It’s a well-known fact that the Catholic Church, along with the majority of churches really, does not condone abortion. But when Pope Francis says that abortion is “horrific,” apparently it’s big news. In the days leading up to his statements about abortion, though, the Pope had another, probably more newsworthy message to Catholic parishioners: It’s OK for women to breastfeed their babies while seated in the pews at church.
In his first annual “State of the World” address, Pope Francis encouraged greater respect for the elderly and spoke about increasing efforts to end child slavery around the world. The portion of the message that seemed to draw the most attention was his rather stern statement about abortion. “It is horrific even to think that there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day,” said Pope Francis in a section of the speech, criticizing modern “throwaway culture,” according to The Independent. “Unfortunately, what is thrown away is not only food and dispensable objects, but often human beings themselves, who are discarded as unnecessary.”
Perhaps the Pope’s remarks were particularly striking because he has previously tried to sway the church away from its focus on attacking abortion, instead focusing on the necessity to reinvigorate the church’s message with love and humility. This past September, Pope Francis drew both criticism and praise when he said that the church needs to “find a new balance” between insisting on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and contraception and showing love to people from all walks of life. Reuters surmised that the Pope was encouraged by Catholic conservatives to strengthen his stance against abortion during this week’s address.
On Sunday, Pope Francis baptized 32 babies at the Sistine Chapel. During an impromptu post-baptism sermon, he told mothers that it’s OK to breastfeed in church. In an incident last month, Pope Francis told a young mother not to shy away from feeding her baby in public, just because she was breastfeeding. And, although it’s still a touchy subject for many traditional Catholics, the Pope says it’s more important that babies don’t go hungry than it is to stick with tradition. "Today the choir will sing but the most beautiful choir of all is the choir of the infants who will make a noise," the Pope said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. "Some will cry because they are not comfortable or because they are hungry ... If they are hungry, mothers, feed them, without thinking twice. Because they are the most important people here."
So the Pope’s statement about abortion wasn’t a change as much as it was a confirmation of what we already knew. His stance on breastfeeding in public, on the other hand, is worth taking a look at. And, overall, his message about love and service remains the same. "We must never cease to do good, even when it is difficult and demanding,” he said.