more than any other issue.”

The leading liberal newspaper called the document “a distilled expression of Francis’ vision of the church, which is consistent with a view articulated by Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin, the archbishop of Chicago who died in 1996, and who called for a ‘consistent ethic of life’ that wove issues of life and social justice into a ‘seamless garment.’”

It then took Pope Franics’ use of the phrase “church militant” – which in Catholic theology simply means the Church on Earth, with the “church suffering” being the souls in purgatory and the “church triumphant” being those in heaven – to call the news website Church Militant a “fringe Catholic website.”

The Times also quoted a Muslim refugee, pushed by the Vatican as available for interviews, as celebrating the pope’s declaration that migration is just as important of an issue as abortion.

“Francis does not use the term, but he clearly favors a ‘seamless garment of life’ approach to these issues,” liberal Villanova Professor Massimo Faggioli wrote at Commonweal magazine.

Despite its liberal slant, CNN gave relatively fair treatment to comments Pope Francis allegedly made to a leftist, atheist journalist during Holy Week denying the existence of hell.

“The Vatican issued a vague denial, leaving some to question the true position of the Pope,” CNN continued. It picked up on a subtle distinction that has been a feature of some of the pope’s recent comments: saying that the devil is real but casting doubt on whether anyone is actually in hell with him.

“While Francis does not address the question of hell in his new document, he makes clear that he believes the devil exists and is at work in our world.”

Feminist: reading the exhortation ‘feels good’

An article from The Independent got the gist of the exhortation right – it puts immigration on par with abortion – but then displayed extreme ignorance about Catholicism by claiming in 2016, Pope Francis “gave Catholic priests the power to forgive abortions.”

Pope Francis extended priests’ ability to forgive abortions without canonical obstacles, something that was already in place in most parts of the world.

The Independent, too, though, highlighted the parts of Gaudete et Exsultate that say the defense of pre-born babies must be on equal footing with defending “the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned.” It also quoted the quickly-becoming-infamous section decrying the “harmful ideological error” of seeing others’ “social engagement” as “superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist.”

Joanna Rothkopf at the feminist site Jezebel celebrated the parts of the exhortation that mention “harmful ideological error” and migration as on par with “grave” bioethics issues.

“The Pope immediately loses me with his full-throated, iconically Catholic defense of the unborn, sure, but that second part feels good,” Rothkopf wrote, referencing the following sentence:

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.

She called the exhortation “a righteous subtweet of America’s allegedly Christian (but not Catholic!) Republican party, which will surely be triumphantly mangled, misinterpreted, or outright rejected with a #NotMyPope.”

A subtweet is a subtle, passive aggressive dig at another.

‘How should you regard flinging…doors open wide to Muslim migrants?’

Two prominent figures in American pro-life sphere found the exhortation confusing and nonsensical.

“Pope Francis is not only a religious leader, but is also the ruler of a sovereign state, Vatican City,” mused Rob Dreher at The American Conservative. “If he really believes what he is saying, let him open the gates of Vatican to as many migrants as want to come. Let him offer permanent residency to them, and provide them and their families with financial assistance.”

He continued:

If you are a European Christian, you are living in a post-Christian, unbelieving society (the Poles are an exception), a society in which your children will face great hardship in practicing the faith, and their children’s children may have an even more difficult time. How should you regard flinging to doors open wide to Muslim migrants, who are bearers of an alien religion and culture? The Pope gives no guidance, except to imply that you are a bad Christian for asking that question (“the only proper attitude”).

When Pope Francis invites migrants to turn St. Peter’s Square into a permanent camp, then he will be true to his principles, and lead by example. If he won’t do that, then he and his supporters should reflect on why he’s not doing so, and what it might say about his own sentimentalism and double standards.

Anyway, I cannot grasp why the claim an economic migrant makes on a nation, asking it to grant him the right to live there, as he desires to do, is on the same moral level as the claim an unborn child makes on the community: to permit him the right to live, period.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said Gaudete et Exsultate “blurs lines and causes confusion” about the moral severity of abortion.

“It is impossible to equate the moral weight of abortion – the direct killing of innocent unborn children occurring on a daily massive scale, here in America and abroad – with any other social justice issue,” said Dannenfelser. “The right to live predates or precludes every other right. It is simple logic. Without the fundamental right to life, no debate can even begin on the rights that follow.”

She continued:

The Catholic Church has long taught that abortion is an intrinsic evil that must always be opposed. [The exhortation] by Pope Francis confirms this when he says “Our defence 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 and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development.” We all affirm the absolute dignity of the migrants and those suffering from poverty. How we solve these issues are matters of prudential judgment on which Catholics can disagree. Today’s exhortation blurs lines and causes confusion.”

‘Holiness’ means ‘being yourself’?

Carl E. Olsen at Catholic World Report presented an incisive analysis of the exhortation, focusing on parts that seemed to insult and “take aim” at Catholics with whom Pope Francis disagrees.

Olsen noted some parts of the document affirm Catholic teaching: “the best parts of the exhortation are those summarizing or revisiting the Church’s core beliefs about holiness, sainthood, and the spiritual life.”

And in the exhortation, there are some “hard truths put forth with clarity and brevity,” Olsen wrote.

Olsen noted that homosexuality-pushing Jesuit Father James Martin seemed “giddy” at the portions of the exhortation that the priest says are “taking aim at Catholics with ‘an obsession with the law, an absorption with social and political advantages [and] a punctilious concern for the Church's liturgy, doctrine and prestige.’”

“Martin’s rather giddy Tweet [on the exhortation] carried a strong whiff of ‘giving them what they had coming,’” Olsen wrote. “Would (or should) a papal text on holiness really ‘take aim’ at certain Catholics? Meanwhile, in an online piece for America magazine about the ‘top five takeaways’ from the papal text, Martin explained that the first key point is ‘Holiness means being yourself.’ And what if I’m someone who has a ‘punctilious concern’ for the Church’s liturgy and doctrine? What then?”

(One also wonders: Does Fr. Martin think pedophile priests should just “be themselves”?)

Exhortation signing coincided with ‘Lettergate’

Veteran Vaticanista Sandro Magister offered readers of his blog a biting critique of the new exhortation.

“On his objectors within the Church, Francis sketches in ‘Gaudete et Exsultate’ a profile that is prejudicially dismissive,” Magister observed.

“Curiously, however, the day on which Francis put his signature to ‘Gaudete et Exsultate’ was March 19,” the feast of St. Joseph, Magister concluded. “But it was also the final day of the ‘Viganò saga,’ the most colossal piece of ‘fake news’ fabricated so far by the pontificate of Francis, and moreover at the expense of his innocent predecessor, Benedict XVI.”

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As a journalist and editor for LifeSiteNews, Claire Chretien has written more than 1,500 articles about abortion, human dignity, bioethics, the Catholic Church, politics, and related topics. Claire holds a bachelor’s degree from The University of Alabama. It was there that she first became involved in pro-life activism.