Misrepresenting the Pope has to be a new low, but our representative in Congress, Rep. Alex Mooney of Charles Town (WV 2 - R), did just that with his weekly email update to constituents. Referencing Pope Francis’ historic address to Congress, Mooney illustrated the email with a photo and quote “It is God who gives life. Let us respect and love human life, especially vulnerable life in a mother’s womb. – Pope Francis”. The email also editorialized that the Holy Father “highlighted the important of upholding traditional family values, protecting the sanctity of life, and standing up for freedom.”
To read this without context you might think the world’s first Pope from the Americas is singing in perfect tune with GOP talking points, but if you have read anything about Pope Francis, you know there must be more than meets the eye.
While it is true that the quote in question did come from the Pope and does reflect Catholic teaching, it had nothing to do with the pope’s visit to the US. It was, in fact, a tweet posted to Twitter over two years ago on May 15, 2013. Perhaps Congressman Mooney couldn’t find a more current quote to use because when Francis addressed the “sanctity of life” on Thursday he said nothing explicitly about the unborn, but instead chose to appeal for an end to the death penalty. Why might this be uncomfortable for an allegedly pro-life Catholic like Mooney? Perhaps because in 2007 as a state senator in Maryland he nearly singlehandedly delayed abolition of the death penalty by six years, saying “Regrettably, the only way to stop some people from continuing to kill is to resort to the death penalty.” (Capital News Service, March 16, 2007)
What did Pope Francis actually say on the sanctity of human life?
" The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development. This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation." - Pope Francis, Sept. 24, 2015
He then proceeded to "dialogue" about Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, advocate for the poor, and controversial figure on account of having had an abortion in her early twenties before becoming Catholic.
Now to be clear, Papa Francisco did touch on "family values, sanctity of life, and freedom" in his historic address, but these were not the central points of his carefully crafted message to a divided Congress. I could tell you that I thought Francis focused on justice and care for the poor through the lens of immigration reform, raising the minimum wage, desperately needed action on climate change, and ending religious extremism, but don’t take my word for it. You should read or watch it for yourself. We would all do well to listen to what Pope Francis is trying to tell us, instead of picking and choosing the message we want to hear.