Our image of public figures is formed mainly by what we read about them in the media. In the case of Pope Francis and Pope Benedict, anything that made the later seem more hardline than he really was received plenty of publicity. In the case of Pope Francis the reverse holds true. Hence, his frequent condemnations of abortion are almost always ignored.
For example, in a new book-length interview with religious journalist Austen Ivereigh, “Let Us Dream”, Pope Francis has compared abortion with hiring a hitman to solve a problem, a comparison he has made before.
He says: “Abortion is a grave injustice. It can never be a legitimate expression of autonomy and power. If our autonomy requires the death of others, then that autonomy of ours is nothing more than an iron cage. I often ask myself two questions: Is it right to eliminate a human life in order to solve a problem? And is it right to hire a hitman in order to solve a problem?”
He used this metaphor of abortion as hiring a hitman man during an audience with the faithful in St. Peter’s Square in 2018, and also in a recent letter to prolife campaigners in his native Argentina fighting against moves to liberalise the abortion law there.
The Argentinian parliament is debating the liberalization of the local abortion law and pope Francis wrote a handwritten letter to a group of prolife women, quoting that passage on abortion from “Let Us Dream”.
In the same book, Pope Francis also refers to “Humanae Vitae”, the much-criticised encyclical by Paul VI best known for confirming the Church’s opposition to artificial contraception.
He says: “My predecessor Saint Paul VI warned in his 1968 encyclical letter ‘Humanae vitae’ about the temptation to consider human life as one object among many over which powerful and educated people can exercise dominion. How prophetic is his message now! These days prenatal diagnosis is commonly used to filter out those who are deemed weak or inferior.”
In February 2016, he compared abortion to the Mafia: “Abortion isn’t a lesser evil, it’s a crime. Taking, one life to save another, that’s what the Mafia does. It’s a crime. It’s an absolute evil.”
Bishops, priests or pro-life campaigners wouldn’t be forgiven if they used these words in public. They would be accused of using inflammatory and offensive language, but when these expressions come from pope Francis, they are simply ignored, so as to keep a false image of him, more in keeping with the media narrative of a Pope moving the Church in the direction they want.
Nothing, it seems must be allowed to interfere with that narrative, not even his own words.