ROME — Pope Francis told U.S. bishops in the Vatican Thursday that the right to life is the “preeminent” social and political issue of our day, because “if you’re not alive you can’t do anything else.”
The pope called the right to life “the most fundamental right,” reiterating his conviction that it is “not first a religious issue; it’s a human rights issue.”
The pontiff’s words were related to Catholic News Service by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, chairman of the bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities, along with several other bishops who had met with Francis for their quinquennial “ad limina” visit.
The pope said he agreed with the U.S. bishops’ “identifying the protection of the unborn as a preeminent priority” and asked that his support be conveyed to the pro-life community, Naumann said.
Francis has often spoken out against the evil of abortion, denouncing it as a “horrendous crime” and a “very grave sin.”
One of the analogies that Francis has used to abortion is that of a “hit man” hired to “take out” an unborn child.
Killing a human child in the womb is often defended “in the name of safeguarding other rights,” the pope has said. “But how can an act that suppresses innocent and helpless life in its beginnings be therapeutic, civil, or even human?”
“I ask you,” the pope continued, “is it right to ‘bump off’ a human life to solve a problem? Is it right to hire a hitman to solve a problem? You cannot, it is not right to ‘bump off’ a human being, no matter how small, to solve a problem.”
In his conversation with the pope this week, Naumann told him that since Roe v. Wade, an estimated 61 million abortions have taken place in the United States.
“I think the pope was truly kind of stunned by that number,” Naumann said. “Sadly, our abortion policies are one of the most liberal in the world. The fact is that it really is literally for all nine months of pregnancy. Most other nations don’t permit (abortions) at least at a certain point in the pregnancy.”
Another bishop present for the meeting with Francis, W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri, said that the pope “simply reiterated what he’s already said in many different ways” regarding abortion, namely that “without life, what other rights are there?”
“So, you have to begin with that. It’s not the only issue — I don’t think anybody has ever said that. But when you’re looking at the core beliefs and the more essential rights, the right to life of the unborn is very important,” the bishop said.
McKnight said that the pope placed abortion in the context of the modern throwaway culture, asking: “Do we always want to simply eliminate those who are inconvenient?”