Pope Francis denounced Monday what he calls the “ideological colonization” of families and the developing world, where he says progressive, Western ideas about birth control and gay rights are increasingly being imposed by groups, institutions or individual nations — often as a condition for development aid.
Francis said Catholics don’t have to “be like rabbits” and have more children than is safe or responsible. He said there are plenty of church-approved ways to regulate births. But he said most importantly, no outside institution should impose its views on families.
Speaking to reporters en route home from the Philippines, he said: “Every people deserves to conserve its identity without being ideologically colonized.”
Francis’ comments, taken together with his defense of the Catholic Church‘s ban on artificial contraception during the trip, signal that he is increasingly showing his more conservative bent, which has largely been ignored by public opinion or obscured by a media narrative that has tended to highlight his populist persona.
On the trip, he gave his strongest defense yet of the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which enshrined the church’s opposition to artificial birth control. He warned against “insidious attacks” against the family — a reference to gay marriage proposals — echoing language often used by overwhelmingly conservative U.S. bishops. And he insisted that “openness to life is a condition of the sacrament of matrimony.”
At the same time, however, he said it’s not true that to be a good Catholic “you have to be like rabbits.” On the contrary, he said “responsible parenthood” requires that couples regulate the births of their children, as church teaching allows. He cited the case of a woman he met who was pregnant with her eighth child after seven Cesarean sections.
“That is an irresponsibility!” he said. The woman might argue that she should trust in God. “But God gives you methods to be responsible,” he said.
He said there are plenty of “licit” ways of regulating births that are approved by the church, an apparent reference to the Natural Family Planning method of monitoring a woman’s cycle to avoid intercourse when she is ovulating.
But Pope Francis also said in his General Audience today via Zenit:
The meetings with families and young people at Manila, were salient moments of the visit to the Philippines. Healthy families are essential to the life of society. It gave us consolation and hope to see so many large families that welcome children as a true gift of God. They know that every child is a gift of God. I heard it said that families with many children and the birth of so many children are among the causes of poverty. It seems to me to be a simplistic opinion. I can say that the main cause of poverty is an economic system that has removed the person from the center and put the god of money there; an economic system that excludes, that always excludes, children, the elderly, the youth, without work…- and that creates the throwaway culture that we live in. Recalling the figure of Saint Joseph, who protected the life of the “Holy Child,” so venerated in that country, I reminded that it is necessary to protect the families that face different threats, so that they can witness the beauty of the family in God’s plan. It is also necessary to defend them from the new ideological colonizations, which attempts threatens their identity and their mission.
While he was later criticised by some for using the term “rabbits”, in reality people were putting words in his mouth and it was more THEIR THOUGHTS rather than what Pope Francis actually said. (The Pope NEVER made the rather unseemly remark that Catholics breed like rabbits. What the Pope DID SAY was that some Catholics mistakenly believe that to be Catholic, we ought to breed like rabbits — and prior to using that simile, he knew that it was harsh and so said “excuse the expression” — but it brought home the point. From the official transcript: “Alcuni credono che – scusatemi la parola, eh? – per essere buoni cattolici dobbiamo essere come conigli, no? No. Paternità responsabile. “)
In fact what he said was similar to what Pope John Paul II had said in the past about Responsible Parenthood in his General Audience (1st August 1984):
5. One can speak of responsibility in the exercise of the function of parenthood under different aspects. Thus he writes: “In relation to the biological processes involved, responsible parenthood is to be understood as the knowledge and observance of their specific functions. Human intelligence discovers in the faculty of procreating life, the biological laws which involve human personality” (HV 10). If, on the other hand, we examine “the innate drives and emotions of man, responsible parenthood expresses the domination which reason and will must exert over them” (HV 10).
Taking for granted the above-mentioned intra-personal aspects and adding to them the “economic and social conditions,” those are considered “to exercise responsible parenthood who prudently and generously decide to have a large family, or who, for serious reasons and with due respect to the moral law, choose to have no more children for the time being or even for an indeterminate period” (HV 10).
From this it follows that the concept of “responsible parenthood” contains the disposition not merely to avoid “a further birth” but also to increase the family in accordance with the criteria of prudence. In this light in which the question of “responsible parenthood” must be examined and decided, there is always of paramount importance “the objective moral order instituted by God, the order of which a right conscience is the true interpreter” (HV 10).