It saddens me that Pope Francis refuses to recognize the pro-life intentions and actions of President Trump. The president has made good on his promises to pro-life voters, starting on his first day in office with his restoration of the Mexico City Policy, which he later expanded. Federal funds can no longer pay for abortions overseas. And there is more, not the least of which is the presence of Justice Neil Gorsuch on the U.S. Supreme Court.
But rather than applauding the president’s actions, Pope Francis has attempted to co-opt the meaning of “pro-life” to include his preferred immigration policies. Speaking to reporters on his flight back to Rome from Colombia, the pope was asked about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which the president had ordered phased out in six months. “I hope they rethink it a bit,” the pontiff said, “Because I heard the U.S. president speak: He presents himself as a person who is pro-life.”
There are so many things wrong about this, it’s hard to know where to begin. We might note what Trump said about DACA when he announced his decision: He explicitly gave Congress six months to find a legislative solution, adding if Congress did not act he would revisit the issue himself. The president clearly does not intend to send “Dreamers” out of the United States, but does not want to act unilaterally as President Obama did in June 2012. Pope Francis ignored the president’s stated intention. In addition, DACA is a nullity, born of an unconstitutional assertion of executive power by Obama. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually would have struck it down.
Then there is the doctrinal problem with what Pope Francis said: He effectively used a prudential matter—immigration policy—to override a matter of settled moral teaching—prohibition of abortion. In prudential matters, Catholics are free to come to different solutions based on general principles. “Welcome the stranger,” the Church teaches. But how a nation chooses to welcome strangers does not require open borders. The Church also teaches that a nation’s leader has a duty to protect all citizens. The pope, it must be said, got the issues backward.
In saying to the press, the “family is the cradle of life and one must defend its unity,” Pope Francis clearly stated the Church’s teaching. But, once again, how a nation defends the family is a prudential matter—except when it comes to taking the life of the unborn. This “seamless garment” logic always has a way of discounting the importance of protecting innocent human life from the harm of the abortionist. When you link the pro-life question with entirely unrelated issues, such as immigration policy, you’re necessarily weakening the pro-life cause. You’re telling pro-abortion politicians they can get a pass with the right immigration policies. And you’re telling pro-life politicians that their support doesn’t count if they don’t have the right immigration policies. That’s how pro-abortion politicians get away with it, and the Pope has encouraged them with his remarks.
How the life and death of an innocent baby could be equated in moral importance with prudential questions surrounding domestic policies made no sense to millions of observant Catholics, nor to Saint John Paul II. These were the Catholics who helped to elect the pro-life Ronald Reagan and who would also choose George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump over their Democratic opponents.
The connection between both Bushes and Pope John II was a powerful one that, for a season, consolidated for the first time in U.S. history a political coalition of Catholics and Evangelicals. That coalition was pronounced dead during the eight years of the Obama presidency but came back to life when faced with a choice between a hardened pro-abortion advocate and a businessman whose pro-life convictions were stated but untested. That candidate, Donald Trump, has done all he could possibly do during his first nine months in office to keep live up to the pro-life label. Yet the leader of the Catholic Church chooses to question the president’s commitment to protecting life while ignoring his intention regarding the Dreamers. Even more, Pope Francis in questioning the president’s pro-life convictions is implicitly questioning the pro-life sincerity of all those Catholics who voted for Trump and support his policies.
This can hardly be called a teaching moment in the papacy of Pope Francis. Rather by his comments to the reporters, the Holy Father has given the pro-abortion liberal wing a club to beat the pro-life conservatives. It won’t wash with active and committed Catholics who have seen through the double-talk of the seamless garment rhetoric and applaud President Trump for all he has done, and will do, to protect innocent life.