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April 9, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Writing this morning that abortion and issues like immigration have moral equivalence, Pope Francis deviated from a principle his predecessors have taught for centuries: abortion is today’s most pressing and grave human rights abuse.

Pope Francis wrote in this in his new apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (“Rejoice and Be Glad”), wherein he decried the understanding of migration as an issue “secondary” to “‘grave’ bioethical questions.”

Throughout the history of the Church, popes have strongly denounced abortion as a very serious sin and outlined what the Church’s response to it ought to be. The suggestion that stopping the murder of innocent human babies is just as important as helping the “situation of migrants” differs from previous papal teachings, in which popes like St. John Paul II asserted that the right to life is the most basic and primary of all.

Pope Francis hinted at this view early in his papacy

In Gaudete et ExsultatePope Francis condemned the “harmful ideological error” of “those who find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist. 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.”

Writing that helping “victims” of “every form of rejection” is just as important as defending the pre-born, the pontiff continued:

…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. 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. We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as others look on from afar, living their entire lives in abject poverty.

Then, he wrote, migration shouldn’t be seen as a “secondary” or “lesser” issue to “‘grave’ bioethical questions,” and suggested the people who say that are like politicians “looking for votes”:

We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue. Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the “grave” bioethical questions. That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian, for whom the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children. Can we not realize that this is exactly what Jesus demands of us, when he tells us that in welcoming the stranger we welcome him (cf. Mt 25:35)? Saint Benedict did so readily, and though it might have “complicated” the life of his monks, he ordered that all guests who knocked at the monastery door be welcomed “like Christ”, with a gesture of veneration; the poor and pilgrims were to be met with “the greatest care and solicitude”.

This passage in Gaudete et Exsultate is in many ways the “magisterializing” of an ideology Pope Francis expressed six months into his papacy, when he told America magazine, “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.” He decried the Church being “obsessed” with these moral issues in what the New York Times rightly reported as a comment that “sent shock waves through the Roman Catholic church.”

Initially, many Catholics defended the pope’s remarks as being misrepresented by some media reports. The pope was not in any way minimizing Church teaching, many argued, but rather suggesting it be presented in a different way so as to win more souls over.

But since then, Pope Francis has done little to prove to his initial defenders that he wasn’t, in fact, trying to minimize Catholic moral teaching and make a jab at pro-life Catholics who focus on ending abortion.

A bold papal contention that bioethics issues like the killing of innocent, very young humans shouldn’t be considered more important than “welcoming” immigrants seems to be unprecedented.

Previous popes – some of whom are now recognized as saints – essentially said the opposite: that abortion is the crucial moral issue, and without protecting the lives of the innocent, youngest and most vulnerable members of humanity, society cannot protect its citizens in other ways.

Pope Francis released his exhortation morally equating abortion with migration on the Feast of the Annunciation, which this year was transferred to April 9 due to its regular celebration falling on Palm Sunday. The Annunciation, commemorating Mary’s “yes” to bringing Jesus into the world, is arguably one of the most pro-life feast days of the year.

St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI on abortion and its moral gravity

In 1994, Pope St. John Paul II told a journalist that it’s “difficult to imagine a more unjust situation” than legalized abortion. He also called it “very difficult to speak of obsession in a matter such as this.” He said:

The legalization of the termination of pregnancy is none other than the authorization given to an adult, with the approval of an established law, to take the lives of children yet unborn and thus incapable of defending themselves. It is difficult to imagine a more unjust situation, and it is very difficult to speak of obsession in a matter such as this, where we are dealing with a fundamental imperative of every good conscience — the defense of the right to life of an innocent and defenseless human being.

In Christifideles Laici, St. John Paul II wrote:

The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights – for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture – is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

In Donum Vitae, then-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – later Pope Benedict XVI – wrote:

The inviolable right to life of every innocent human individual and the rights of the family and of the institution of marriage constitute fundamental moral values, because they concern the natural condition and integral vocation of the human person; at the same time they are constitutive elements of civil society and its order.

The right to life is the first of human rights, Ratzinger wrote:

The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life.

Pope St. John Paul II approved Donum Vitae and ordered that it be published.

“Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia,” Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) also wrote when he was still the Church’s doctrine chief. “For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion.”

“While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment,” Ratzinger continued. “There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

During his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about immigration and the plight of migrants. But LifeSiteNews has been unable to find instances where Pope Benedict took the position Pope Francis has: that when it comes to abortion and immigration, neither is of more moral significance than the other.

