|Did I hear that right?|
Yard Bunny image by e_monk; used with permission.
You may have seen the Holy Father quoted as saying that Catholics are not obliged "to multiply like rabbits." Finding that in the headlines yesterday, I was extremely disedified. The language gave the impression that the Pope thinks and speaks in the same crass terms as the dehumanizing culture. (Whenever you find non-human images applied to human beings, your antennae should go up.) After all his beautiful and encouraging words to the Filipino people about their family life, is that how the Pope really sees things?
Speaking in Italian during the Manila-to-Rome on-flight press conference, the Pope first said (in answer to a question about Paul VI's references to "particular cases") that Christians are not obliged to have children "one after the other" [fare figli in serie.] And as an example of this mistaken understanding of "openness to life" (which, he reminded us, is essential for a valid marriage), he spoke of a woman who was expecting her eighth child after having already had seven Caesarean deliveries. She risked leaving her family motherless, whereas what the church calls for is "responsible parenthood."
It was brought to my attention that this was not the only place the Pope expressed himself on the theme of responsible parenthood. In an earlier post on this blog, I had missed that. When a second journalist brought up the birth control question again, the Pope said the same thing, but in stronger language. This is where the "rabbits" came in. But Pope Francis did not use this expression blithely, as if reflecting a typical usage of his own. He first apologized for what he was about to say. That apology ("pardon the expression") shows the Pope taking on the language of others to address their question head-on. No Church-speak here, for sure! Instead of speaking in delicate euphemisms, Francis answered the question in the terms very often used to deride Church teachings. That apology made all the difference for me. The comparison was not one that expresses the mind of Pope Francis, but one which reflects the minds of those who (often mockingly) are convinced that the Church's stance borders on the barbaric.
I confess that the example of that woman left me wanting to write to the Holy Father (something I may in fact do). In cultures where women are still not fully respected as equal partners in a marriage (and some parts of Latin America do come to mind), a wife who asks her husband to practice periodic abstinence for the sake of the family's well being may fear losing him completely. "He will leave me for someone else," said one woman to the Catholic healthcare worker. Our pragmatic neighbors might use cases like this to "prove" the need for artificial contraception, but that does not address the deeper issue: men who do not love their wives, but see them as a personal prostitute who must be available at his call. All the contraception in the world won't change that situation; it will only cement it even more into the fallen culture of machismo.
The Holy Father also stressed his appreciation of Blessed Pope Paul VI as a prophet in a world where people "in the know" were jumping on the population explosion bandwagon. His 1968 "refusal" (to approve artificial contraception) was not a matter of being close-minded, but was actually visionary. Francis went on to observe that a practical neo-Malthusianism is alive and well in Italy and Spain (where the birth rate is lower than 1%), but that it is predominantly a play for control of humanity on the part of those in power.
I think there is one conclusion we must all draw from the many, many misleading headlines where Pope Francis is concerned: we need to learn Italian!!!