Pope Francis on May 25, 2019decried the throwaway culture that condemns some children after labeling them “incompatible with life.”
The Holy Father’s comments came in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Vatican Palace, where he received the participants in the International Congress promoted by the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family, and Life, in collaboration with “The Heart in A Drop – Onlus” Foundation, and with the support of the Knights of Columbus, on the theme “Yes to Life! — To Take Care of the Precious Gift of Life in Fragility.” The congress, in which some 400 people from 70 countries took part, representing Episcopal Conferences, Dioceses, families, and expert doctors, was held from May 23-25, 2019, at the Augustinianum Patristic Institute in Rome.
“However, no human being can ever be incompatible with life, not due to his age, his health conditions, or the quality of his existence,” Pope Francis confirmed. “Every child that enters a woman’s womb is a gift, which changes the story of a family: of a father and a mother, of grandparents and siblings. And this baby is in need of being received, loved and taken care of.”
The Pope cited the advances in technology that allow diagnosis of a baby’s possible problems while still in the womb. He noted this can case despair on the part of the parents – but it doesn’t mean the life should be destroyed.
“Yet, there is something that medicine knows well: children, who from the maternal womb show pathological conditions, are little patients who not rarely can be cured with pharmacologic, surgical and extraordinary care interventions, now capable of reducing that terrible gap between diagnostic and therapeutic possibilities, which for years constituted one of the causes of voluntary abortion and abandonment of care at birth of so many children with serious pathologies,” Francis said. “Fetal therapies on one hand and perinatal hospices on the other obtain surprising results in terms of clinical-assistance and provide essential support to families that accept the birth of a sick child.”
The Pope made it absolutely clear that under no circumstances is abortion acceptable: “However, the teaching of the Church on this point is clear: human life is sacred and inviolable and the use of prenatal diagnosis for selective ends is energetically discouraged, as an expression of an inhuman eugenic mentality, which removes from the family the possibility to receive, embrace and love their weakest children.”
Here is a translation of the Pope’s address to those present at the audience.
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The Holy Father’s Address
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Good morning and welcome. I greet Cardinal Farrell and I thank him for his words of introduction. I greet the participants in the International Congress “Yes to Life! Take Care of the Precious Gift of Life in Fragility,” organized by the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life, and by “The Heart in a Drop” Foundation, one of the realities that does its utmost every day to bring children to birth in conditions of extreme fragility. Children that, in certain cases, the throwaway culture describes as “incompatible with life,” and so are condemned to death.
However, no human being can ever be incompatible with life, not due to his age, his health conditions, or the quality of his existence. Every child that enters a woman’s womb is a gift, which changes the story of a family: of a father and a mother, of grandparents and siblings. And this baby is in need of being received, loved and taken care of. “But he makes noise . . . let’s take him away.” No, this is a music that we all must hear. And I’ll say that the child heard the applause and realized that it was for him. It’s necessary to listen always, and when the child causes us some trouble, also in the church, let the children cry in church! They praise God. Never take a child out because he cries. Thank you for the witness.
When a woman discovers she is expecting a child, a sense of profound mystery moves in her immediately. Women who are mothers know it. The awareness of a presence, which grows within her, pervades her whole being, making her not only woman but mother. An intense, crisscrossing dialogue is established immediately between her and the child, which science calls cross-talk. It is a real and intense realization between two human beings, who communicate between them, from the first instant of conception, to foster a mutual adaptation, as the little one grows and develops. This communicative capacity is not only of the woman but especially of the child, who in his individuality is able to send messages to reveal his presence and his needs to the mother. Thus it is that this new human being becomes immediately a son, moving the woman with all her being to reach out to him.
Today, the modern techniques of prenatal diagnosis are able to discover from the first weeks the presence of malformations and pathologies, which at times can put in serious danger the life of the child and the serenity of the woman. The sole suspicion of pathology, but even more so the certainty of a sickness, change the experience of the pregnancy, casting women and couples into profound dejection. The sense of aloneness, of impotence, and the fear of the child’s and the whole family’s suffering arise as a silent cry, a call for help in the darkness of sickness is always subjective and not even doctors often know how it will manifest itself in the single individual.
Yet, there is something that medicine knows well: children, who from the maternal womb show pathological conditions, are little patients who not rarely can be cured with pharmacologic, surgical and extraordinary care interventions, now capable of reducing that terrible gap between diagnostic and therapeutic possibilities, which for years constituted one of the causes of voluntary abortion and abandonment of care at birth of so many children with serious pathologies. Fetal therapies on one hand and perinatal hospices on the other obtain surprising results in terms of clinical-assistance and provide essential support to families that accept the birth of a sick child.
