Laurie Penny’s attack on Pope Francis over abortion spectacularly misses his point

Pope Francis (CNS)

It must have been an incredible relief to Pope Francis this morning to learn that New Statesman columnist Laurie Penny has issued the following edict: “The Pope, like all human beings of every faith and none, has a right to his opinion. The Pope is free to believe that abortion is wrong.”

But Laurie issues one very important caveat: “I have no problem with that, right up to the point where his beliefs start to influence the autonomy of others, so the Pope’s beliefs about abortion will become relevant the day the Pope gets pregnant.”

Just to remind ourselves, during his ‘state of the world’ address to the Vatican diplomatic corps on Monday, Pope Francis denounced abortion in the broader context of a throw away culture: “It is horrific even to think that there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day,” he said in part of the speech that addressed the rights of children around the world.

“Unfortunately, what is thrown away is not only food and dispensable objects, but often human beings themselves, who are discarded as unnecessary.”

Only today the issue of gendercide has made headlines again but Laurie who is rightly reputed for her defence of women is mute here on the issue of throwing away baby girls, simply because they’re girls.

She simply issues standard pro-choice mantras, without seriously engaging with the Pope’s point, while suggesting that Francis should not express an opinion in case “his beliefs start to influence the autonomy of others.” Namely, the Pope should only speak when he is certain that no one will take any notice.

Laurie also confesses that she misses the Pope Emeritus with “his snazzy red shoes and squinty evil grin.” I’m confident that Laurie’s knowledge of the papacy of Benedict XVI is exhaustive so it’s a pity that she had to resort to such a low blow. Attacking an octogenarian’s appearance is surely a bit beneath her.

Rather confusingly Laurie goes on to lament: “We wanted to believe that this Pope was different. In these anxious times, it hasn’t just been Catholics who got overexcited by the idea of a spiritual leader who could inspire the world to be better.”

So essentially it is fine for Pope Francis to inspire the world to do better as long as he fits in with one’s personal definition of doing better. And when this definition of “better” fails to glorify abortion rights he suddenly becomes one big whopping disappointment.

Sadly, Francis’s words are a real opportunity for socialists and humanists to engage and probably agree with the Pope’s wider point about the throwaway culture we encounter daily. But a man in authority dared to say the word “abortion” while discussing this point, so rather than calmly engaging on a wider level, the cardinals of the commentariat will scream “emergency!” instead.

The bottom line, according to Laurie, is that the Pope’s views on abortion are irrelevant until he gets pregnant. And I suppose, to follow Laurie’s own tired logic, anyone’s opinions on Catholicism are irrelevant until they convert.