Pope Francis met with the president of the European Parliament on Saturday, two days after the EU’s law-making body endorsed an “extreme” report on abortion.
The pope received David Sassoli in a private audience at the Vatican on June 26.
A European Parliament press release said: “The conversation with the Holy Father focused on the need to protect the weakest and most vulnerable: the rights of people are the measure of all things. The European recovery will only be successful if it produces a reduction in inequalities.”
Sassoli, a 65-year-old Italian politician, also met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.
The European Parliament press release said that the three men spoke about “the situation in the Mediterranean, Africa, the Western Balkans, and the accession process, and the Eastern neighborhood.”
It added: “Particular focus was given to European efforts to make vaccines available in low-income countries, especially in Africa.”
The European Parliament voted on June 24 to adopt a report describing abortion as “essential healthcare” and seeking to redefine conscientious objection as a “denial of medical care.”
The Matić Report also asserted that abortion is a “human right” and violations of “sexual and reproductive health and rights” are “a form of violence against women and girls.”
Members of the European Parliament voted by 378 votes in favor and 255 against, with 42 abstentions, in favor of the report at a plenary session in Brussels, Belgium.
The report is not binding on the EU’s 27 member states, only two of which -- Poland and Malta -- do not permit abortion on demand or broad social grounds.
In an interview with Vatican News, Sassoli played down the significance of the vote.
“This resolution which is not binding, because it is not a legislative act, is a recommendation to make sure that all countries in some way have similar legislation,” he said, suggesting that Italy could provide a model for other countries.
“I think there is a bit of instrumentalization that is good to put aside. We have seen that many countries behave in different ways and I believe that some experiences like the Italian one can be useful to them as well,” he commented.
Before the vote, pro-life groups and Catholic leaders had urged the European Parliament to reject the report, presented by the Croatian politician Predrag Fred Matić.
The Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues (PNCI), based in Washington, D.C., described the document as “extreme” and “radical.”
The Secretariat of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) expressed alarm at the report, saying that that it was “ethically untenable” to classify abortion as an “essential” health service.
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The Nordic Bishops’ Conference said that the report’s stance on conscientious objection “jeopardizes individuals’ entitlement to follow their conviction in moral and religious matters, placing them at risk of losing their job or even barring them from access to work in healthcare.”
The Matić Report, officially known as the “Report on the situation of sexual and reproductive health and rights in the EU, in the frame of women’s health,” was adopted by the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality on May 11.
Two Members of the European Parliament, Margarita de la Pisa Carrión and Jadwiga Wiśniewska, set out a “minority position,” arguing that the report had “no legal or formal rigor.”
“It goes beyond its remit in addressing issues such as health, sexual education, and reproduction, as well as abortion and education, which are legislative powers belonging to the member states,” they wrote.
“It treats abortion as a purported human right that does not exist in international law. This is a breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the main binding treaties, as well as of the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union.”
The European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), an NGO based in Strasbourg, France, suggested that the report’s supporters were seeking “to introduce a new norm without it appearing at first sight to be imposed.”
It said: “The choice of the institution in this strategy is not to be underestimated, because although the resolutions of the European Parliament have no binding legal value, they are the expression of an opinion that the Parliament wishes to make known.”
In my conversation with @Pontifex today, we focused on the need to protect the weakest and most vulnerable.
The rights of people must be the measure of all things.
“A resolution may subsequently serve to politically legitimize action by the member states or the institutions; it is intended to produce practical effects.”
“More importantly, it can express a pre-legislative intention that can later be used to justify binding acts. There is, therefore, no doubt that an act of the European Parliament represents the gateway to the heart of the normative system.”
A number of European bishops lamented the outcome of Thursday’s vote, including Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, the president of the Polish bishops’ conference, Archbishop Franz Lackner, president of the Austrian bishops’ conference, and the Irish Bishop Kevin Doran.
“I am deeply saddened by the European Parliament resolution calling for the possibility of killing unborn children,” Gądecki wrote on his Twitter account on June 24.
“The culture of life envisaged by the Founding Fathers of the EU is turning into a culture of death and exclusion, with ideology taking precedence over reason.”
This report has been updated to include David Sassoli’s comments to Vatican News.
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