Pope Francis today gave his most spirited and explicit defense of the unborn and society’s most vulnerable since his election.
The Holy Father was addressing the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations and Catholic gynaecologists, currently attending a conference in Rome.
Below is my translation of Pope Francis’ address, not the official English translation which is yet to be published in full:
“I apologize for the delay, because today … this is a morning too complicated for audiences … I apologize.
1 . The first point that I would like to share with you is this: we are witnessing today a paradoxical situation concerning the medical profession. On the one hand we see – and thank God – the progress of medicine, thanks to the work of scientists who, with passion and without counting the cost, are dedicated to finding new cures. But on the other hand, we also find the danger that the doctor might lose his identity as a servant of life. The cultural disorientation has also affected what looked like an unassailable area: yours – medicine! Although by their nature they are at the service of life, health professionals are sometimes induced to disregard life itself. Instead, as we recall in the encyclical Caritas in Veritate: “Openness to life is at the centre of true development. When a society moves towards the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good. If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away. The acceptance of life strengthens moral fibre and makes people capable of mutual help.” (n. 28 ). The paradoxical situation is seen in the fact that, while they attribute new rights to the human person, sometimes even presumed rights, there is not always protection of life as a primary value and basic right of every man. The ultimate objective of a doctor is always the defense and promotion of life.
2 . The second point: in this contradictory context, the Church appeals to conscience , the conscience of all health care professionals and volunteers, and in a particular way of you, gynaecologists, called to collaborate in the creation of new human lives. Yours is a unique vocation and mission, which requires study, conscience and humanity. At one time, women who helped in childbirth were called “comadre” [co-mothers], like one mother to the other, the real mother. You also are “comadri ” and ” compadri “, you too.
A widespread utilitarian mentality, the “culture of waste”, which now enslaves the hearts and minds of many, has a very high cost: it requires the elimination of human beings, especially if they are physically or socially weaker. Our response to this mentality is a categorical and unhesitant “yes” to life. “The first right of the human person is his life. He has other goods and some are more precious, but this one is fundamental – the condition of all the others.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Procured Abortion, November 18, 1974 , 11) . Things have a price and are sold, but people have a dignity, worth more than things and they don’t have a price. Many times we find ourselves in situations where we see that which costs less is life. Because of this, attention to human life in its totality has become a real priority of the Magisterium of the Church in recent years, particularly to the most defenseless, that is, the disabled, the sick, the unborn child, the child, the elderly who are life’s most defenseless.
Each one of us is invited to recognize in the fragile human being the face of the Lord, who, in his human flesh, experienced the indifference and loneliness to which we often condemn the poorest, either in the developing nations, or in the developed societies. Each child who is unborn, but is unjustly condemned to be aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord, who, even before he was born, and then as soon as he was born, experienced the rejection of the world. And also each old person – I spoke of the child, let us also speak of the elderly, another point! – each old person, even if infirm or at the end of his days, bears the face of Christ. They cannot be discarded, as the “culture of waste” proposes! They cannot be discarded!
3 . The third aspect is a mandate: be witnesses and speakers of this “culture of life” . Your being Catholic entails a greater responsibility: first of all to yourself, to be committed to being consistent with the Christian vocation; and then to contemporary culture, to contribute to recognising the transcendent dimension in human life, the imprint of the creative work of God, from the very first moment of conception. This is a commitment to the new evangelization that often requires going against the current, at a cost to the person. The Lord counts on you to spread the “Gospel of life.”
In this perspective, hospital gynaecology departments are privileged places of witness and evangelization, because wherever the Church is “the vehicle of the presence of the living God”, she becomes an “instrument of the true humanization of man and the world” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization , 9). Growing awareness that at the centre of medical care and assistance there is the human person in a condition of weakness leads the medical facility to becoming “a place in which the relationship of treatment is not a profession but a mission; where the charity of the Good Samaritan is the first seat of learning and the face of suffering man is Christ’s own Face”(Benedict XVI, Address at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Rome , May 3, 2012).
Dear medical friends, you are called to take care of human life in its initial phase, reminding everyone, with facts and words, that this is always, in all its phases and at any age, sacred and always of quality. And not as a matter of faith – no, no – but of reason and science! There is no human life more sacred than another, just as no human life is qualitatively more significant than another. The credibility of a health care system is measured not only in efficiency, but above all in the attention and love towards people, whose lives are always sacred and inviolable.
Do not ever neglect to pray to the Lord and the Virgin Mary for having the strength to do your job well and bear witness with courage – with courage! Today it takes courage – courageous witness of the “Gospel of life”! Many thanks.”
Obstetrician Dr. Robert Walley, the conference chief organiser, told me afterwards that Catholics working in his profession are subject to a “tyranny” that is “getting worse and worse” and having an effect on the numbers of practising Catholics entering the field.
“It begs the question,” he said: “Where are mothers going to go to get the treatment they want, which is dignified, which respects them and where they feel safe?”