Among the several controversial points in his historic address to the U.S. Congress Thursday, Pope Francis lobbied strongly for the abolition of the death penalty, while remaining mostly silent on the issue of abortion.
Taking the Golden Rule as a point of reference, the Pope said it was a “yardstick” that “reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”
“This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty,” he said.
“I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes,” he added.
The Pope underscored his continuity with recent appeals of the U.S. Catholic bishops to phase out capital punishment.
“Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty,” Francis said.
“Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation,” he concluded.
Though some pro-life people will be heartened by the Pope’s words, they will also be disappointed by his failure to speak directly to the topic of abortion, especially when Congress is engaged in a heated debate over whether to de-fund abortion giant Planned Parenthood.
On other occasions, Pope Francis has harshly criticized abortion, calling it a “scourge” on society and comparing it to a mafia mentality that eliminates whoever gets in the way.
In an interview last May, Pope Francis underscored the contradictions of modern societies that have tight regulations regarding child welfare and yet allow babies to be killed in the womb, a comment that drew plaudits from pro-life activists.
Last Christmas, he even went so far as to compare babies killed in the womb to King Herod’s massacre of the innocents in his efforts to hunt down the Christ child to murder Him.
The Pope did make a veiled reference Thursday to people’s responsibility to protect and defend human life “at every stage of its development,” and also referenced the duty of politicians who “are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.” Still, he may have missed an important opportunity to harness his moral authority to condemn the immense evil of abortion in America and to push for its abolition.
Pro-abortion Catholic politicians including Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden will undoubtedly capitalize on the Pope’s omission to continue snubbing Church teaching on the sanctity of life.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome