What Pope Francis Said . . and Didn’t Say About Abortion

Pope Francis recently issued a statement regarding abortion and the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.

I heard some things I really wanted to hear.

And I hoped to hear some more things that weren’t said.

Pope Francis celebrates a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

First, the statements to celebrate:

“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. Many … believe that they have no other option.”

I have talked with Christian leaders who have no idea of the pressures women face to have abortion. They may never have considered it before, and that’s why it’s one of the “epiphany moments” many people experience in our ProGrace workshops. I don’t know how God revealed this truth to the Pope. But my guess is that as he has sat face to face with women, he has listened – really listened – to their stories. It’s one reason I have so much respect for him. He sees people with empathy and compassion.

If there is only one truth I would want Christians to internalize, it would be the one Pope Francis is highlighting. Most women don’t have abortions because of a callous disregard for life. They have abortions because they think it’s their only option. They don’t see any other way they can give a child any type of future. They don’t see any other way their identity can survive the shame and judgment they anticipate from others. This, not moral indifference, is what drives so many abortions.

“The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented … For this reason too, I have decided … to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it.”

Whether we are conscious of it or not, many Christians put abortion into a different category of sin – one where it’s harder to receive forgiveness. Without the Pope’s statement granting this, Catholic women would have to seek out a bishop or other high ranking official to receive absolution. Even though I don’t share the belief that priests absolve of sin, I see this statement as important.

Pope Francis is “leveling the playing field” by not putting abortion into a category where it’s harder to obtain forgiveness. This is similar to the story in John 8 where Jesus levels the playing field between the sin of an adulterous woman and the sin of religious leaders. I love that the Pope is stepping out, regardless of potential criticism, and making a bold statement about the grace of God being available for everyone.

Now to the statements the Pope didn’t make, but I hope to see Christian leaders make in the future. I have much respect for Pope Francis, and this isn’t leveled as a criticism toward him. Instead, this is my plea to the global Church. Will we work together toward these things? Because whether or not we’ve personally been involved in an abortion, we all have contributed to the problem because these are statements, or realities, that aren’t currently coming from the Christian community:

“Because we see the immense pressure to have an abortion, we will create pathways where you can find grace, acceptance and support to alleviate that pressure. We will follow God’s command to care for widows and orphans by creating systems, programs, and an infrastructure inside our churches where you can come for emotional and practical support. We will help foster communities of women who dream again for their future, and the future of their child, after an unplanned pregnancy. We won’t accept the cultural narrative that your only options are abortion or overwhelming struggle as a mom. Because through Jesus’ grace and power, we are creating a third option: hope.”

Does that sound unrealistic? It really isn’t. Local churches are perfectly poised to foster these communities of hope that challenge the cultural narrative. It’s happening right now in Chicago. This fall, many churches are opening their doors and creating ProGrace outreach programs. And they are doing it from the motivation of grace. That the same grace they experience every day from God’s abundance can be poured out on women who currently expect judgment from Christians.

Will you forgive us?

If any Christian contributed to the pressure you felt to have an abortion through any of these ways:

  • not having support for single moms at our church
  • communicating that women who get pregnant unexpectedly have given up their dreams, their future
  • judgment toward women facing unplanned pregnancy
  • not holding men responsible for their part in a pregnancy, but letting all stigma and responsibility fall on the woman
  • creating a culture where some sins are worse than others
  • not being honest about our own mistakes and failings, so we weren’t safe to approach

As long as we act like the only people who are responsible for the abortion dilemma are the women who have them, we will never experience God’s healing of this issue. But if we will obey Jesus and examine the log in our own eye first, we will be able to see more clearly to help women navigate this complicated time.

We are all in this together. All of us share the need to, in the words of Pope Francis, “obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence.” Let’s work together to see more and more people understand just how generous our Father is, and what complete renewal he offers all of us through his grace.

Angie Weszely, CEO & Co-Founder of ProGrace

@angieweszely