Pope Francis and the Catholic Church are steadfast in their opposition to abortion. Indeed, the Catechism of the Catholic Church — the 1992 document that sets out church doctrine — affirms “the moral evil of every procured abortion.”
“This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable,” the document reads. “Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life.”
The Church clearly views the act of abortion in stark terms, which is why Pope Francis surprised many Tuesday when he announced that, for the nearly yearlong duration of the Church’s upcoming Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, all priests would have the power to “absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it.”
The announcement came in a letter the pontiff wrote outlining circumstances under which priests should grant parishioners, including those who are incarcerated, forgiveness during the Church’s upcoming Holy Year, which begins Dec. 8.
The Jubilee of Mercy is a once-every-50-years occasion for the Catholic Church — a special year for the forgiveness of sins. In his Tuesday letter, the Pope describes it as “an opportunity of great amnesty.”
Fittingly, this Jubilee ends Nov. 20, 2016 — less than two weeks after U.S. voters elect a new president.
As they campaign for votes in the runup to the Jubilee of Mercy, the candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination would do well to spend some time considering the words of Pope Francis.
The candidates this summer have focused special attention on their anti-abortion credentials. All but one of the 17 Republican candidates oppose abortion rights — the exception being former New York Gov. George Pataki — and a majority of the top-tier candidates have even declared at one point or another that they are opposed in all circumstances to a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion, no exceptions, even in cases of rape and incest and when the mother’s life is in danger.
“The governor is 100 percent pro-life. He acknowledges what science says, and that is that an unborn child is that — a child and deserving of protection,” a spokeswoman for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker recently told Thomas Edsall of The New York Times.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party’s national platform declares “that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed,” expresses support for a constitutional ban on abortion with no exceptions noted and endorses legislation that would extend the reach of all constitutional protections into the womb.
The GOP presidential candidates shouldn’t heed the words of Pope Francis because the Pope expresses support for a woman’s right to choose an abortion. He doesn’t. He discusses “the tragedy of abortion” in his letter and calls abortion “unjust.”
What the Pope does that the Republican presidential candidates do not is express an appreciation for the difficult circumstances that lead women to seek abortions.
“Many … although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe they have no other option,” the Pope writes. “I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision.”
Meanwhile, the Republican candidates compete to appear more anti-abortion and more considerate of the unborn than the next candidate. They bring little consideration for women to the abortion debate. They support policies that would only make an excruciatingly difficult time in a woman’s life more excruciatingly difficult.
It’s highly unlikely the GOP candidates would change their positions opposing abortion. They can do better, though, to consider the circumstances that lead women to seek abortions. In that regard, they can follow the lead of Pope Francis and bring more nuance, thoughtfulness and compassion to an issue that most of the public does not view in the same absolute terms as those seeking the GOP nomination.