Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Monday, June 25, 2018

Pope Benedict XVI dispatched a telegram to Barack Obama on the occasion of his inauguration as the 44th President of the United States. The message expressed the Pontiff's cordial good wishes," together with the assurance of his prayers "that almighty God will grant you [President Obama] unfailing wisdom and strength in the exercise of your high responsibilities."

Benedict, of course, is not merely a diplomat or statesman. He is the Vicar of Christ, and in this capacity cannot ignore the moral significance of Obama's presidency. Therefore, His Holiness included a moral message that would challenge the new president's view on abortion, though in a somewhat veiled manner: "Under your leadership may the American people continue to find in their religious and political heritage the spiritual values and ethical principles needed to cooperate in the building of a truly just and free society, marked by respect for the dignity, equality and rights of each of its members, especially the poor, the outcast and those who have no voice."

The reference to the "poor" includes the unborn. Referring to the unborn in this way is not novel for Benedict XVI. In his "state of the world" address delivered Jan. 8, 2009, before representatives of 177 countries, he was careful to note that in speaking about poverty, we must remember that "the poorest human beings are unborn children." This identification of the unborn who may be aborted reiterates what the Pope stated the previous week on Jan. 1 in his message for World Day of Peace: "The extermination of millions of unborn children in the name of the fight against poverty actually constitutes the destruction of the poorest of all human beings."

Poverty is a severe deprivation. We usually think of poverty in terms of a lack of food, clothing, and shelter. To be deprived of any of these constitutes a serious form of poverty. Benedict extends the notion of poverty to include those who are deprived of love, wantedness and, finally, life itself. In this fourth category are not only the unborn, but everyone else who suffers the same deprivations. His Holiness is being clear, consistent, coherent and inclusive when he prays that "all may share in the banquet of life which God wills to set for the whole human family."

Pope Benedict's repeated remarks about how the unborn who are slated for abortion are victims of poverty brings to mind the simple and straightforward words of Mother Teresa. "The most terrible poverty," she remarked, "is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved." This form of poverty is spiritual and can be more unbearable than any of the material deprivations, significant as they are. Mother Teresa elaborates: "We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty."

Pope Benedict and Mother Teresa are reminding the world that the war on poverty cannot exclude the unborn and all others who suffer the spiritual poverty of being unloved and unwanted. Concern for these victims represents the very beginning of the war against poverty. The logical implication of this position is that unless we include those who are unwanted and unloved, we have not begun the fight against poverty. To use a baseball analogy, you cannot get home if you never get to first base.

The secular world gives a great deal of lip service to the notion of "inclusivity." This term, however, is nothing more than a buzzword if it does not mean what it signifies. And what it does signify, as it applies to the human family, is everyone, including the unborn, specifically those who are unwanted and unloved.

It is an idle boast to speak of being "inclusive" when one is really being "exclusive." It is like having a bad insurance policy that, according to the fine print, excludes what it is expected to cover. Why, we may ask, has the war on poverty dragged on so miserably over all these centuries? And why does the wrong side of the battle seem to be consistently gaining ground? Pope Benedict, Mother Teresa and countless others have given us the answer. It is because we have focused our energies on the periphery and have not started at the starting place. It is because we did not realize that being lonely, unwanted and unloved is the most dire form of poverty.

Dr. Donald DeMarco is a professor emeritus at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell and Mater Ecclesiae College in Greenville, R.I.