Fighting social injustice, by caring for migrants and the poor, is just as holy a pursuit for Catholics as opposing abortion, declared Pope Francis in a major 100-page document issued by the Vatican on Monday.
Pope Francis softened the Roman Catholic Church stance on abortion yet again, marking another significant moment as the Church has one of the strongest anti-abortion stances among religious institutions. By telling Catholics to not give “excessive importance” to certain positions, like opposing abortion, while ignoring other issues, like immigration, he also appeared to dig at single-issue conservatives.
“The other harmful ideological error is found in those who find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist,” wrote Pope Francis. “Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and the elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.”
The new document — which came in the form of an “apostolic exhortation” titled “Gaudete et Exsultate,” or “Rejoice and Be Glad” — focuses on how people can be holy in a contemporary, secular world. The idea is Christians cannot grow in holiness with prayer alone but need to help those in need. This is the fifth major document Francis wrote in his five-year papacy. Controversy arose after Francis’ last apostolic exhortation in 2016, in which he cautiously permitted some divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion.
This time, the apostolic exhortation highlights the plight of migrants, an issue Francis has repeatedly called attention to. While elevating migrants and the poor more broadly, he noted the hypocrisy of some Catholic groups who ardently oppose abortion while they oppose or ignore legislation that helps immigrants.
“We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue,” he wrote. “Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the ‘grave’ bioethical questions.”
“That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian,” he continued.
Pope Francis continues to splinter with the Church, particularly on the issue of abortion, despite criticism from hardliners. In one of his first lengthier interviews in 2013, he said the Catholic Church was too “obsessed” with the procedure. And in 2015, he permitted priests to offer absolution for abortion. While the 2015 letter didn’t do much in the way of theology, it did symbolize a seismic shift for the Church.