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Sept. 24, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – The timing of Pope Francis’ speech to Congress could hardly be seen as anything short of divinely planned – coming on the same day as the Senate is scheduled to vote on whether to defund Planned Parenthood, the country’s number one killer of unborn babies.

Meanwhile, on Monday, Democrats halted a ban on most late-term abortions. On Friday, the House voted to pass a bill making it 1st degree murder to kill a baby born alive after a botched abortion. Add to this the fact that millions have watched those undercover Planned Parenthood videos in recent weeks, and it becomes clear that the groundwork has been laid for an unprecedented national conversation on abortion.

Hopes that the pope’s address could help sway public support in favor of life at this critical moment were raised when he spoke to the assembled lawmakers of the need to protect life at “every stage of development.” Those watching naturally assumed that this remark was prelude to some additional words addressing the abortion issue, and perhaps even the Planned Parenthood scandal.

However, in a curious bait-and-switch that left many pro-life politicians in the chamber in puzzled silence, the pope instead turned his attention immediately to the death penalty, describing how “this conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty.”

Even the New York Times took note of the unexpected change of direction, describing how, “instead of continuing on to talk about the need to end abortion, he pivots to the death penalty.”

Another clear opening to speak specifically to the abortion issue came when the pope spoke about “money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood.” The phrase is a perfect encapsulation of the Planned Parenthood aborted baby parts scandal. Disappointingly, however, the pope connected these words only to the arms trade.

Let us be perfectly clear: It is good that the pope spoke about the Church’s position on the death penalty and the arms trade. Since the time of Pope John Paul II, the Catholic Church has been very clear on its opposition to the death penalty in cases where it is no longer necessary to protect public safety. And who could fail to oppose the sale of arms for profit in cases where it contributes to the waging of unjust warfare and the killing of innocents?

But on the one issue that admits of absolutely no debate, and that would have challenged many a politician, both Catholic and not, in that room – the massive and legalized slaughter of innocents on American soil – the pope chose to take a pass.

Some are seizing on the pope’s passing reference to life “at every stage of development” as a “strong” pro-life statement and proof that he did speak to the issue of abortion. However, it is difficult to see how those five, relatively ambiguous words, spoken in the middle of a 3,400 word speech and without specific reference to the issue of abortion, are likely to have any practical effect or cause any serious soul-searching. Indeed, by seemingly going out of his way not to connect this ubiquitous pro-life catchphrase to abortion, the pope – however inadvertently – telegraphed the message that the Church cares more about the death penalty than it does the wanton slaughter of millions of innocents.

This is the “pivot” – to use the New York Times’ phrasing – that will be heard around the world.

Many pro-life activists are looking to the pope for his leadership during this visit, in hopes that he might be able to use his considerable popularity and media appeal to draw attention to the injustice of abortion at a time when the pro-life movement is making huge strides forward. A few words from the pope, for instance, would be enough to shatter the mainstream media silence on the Planned Parenthood scandal.

UK conservative writer Damian Thompson summed up the hopes of many pro-life activists when he Tweeted: “Two words I hope we hear from Pope Francis in the US: Planned Parenthood.”

One prays that we may yet hear those two words. But, for whatever reason, it seems that at the moment when those two words were most needed and would have been most effective, the pope charted a different course, focusing on more popular social justice issues.

Is this part of the pope’s strategy to ensure that the Church doesn’t speak about issues like abortion, contraception and gay ‘marriage’ “all the time” – one that he outlined in one of his first interviews as pontiff? If so, one prays that the pope and his advisors may yet heed the pleading of pro-life Catholics – keenly aware as they are of the deafening silence from the pulpit for decades on these very issues – to abandon such an ill-advised strategy.

Nobody is calling into question whether the pope is pro-life: during his papacy he has made clear his opposition to abortion and the “throwaway culture.” However, by failing to speak specifically to the issue of abortion today, Pope Francis missed perhaps his greatest opportunity to make a difference on the issue of life in America.

John Jalsevac is Web Strategy Director of He has a bachelor's degree in philosophy with a minor in theology from Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia. He has published hundreds of articles in publications including Crisis Magazine, Catholic Insight, The Wanderer, and of course, LifeSiteNews.