So Pope Francis had something to say about the theological views of one Donald Trump. You probably heard about that.
During the same in-flight presser while returning to Rome from Mexico (full transcript here), he also addressed a question about contraceptives and the Zika virus. You probably read about that, too. Maybe.
But what did he have to say about abortion, which remains a hot-button subject? Before we get to a very interesting Religion News Service commentary on that, let's flash back for a moment.
As anyone who reads elite newspapers knows, early in the Pope Francis era the mainstream press reported, over and over, that he had ordered Catholic conservatives to stand down when it came to fighting about abortion, marriage and other "culture wars" topics.
Remember that exclusive America interview? Of course you do. It is still be quoted whenever these topics come up in church discussions. Next to the out-of-context "Who am I to judge?" soundbite (that wasn't a soundbite), we are talking about some of the most popular Pope Francis language -- ever. Here's how I summed that up in a column at the time:
... The pope unleashed a media tsunami with a long, candid interview published exclusively in America and other Jesuit magazines around the world. While the pope talked about confession, sin and mercy, one quote leapt into news reports and headlines more than any other.
"We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible," he told the interviewer, a fellow Jesuit. "The teaching of the church ... is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time."
The strange thing is what happened next, right in the middle of that media storm. The pope addressed -- drawing next to zero coverage -- a gathering of Catholic gynecologists. And what did he have to say?
"The culture of waste, which now enslaves the hearts and minds of many, has a very high cost: it requires the elimination of human beings, especially if they are physically or socially weaker," he said, according to a English translation offered by The National Catholic Register.
"Our response to this mentality is a categorical and unhesitant 'yes' to life. ... Things have a price and are sold, but people have a dignity, worth more than things and they don't have a price. Many times we find ourselves in situations where we see that which costs less is life. Because of this, attention to human life in its totality has become a real priority of the Magisterium of the Church in recent years, particularly to the most defenseless, that is, the disabled, the sick, the unborn child, the child, the elderly who are life's most defenseless."
Now, try to imagine this pope using stronger language than that -- in a face-to-face gathering with the core of the world's Vatican-beat reporters. Would that draw coverage?
Maybe. Maybe not. In the RNS piece mentioned earlier, Charles C. Camosy -- associate professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University -- noted, concerning this latest press dust-up:
What was surprising in Francis’ remarks, however, was his incredibly strong language about abortion. ...
Though Francis has spoken about abortion fairly consistently, until now he has done so with something other than prophetic, fiery, aggressive language. He has been more focused on the structural issues that lead to abortion, even making forgiveness of abortion a key theme in the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
This makes it all the more surprising that he used these words on board the papal plane flying back from Mexico:
"Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to kill someone in order to save another. This is what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil. … Don’t confuse the evil of avoiding pregnancy by itself, with abortion."
Equating abortion with a Mafia hit? Directly calling it a crime, an absolute evil? What happened to pastoral Francis? What happened to the shepherd who always spoke with gentle, welcoming language?
Well, it turns out there have been several practices about which Francis has been anything but pastoral and gentle. In calling out the practices of modern capitalism, the Holy Father called the unfettered pursuit of wealth “the dung of the devil.” In calling out the practices of the Italian Mafia, he declared them excommunicated. In calling out the practices of curial officials in Rome, he described them as having “spiritual Alzheimer’s.”
After his most recent presser, we can add another practice to the list of those that produce red-hot Francis rhetoric: abortion as a response to the reality of disabled children.
Duck and cover. Read it all.