24popeliveblog congress3 blog480 300x200 Pope Francis in America and AbortionThe historic visit of Pope Francis has now ended. During his visit, Pope Francis spoke to a joint session of Congress and addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations. He met some of the poor schoolchildren of Harlem, visited incarcerated persons, and officiated at a number of Masses. Whether he has strengthened Roman Catholicism in America will remain to be seen. As a non-Roman Catholic, I welcomed the Pontiff’s visit to the United States, and hoped that his remarks and actions would be a powerful Christian testimony to Roman Catholics and non-Catholics alike. In particular, I had hoped, first of all, that his words and deeds would help to change the discourse about pre-born life in our country. But Pope Francis, while eminently likeable and pastoral, often resembles Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. Peggy Noonan, writing recently in The Wall Street Journal about the two sides of Pope Francis, observed:

The less lovable pope is—well, and I say this still with love, Uncle Frank in the attic. This is the one who endorses secular political agendas, who castigates capitalism in language that is both imprecise and heavily loaded. He doesn’t, actually, seem to know a lot about capitalism or markets, or even what economic freedom has given—and is giving—his own church.

I was most disappointed that he was less than robust in his defense about pre-born children. In his remarks before Congress, while he did note that the Golden Rule “reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of development,” he then chose not to enlarge on that statement except with respect to the death penalty. And while there were 34 executions in the United States last year, more than one million babies were slaughtered in the womb, a place where a child should feel safest. Of these, approximately 12,700 occurred after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Pope Francis exercised no prophetic voice in his remarks to Congress and to the American people. He did not remind his listeners that, as the Holy Scriptures teach, among the things hated most by God are hands that shed innocent blood. Although Pope Francis has spoken in the past about the power of Satan in this world, yet in his address to Congress, he failed to remind his pro-abortion hearers, in accordance with the words of the Lord Jesus in John 8:44, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him.” For it was only days earlier that all but five Democrats voted against a bill that would require health care practitioners, in dealing with babies who survive abortions, to “exercise the same degree of professional skill, care and diligence to preserve the life and health of the child as a reasonably diligent and conscientious health-care practitioner would render to any other child born alive at the same gestational age.” And merely one day after Pope Francis spoke to Congress, the Senate rejected a bill that would defund Planned Parenthood but keep the government operating after September 30.

Yes, perhaps my suggested wording for Pope Francis’ speech before Congress would have been too tough. After all, would he really wish to alienate the tens of millions of Roman Catholics who do not think that abortion should be mostly or entirely illegal? Even among Roman Catholics who attend Mass weekly, a Quinnipiac poll found that only 61 percent thought abortion should be mostly or entirely illegal. (In contrast, the same poll found that only 29 percent of Roman Catholics who attend Mass less frequently believe this way.) Or it could be that Pope Francis did not want to disaffect the federal largesse that flows to Roman Catholic institutions and charities. (Many do not realize that the Roman Catholic Church, and related Catholic charities and schools, have received more than $1.6 billion in U.S. contracts and grants since 2012.)

Nevertheless, Pope Francis, through his example, could have also changed the debate in our country without words. Imagine this: when Pope Francis was in Harlem, he would have stopped his motorcade in front of one of the Planned Parenthood facilities, and knelt to pray silently. For simply a minute or two. Or imagine while in Philadelphia, Pope Francis stopped to pray silently at the site of late-term abortionist and convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell’s “clinic” at 38th and Lancaster Streets, again for just a minute or two. Or imagine when Pope Francis met with inmates in Philadelphia, he could have asked to meet privately for just a few moments with Kermit Gosnell, inviting him to repent of his heinous crimes and to turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. So stronger words or silent actions could truly have been transformational. But to me, it was a sad and squandered opportunity that he did not say or do otherwise.