Christine Flowers, 9/25/2015 [Archive]

Pope Francis and the Defense of the Unborn

By Christine Flowers

As pontiff, Pope Francis has led his own stylistic revolution, maintaining the substance of a message two millennia in the making but wrapping it in cloth so dramatically different from his predecessor that some were tricked into believing he'd taken a detour from the established path to salvation.

I'm not afraid to say I've been one of them. The final straw for me was the idea that women who'd had abortions were no longer automatically excommunicated, something announced earlier this month, which clashed dramatically with my understanding of abortion as the greatest sin, the bloodiest wound on the face of humanity.

As other, better Catholics pointed out, this was consistent with a pattern of forgiveness that has existed since the prodigal son wandered off with the little black sheep. Still, the way the media played this up, it angered me to think that we were somehow backtracking on abortion.

But as I watched Francis deliver his address to Congress on Thursday, something came over me. Call it the Holy Spirit, call it common sense, call it humility (OK, maybe not that). Let's just say that I finally saw the true nature of this man, and did it quite ironically through a film of tears. In a heavily accented, halting and gentle voice, Pope Francis quelled my fears about his "radically different" approach to my mother church and its lessons.

The running theme throughout the historic speech, one that truly honors the word "historic," was the simple truth that, "We must protect life at every stage of development."

I cried when I heard those words. I wasn't the only one in tears, by the way. As the cameras scanned the audience, I saw Marco Rubio wipe his eyes and Joe Biden look toward heaven and his beloved Beau. I was profoundly moved at the sight of John Lewis' trembling lips. Those who either hate the church or religion, or who are too hip to be touched by this type of transcendent moment might brush it off as a revival show, one that makes for "must see TV" but has no ultimate impact on the nameless and the faceless in their communities.

I beg to differ. Pope Francis spoke of all the things that make us angry, make us shout, make us worry and make us doubt. In a pointed jab at U.S. policy, he talked about the abolition of the death penalty, which I support but am willing to foreswear if we do what the pope most eloquently, implicitly suggested: abolish the war crime of abortion.

I call it a "war crime," because it is a tool of the true "war against women," making our wombs the battle ground for some political and philosophical cause celebre. Instead of supporting pregnant mothers, instead of promoting adoption, we blithely cast the murder of unborn children as a convenient and feasible "choice." This pope made no secret that we must protect life "at every stage."

He also acknowledged that we Americans "are not fearful of foreigners because most of us were once foreigners," and rejoiced with us that "for many, America continues to be a land of dreams."

Yes, this pope went there. In a time where Donald Trump has seized the spotlight, and our throats, with his xenophobic rants, in a society where we still talk about building that mythical, impractical and inhuman wall against the world, Francis invited us to remember that what we should do unto others what we would have done unto us. He wasn't saying that we should stand at the borders with visas and a job for all comers, drug runners included. He was simply reminding us that the immigrant experience helped create the dream that we hold as our birthright.

And he honored us by citing our great historic figures, creating what Chris Matthews quite eloquently (who would have thought it?) called a Mount Rushmore of spirituality. He spoke of Lincoln's freedom, of Martin Luther King's quest for inclusion, of Dorothy Day's service and of Thomas Merton's redemption. He brought us the best of ourselves, in the chamber that often sees the shards and shreds of our worst.

Next stop, Philadelphia. All things considered, I'm glad I'll be there.


©2015 Christine Flowers. Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, and can be reached at

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