Pope Francis praises Italy's leading abortion rights proponent, draws flak from church traditionalists, pro-life advocates

Pope Francis (left) has compared former Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino (right), who is an abortion rights activist, to great historical figures such as Konrad Adenauer and Robert Schuman.Reuters/Wikipedia

Pope Francis shocked church traditionalists and pro-life advocates after he recently praised a leading abortion rights advocate and even dubbed her as one of Italy's "forgotten greats.''

The pontiff made the statement during an interview last Feb. 8 with Corriere Della Serra, where he compared former Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino to great historical figures such as Konrad Adenauer and Robert Schuman.

Pope Francis acknowledged that his statements were "controversial'' but dismissed them, saying, "True, but never mind. We have to look at people, at what they do.''

However, some church officials criticised the pope for issuing such a statement.

"How can the pope praise a woman that is best known in Italy for practicing illegal abortion and promoting abortion?" said Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro, who was until last year the head of the Rome office of Human Life International, LifeSite News reported.

Luca Volonte, an Italian politician and president of the pro-life Novae Terrae Foundation, also told LifeSite News that he believed the pope "was not really informed about how much Mrs. Bonino has done in Italy and at the international level to promote abortion and euthanasia."

Even though he admitted that "she did well in Egypt," Volante said even there "she promoted her anti-life values."

"The pope was wrong and worse were the members of his secretariat for not informing him," he said.

Bonino has been known for decades as Italy's most outspoken abortion rights activist.

At 27, she had an illegal abortion and then worked with the Information Centre on Sterilisation and Abortion which boasted over 10,000 abortions. There are famous photos of Bonino performing illegal abortions using a homemade device operated by a bicycle pump. Arrested for the then-illegal activity, she spent a few days in jail, was acquitted and then entered politics, according to reports.

In 2013 when was she was appointed Italy's foreign minister, there was reportedly a general outcry from life and family leaders at the ''appalling situation.''