Pope John Paul II and Excusing Abortion

Judie Brown
March 3, 2011
Reproduced with Permission

The title of this article, part II in a series, is an oxymoron. On the one hand you have the Catholic Church's Vicar of Christ on earth, who speaks authoritatively in matters of faith and morals; on the other hand you have a despicable act of murder that some suggest the pope condones in certain political situations.

That makes no sense unless a manipulation of language trumps truth.

Here's the story.

In 1995, the worldwide pro-life movement cheered when Pope John Paul II issued the encyclical, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life). This document received rave reviews and, at first, everyone agreed that it would have a positive effect on the struggle to end the direct killing of the innocent. But that euphoric feeling did not last long.

Soon political pro-lifers were suggesting that specific language in the encyclical permitted pro-life people, including elected officials, to support abortion in certain cases. They quoted section 73 of the encyclical as their security blanket: "When it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects."

The apologists for some abortion - including exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother - opined that the Holy Father was providing each Catholic with permission to support or advocate for compromises that could result in death. Even though the Holy Father specifically addressed his words to "an elected official whose absolute personal opposition to abortion was well known," pro-life opportunists suggested then, as they do now, that the words apply to all of us.

The sad fact is that Evangelium Vitae, section 73, paragraph 3, became the Teflon coating for strategies that permit some direct killing. The irony is that among the few totally pro-life without-exception elected officials we know, not a single one of them would propose or advocate for legislative language that permits abortion - though according to the pope they "could" support such a proposal if nothing could be done to make it abortion-free.

Deceptive tactics like those used regarding what section 73 says do not surprise me, but they are agonizing. Of course, in the scores of arguments I have read supporting such flawed thinking, not a single theologian, political operative or pro-life apologist has ever explained how condoning abortion in some cases equates with this line from Evangelium Vitae: "The moral gravity of procured abortion is apparent in all its truth if we recognize that we are dealing with murder."

It is this point that should define the pro-life person's consistent position. In fact, it should make it impossible for such a person to support any of the following:

Such strategies may sound good and may well be acceptable according to polling numbers and partisan operatives, but should such things be the guiding force for measuring what is and is not a heinous crime?

If abortion is not murder in every case because the public is not prepared to agree to that idea, then when is abortion not murder? When fifty-one percent of those polled say it is not? When less than a majority of a so-called pro-life party refuses to vote on a measure unless it contains exceptions?

And more fundamentally, there is this question: Can a Vicar of Christ, the pope, teach that abortion is murder while at the same time recommend that some murder may be acceptable and should even be publicly advocated? Is it ever morally permissible to do evil, even if good may come of it?

Ironies abound when any pro-life person wanders away from fundamental truth. And babies die.