I’ve written a short piece about Pope Francis and the Priesthood for the commemorative edition of Faith Today that has just come out.
I won’t copy the whole article here – you can order the special edition of Faith Today online – but this is what struck me about Pope Francis’s approach to ethics and life issues (in so far as I could draw any hesitant conclusions from some of his words and actions as Cardinal Bergoglio):
Pope Francis has given witness to ‘a consistent ethic of life’. This phrase was coined by Cardinal Bernardin, Archbishop of Chicago from 1982 to 1996. It can be applied to Pope Francis in his approach to justice and life issues over the last few years.
In Buenos Aires he stood firmly against abortion, euthanasia, human trafficking, and all forms of violence against the human person. He criticised ‘the culture of death’ that influenced so much of society. He said, ‘The right to life is the first among human rights. To abort a child is to kill someone who cannot defend himself’.
At the same time, he fought for social and economic justice, and was always on the side of the poor. He said, ‘The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers’.
His ethical approach was entirely consistent. He believed in the fundamental dignity of every human person, not excluding those who are sick, elderly, poor, oppressed, powerless or unborn.
He did not fit into the categories of secular politics because he was both ‘conservative’ (pro-life, pro-family, against same-sex marriage) and ‘progressive’ (fighting for social justice and for the poor).
Priests are called to have this same passion for life, and this same consistency. Not to be single-issue campaigners, but to speak out courageously whenever human dignity is threatened. Yes, we must be gentle, compassionate and forgiving to everyone we meet. But if we meet injustice in any form, it is our particular vocation to take a stand and be on the side of the poorest and most vulnerable.
This has made me want to go back and look more closely about what Cardinal Bernardin said about this ‘consistent ethic of life’. I know this approach was sometimes criticised, as if it were a way of watering down the core life issues, by suggesting that all social justice issues were equally important. But it seems to me to be a very straightforward point that shouts out from bible, the Christian tradition, and the Catechism: the need to defend human dignity against any and every threat, and to stand on the side of whoever is most vulnerable in society.