We also strongly support the right to life. Laudato Si section 120 states that without opposition to abortion, defending the rest of the vulnerable is increasingly difficult: "Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away."
In our country today, abortion takes more lives each year than any other cause of death. But we certainly don't focus all our charity efforts on beginning-of-life issues. For example, we continued to give away more than 80,000 new winter coats and more than 8,000 wheelchairs in 2015, and we are constantly engaged in tens of thousands of projects around the world to help clothe, feed, shelter and meet other pressing needs of our neighbors. Last year we gave away $175 million and 73.5 million hours to charitable causes. We also support the Vatican and national bishops' conferences in numerous ways, including in the defense of religious liberty, especially – but not only – when assaults on religious liberty also implicate the lives of the most vulnerable among us.
How dire are things for the Christians in the Middle East and why did you choose that issue?
For the first time in nearly 2,000 years, we are reaching a point where Christians could literally cease to exist in a country like Iraq. The situation is incredibly dire, and in the next few days, we will be announcing a new initiative to help stabilize these communities because there is a real concern that they will not survive. We have been providing assistance with food for thousands of families, we have provided funding for medical clinics, for apartment buildings, rental assistance, clothing, education, etc. But even more is needed. We simply cannot allow Christianity and pluralism to be eliminated from this region by those using terrorism and genocide to achieve their ends.
I am among the many who hope that the meeting between the pope and the president this week in Rome may include breakthrough solutions and closer cooperation between the American government and its aid programs and the Church to help ensure that these people survive, and that ISIS' goal of eliminating religious minorities is not realized. As at least one commentator has also pointed out, no two organizations are more critical to surivival of these people than the U.S. government and the Vatican.
In terms of how we chose this issue, it came naturally to us, since the Knights of Columbus has been concerned about religious persecution throughout our history. We spoke up for Catholics being persecuted in Mexico in the 1920s, for Jews being persecuted in Germany in the 1930s, for people of faith being persecuted in the Cold War, and now, for these victims of ISIS.
You also mentioned your pro-life work. There have been some real advances in that area recently - what trends do you see?
We have seen some great strides in this area over the past months including moves to stop the taxpayer funding of abortion including via the Mexico City Policy. Appointments to the court and several cabinet positions are also very pro-life and this is very heartening as well.
As our polling shows, support for abortion restrictions is bi-partisan. For example, 70 percent of Democrats and 94 percent of Republicans support banning taxpayer funding of abortion abroad. In addition, about 6 in 10 Democrats, 7 in 10 Independents and 9 in 10 Republicans support substantial restrictions on abortion, and would limit it – at most – to the first three months of pregnancy.
Practicing Catholics are united in support for abortion restrictions in overwhelming numbers as well.
Some may see abortion as a political or divisive issue, but that does not mean that it is. And we do not see or intend our opposition to it as political. For us it is a matter of morality and values.
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In fact, it is my fondest hope that both of our country's major parties would embrace a pro-life platform. If that were to happen, the issue could cease to be seen as partisan, and voters could move on to other issues. We've been working on this for more than four decades, with nearly 60 million abortions since Roe v Wade. The scandal is that too many Catholics in public office have refused to take action to protect unborn children. As Catholics we are called to build a culture of life and that certainly includes more than abortion. But I do not see how it is possible to build a culture of life with public officials who insist on maintaining a legal regime that results in a million abortions a year.
I have personally voted for pro-life candidates of both parties. Those who criticize our pro-life work as partisan miss the fact that far from being partisan, it is consistent with our help of the defenseless and marginalized. It exactly fits with Pope Francis' statements in Laudato Si and also in Evangelii Gaudium, where he stated in section 213: "Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this. Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church's effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative. Yet this defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development."
How can we help poor individuals and families, the intellectually disabled, and refugees from ISIS and ignore the unborn? It's not possible. We are talking about a million lives each year that are lost, and that demands our attention.
The same outlook applies to our work in defense of religious freedom – in which we have been supported by Pope Francis. This isn't a new – or political – endeavor for us. It is the defense of a fundamental right that we have engaged in for more than a century.
What is your opinion of how the news media covers the Church today?
Pope Francis, in his book, On Heaven and Earth, was very hard on the media. He pointed out that too often the media tries to generate conflict and misinforms. He said: "Today, there is misinformation because only part of the truth is said, only what interests them is taken for their convenience, and that does a lot of damage because it is a way of favoring conflict."