Such possibilities and knowledge must be put at the disposition of all, in order to spread a scientific and pastoral approach of competent accompaniment. Therefore, it’s indispensable that doctors have very clear not only the objective of the cure but the sacred value of human life, whose protection, in the end, rests on medical practice. The medical profession is a mission, a vocation to life, and it’s important that doctors be aware that they themselves are a gift for the families entrusted to them: doctors capable of entering in relationship, of taking charge of others’ lives, <who are> pro-active in face of pain, able to tranquilize, to commit themselves to find solutions, which are respectful of the dignity of every human life.
In this connection, perinatal care is a way of care that humanizes medicine, because it moves to a responsible relationship with the sick child, who is accompanied by the operators and by his family in a course of integrated assistance, which never abandons him, making him feel human warmth and love.
All this reveals itself necessary especially in dealing with those children that, in the present state of scientific knowledge, are destined to die immediately after birth, or in a brief period of time. In these cases, the care might seem a useless commitment of resources and further suffering for the parents. However, a careful look is able to understand the genuine meaning of this effort, geared to bringing to fulfillment the love of a family. To take care of these children helps parents, in fact, to elaborate their mourning and think of it not only as a loss but as a stage of a path followed together. That child will remain in their life forever. And they will have been able to love him. Often, those few hours in which a mother can cradle her child leave a trace in the woman’s heart, which she never forgets. And she feels — permit me the word — fulfilled; she feels herself mother.
Unfortunately, the dominant culture of today doesn’t promote this approach: at the social level, the fear and hostility in meeting disabilities often induce to the choice of abortion, configuring it as a practice of “prevention.” However, the teaching of the Church on this point is clear: human life is sacred and inviolable and the use of prenatal diagnosis for selective ends is energetically discouraged, as an expression of an inhuman eugenic mentality, which removes from the family the possibility to receive, embrace and love their weakest children. Sometimes we hear it said: “You, Catholics, don’t accept abortion, it’s the problem of your faith.” No, it’s a pre-religious problem. Let us not charge faith with something that has not been its responsibility since the beginning. It’s a human problem. Just two phrases will help to understand this well: two questions. First question: is it licit to eliminate a human life to solve a problem? Second question: is it licit to hire a hitman to solve a problem? The answer is up to you. This is the point. Don’t refer to the religious in something that regards what is human. It’s not licit. Never, never do away with a human life or hire a hitman to resolve a problem
Abortion is never the answer that women and families seek. Rather, it’s fear of the sickness and loneliness that makes parents hesitate. The difficulties of a practical order, both human and spiritual are undeniable, but precisely because of this the most incisive pastoral actions are urgent and necessary to support those that accept their sick children. That is, it’s necessary to create areas, places and “networks of love” to which couples can turn, as well as dedicate time to the accompaniment of these families. There comes to mind a story that I heard in my other Dioceses. There was a 15-year old Down’s syndrome girl who became pregnant, and her parents went to the Judge to ask permission to abort. The Judge, an upright and serious man, studied the matter and said: “I want to question the girl.” “But she’s Down’s, she doesn’t understand . . .” “No, no, have her come.” The 15-year old girl went, sat down there, began to talk with the Judge and he said to her: Do you know what is happening to you?” “yes. I’m sick . . .” “Ah, and what is your sickness?” “They told me that I have an animal inside that is eating my stomach so I must have an intervention.” “No, you don’t have a worm that is eating your stomach. Do you know what you have there? A child!” And the Down’s girl said: “Oh, how beautiful!” just like that. With this, the Judge didn’t authorize the abortion. The <girl’s> mother wanted it. A girl was born. The years passed. She studied, grew up and became a lawyer. From the moment she understood her story because she was told it, every birthday that girl called the Judge to thank him for the gift of her birth. These are things of life. The Judge died and now she has become a promoter of justice. But see what a lovely thing! Abortion is never the answer that women and families seek.
Thank you, therefore, to all of you who work for this. And thank you, in particular, to you families, mothers and fathers, who have accepted fragile life — the word fragility is underscored — because mothers, and also women in general are specialists in fragility: they receive fragile life. And now you are a support and help for other families. Your witness of love is a gift for the world. I bless you and keep you in my prayer. And I ask you, please, to pray for me.
Thank you![Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
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