VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis on Saturday said that the use of abortion to terminate pregnancies likely to produce disabled or chronically ill children was the product of a Nazi mentality.
“It is fashionable, or at least usual, that when in the first few months of a pregnancy doctors do studies to see if the child is healthy or has something, the first idea is: ‘Let’s send it away,’” the pope said. “We do the same as the Nazis to maintain the purity of the race, but with white gloves on.”
A Vatican official confirmed the statements, which, according to the Italian newspaper La Stampa, were made when Francis departed from his prepared remarks in an address to the Forum of Family Associations on the 25-year anniversary of its founding.
The pope’s remarks were strong, but clearly in line with the stance of the Catholic Church, which has always been unwaveringly opposed to all forms of abortion or birth control. The Vatican has frequently criticized the use of abortion on unborn children determined to suffer from Down syndrome or birth defects.
Francis’ home country of Argentina voted Thursday for a proposal that legalizes abortion in that country. Last month, Ireland, one of the most Catholic countries in Europe, voted to overturn a national ban on abortion. A similar law is in the works in Catholic Northern Ireland, the only part of the United Kingdom where abortion is illegal.
The Vatican also attracted fire when it invited high-profile anti-abortion figures – including United Nations advisor and economist Jeffrey Sachs – to a conference organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences last November about population growth and sustainable development.
Francis has long railed against what he called the “throw-away culture” in terms of the way the elderly and unborn children are sometimes seen as less worthy of protection, as well as in terms of material things used briefly and then discarded.
The pope’s remarks were trending on social media in Italy Saturday, where comments were made both in favor of his views and against what some said was too extreme a comparison with Nazi-era atrocities.
Most of the faithful visiting St. Peter’s Basilica Saturday were unaware of the latest comments made a few hours earlier, but said they supported the church’s strong views on the topic.
“What could be a bigger sin than killing an unborn child?” asked Anna Perez, a nun from Nicaragua who lives in New York and was visiting the Vatican City with a church group. “I hope the pope, whoever he is, will always stand up for those who can’t defend themselves, especially the unborn.”
Alex Barry, a volunteer coordinator and mother of three visiting the Vatican from Newton, Mass., said she was not put off by the pope’s mention of Nazis in this context.
“You have to state things strongly these days or nobody will ever listen,” Barry said, speaking as Vatican workers were setting up seats in St. Peter’s Square ahead of Sunday’s mass. “I hope world leaders are listening. The world needs moral leadership now more than ever.”