Discussing the massive influx of immigrants to the U.S. as he flew to America in 2008, Pope Benedict lamented the separation of families that can ensue and praised those who practice “hospitality.” He also noted that the “fundamental solution” would be fixing immigrants’ countries of origin, thus preventing mass immigration in the first place.

In Evangelium Vitae, St. John Paul II repeatedly called abortion “murder,” writing:

The moral gravity of procured abortion is apparent in all its truth if we recognize that we are dealing with murder and, in particular, when we consider the specific elements involved. The one eliminated is a human being at the very beginning of life. No one more absolutely innocent could be imagined.

In Evangelium Vitae, the sainted pontiff discussed issues other than abortion, like immigration, decrying “lack of solidarity towards society's weakest members-such as the elderly, the infirm, immigrants, children.” He looped these issues into one of his most famous condemnations of abortion, but never explicitly suggested, for example, that immigration was on par with abortion morally.

Abortion makes a ‘secure human society…impossible’

During the papacy of Pope Paul VI, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued its Declaration on Procured Abortion, which Paul VI approved and ordered to be promulgated. That declaration outlined some of the history of strong papal condemnations of abortion:

In the course of history, the Fathers of the Church, her Pastors and her Doctors have taught the same doctrine – the various opinions on the infusion of the spiritual soul did not introduce any doubt about the illicitness of abortion…it was never denied at that time that procured abortion, even during the first days, was objectively grave fault. This condemnation was in fact unanimous. Among the many documents it is sufficient to recall certain ones. The first Council of Mainz in 847 reconsidered the penalties against abortion which had been established by preceding Councils. It decided that the most rigorous penance would be imposed “on women who procure the elimination of the fruit conceived in their womb.” The Decree of Gratian reported the following words of Pope Stephen V: “That person is a murderer who causes to perish by abortion what has been conceived.” St. Thomas, the Common Doctor of the Church, teaches that abortion is a grave sin against the natural law. At the time of the Renaissance Pope Sixtus V condemned abortion with the greatest severity. A century later, Innocent XI rejected the propositions of certain lax canonists who sought to excuse an abortion procured before the moment accepted by some as the moment of the spiritual animation of the new being. In our days the recent Roman Pontiffs have proclaimed the same doctrine with the greatest clarity. Pius XI explicitly answered the most serious objections.Pius XII clearly excluded all direct abortion, that is, abortion which is either an end or a means. John XXIII recalled the teaching of the Fathers on the sacred character of life “which from its beginning demands the action of God the Creator.” Most recently, the Second Vatican Council, presided over by Paul VI, has most severely condemned abortion: “Life must be safeguarded with extreme care from conception; abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.” The same Paul VI, speaking on this subject on many occasions, has not been afraid to declare that this teaching of the Church “has not changed and is unchangeable.”

“The first right of the human person is his life,” that document continued. “He has other goods and some are more precious, but this one is fundamental – the condition of all the others.”

Even before abortion on demand became as widely practiced as it is today, popes declared it a most serious crime against innocent humans.

“The life of an innocent person is sacrosanct, and any direct attempt or aggression against it is a violation of one of the fundamental laws without which secure human society is impossible,” Pope Pius XII said to midwives in 1951.

“Those who hold the reins of government should not forget that it is the duty of public authority by appropriate laws and sanctions to defend the lives of the innocent, and this all the more so since those whose lives are endangered and assailed cannot defend themselves,” Pope Pius XI wrote in his 1930 encyclical Casti Connubii. “Among whom we must mention in the first place infants hidden in the mother's womb. And if the public magistrates not only do not defend them, but by their laws and ordinances betray them to death at the hands of doctors or of others, let them remember that God is the Judge and Avenger of innocent blood which cried from earth to Heaven.”

And Pope Sixtus V condemned abortion strongly in his papal bull Effraenatum, suggesting the legal consequences of abortion should be tantamount to punishments for homicide.

All rights flow from the right to life

Through its teaching documents and popes, the Church has expressed her concern for alleviating poverty, protecting the rights of workers and the poor, and caring for immigrants. But it does not seem that a pope has ever said that people being in poverty is just as evil as people being pulled apart by an abortionist’s tools. Defrauding the poor of their wages is, along with murder, one of the four sins that “cries out to heaven for vengeance.”

But the existence of poverty is not.

Previous popes suggested that the right to life is the first right from which all others flow – and that a society that doesn’t respect the lives of small pre-born babies can’t possibly be expected to respect the lives of any of its other citizens.

Only now does the Church have a pope who suggests it is “not Christian” to care more about ending abortion than ending “every form of rejection” or serving “those already born.”

The jab that pro-life activists are used to hearing from abortion advocates – “you only care about babies before they’re born” – now comes from the vicar of Christ.