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Pope, in interview, describes unborn child as ‘a living being, I’m not saying a person’

May 29, 2023

In a brief but wide-ranging interview with Julio Vaqueiro of Telemundo, Pope Francis discussed migration, reflected on ecclesial reform, recalled his recent meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and spoke about the prevalence of abuse in families when he was asked whether there is a link between celibacy and sexual abuse.

He also weighed in on abortion.

Vaqueiro asked Pope Francis, “In the United States there is a very big debate, Your Holiness, around abortion. We know what the Church’s position is, but do you think that a woman who was raped has the right not to have her child, one that is the product of that rape?”

Pope Francis responded:

I say this about abortion: in any second-year university embryology book it says that a month after conception, even before the mother is aware [she is pregnant], the entire organ system is already drawn inside and the DNA is clear. In other words, it is a living being. I’m not saying a person, it’s a living being.

So, I ask myself a question: is it lawful to eliminate a living being to solve a problem? Second question: Is it lawful to hire a hitman to solve a problem? And there you have it. You’re not getting me out of there. Because it is the truth.

Although Pope Francis clearly stated that abortion is not morally lawful, he was also manifestly hesitant to affirm that the unborn child is a person. (Indeed, the Pope’s words convey the impression that he may deny the personhood of the unborn.)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the obligation to treat unborn children as persons from the moment of conception:

From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person—among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life. (n. 2270)

The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation: “The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.” (n. 2273; citation from Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Donum Vitae, III).

Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being. (n. 2274)

Likewise, the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:

A child is a gift of God, the supreme gift of marriage. There is no such thing as a right to have children (e.g. “a child at any cost”). But a child does have the right to be the fruit of the conjugal act of its parents as well as the right to be respected as a person from the moment of conception. (n. 500)

In his encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae (1995), Pope St. John Paul II repeatedly referred to unborn children as persons. At different times throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis, too, has referred to unborn children as persons.

In his apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, for example, Pope Francis taught, “Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development” (n. 101). He repeated those words in a 2018 address to the Pontifical Academy for Life.


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  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - May. 30, 2023 4:27 PM ET USA

    As he does so often, Pope Francis has spoken, but has said nothing. If the unborn child is just “a living being,” with its personhood in doubt, it could still be what many pro-aborts say it is: a parasite, undeserving of any special protection.

  • Posted by: AnthonyP - May. 30, 2023 11:03 AM ET USA

    I am a physician. I always disagree whenever anyone goes down the 'personhood' path; simply because I don't think that it is necessary to even go there. First, the DNA is laid out perfectly at the moment of conception; thus, making this a living HUMAN being. As far as organs are concern; again, not necessary to point out. The 'hit man' comment is spot on, in my opinion. The question is simple: IS it ok to eliminate a human being at any time during any stage of development? The answer is NO.

  • Posted by: frjt - May. 29, 2023 11:35 AM ET USA

    Once again a failed papacy sends black smoke into the air: could this mean that we still don't have a pope who can speak clearly.... Keep him away from airplanes and interviews... Dominus flevit!