Sunday, January 25, 2015

What the Pope really said - on marriage, sex, babies and rabbits!

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2014 Pastoral Visit of Pope Francis to Korea by Republic of Korea on Flickr lincsed under cc 2.0

Last week, the Pope had a little press conference on the plane coming back from the Phillipines. Here are the complete transcripts of his remarks via the National Catholic Register.

Of course, practically before the Holy Father had a chance to unpack, these were the headlines that were facing Catholics in their newsfeeds:  


The Pope Tells Catholics not to breed "like rabbits" but refuses to endorse contraception.  - Slate 

Pope Says three children per family is about right. Catholics don't need to breed like rabbits. Washington Post. 

"Don't Breed Like Rabbits" - Inquisitor



So for the sake of completeness, I'm going to post the actual question and answer below - highlighting the important parts. The parts in blue are the parts that I thought were very pastoral and totally in line with what the church has always taught.  They were also the parts that the media totally didn't report.  The parts in red were the parts that I felt were said in haste and were awkward and came across as being less than charitable - which I'm sure The Holy Father never intended. 

And as it turns out, he certainly didn't mean for them to be taken as uncharitable at all!


Jan Cristoph Kitzler: I would like to return for a minute to the encounter you had with families. You have spoken of ideological colonization. Would you explain a bit more the concept? You also mentioned Paul VI, speaking of the “particular causes” that are important to the pastoral care for families. Can you give an example of these particular cases and maybe say also if there is need to open the way, to have a corridor, for these particular cases?
Pope Francis: Ideological colonization: I’ll give just one example that I saw myself. Twenty years ago, in 1995, a minister of education asked for a large loan to build schools for the poor. They gave it to her on the condition that in the schools there would be a book for the children of a certain level. It was a school book, a book prepared well, didactically, in which gender theory was taught.This woman needed the money, but that was the condition. Clever woman, she said yes and did it again and again, and it went ahead, and that’s how it was achieved. This is ideological colonization: They introduce to the people an idea that has nothing to do with the nation; yes, with groups of people, but not with the nation. And they colonize the people with an idea that changes, or wants to change, a mentality or a structure.During the synod, the African bishops complained about this, which was the same story, certain loans in exchange for certain conditions — I say only these things that I have seen.Why do I say ideological colonization? Because they take, they really take the need of a people to seize an opportunity to enter and grow strong — with the children. But it is not new: The same was done by the dictatorships of the last century. They entered with their own doctrine — think of the Balilla (Mussolini’s fascist youth organization: Editor’s note); think of the Hitler Youth.They colonized the people, but they wanted to do it. But how much suffering — peoples must not lose their freedom. Each people has its own culture, its own history. Every people has its own culture.But when conditions come imposed by imperial colonizers, they seek to make these peoples lose their own identity and make a uniformity. This is the globalization of the sphere — all the points are equidistant from the center. And the true globalization — I like to say this — is not the sphere. It is important to globalize, but not like the sphere; rather, like the polyhedron, namely, that each people, every part, conserves its own identity without being ideologically colonized. These are the ideological colonizations.There is a book, excuse me, but I’ll make a commercial: There is a book that maybe is a bit heavy at the beginning, because it was written in 1903 in London. It is a book, at that time, [about how] the writer had seen this drama of ideological colonization. It is called The Lord of the Earth or The Lord of the World; one of those. The author is Benson, written in 1903. I advise you to read it. Reading it, you’ll understand well what I mean by ideological colonization.This is the first response. The second: What I want to say about Paul VI is that it is true that openness to life is the condition of the sacrament of matrimony. A man cannot give the sacrament to the woman, and the woman give it to him, if they are not in agreement on this point to be open to life. To the point that it can be proven that this or the other did not get married with this intention of being open to life, the matrimony is null. It’s a cause of the annulment of the marriage, no? Openness to life, no.Paul VI studied this, with the commission: how to help the many cases, many problems. They are important problems, that are even about love in the family, right? The everyday problems — so many of them.But there was something more. The refusal of Paul VI was not only to the personal problems, for which he will tell the confessors to be merciful and understand the situation and pardon. Being understanding and merciful, no? But he was watching the universal neo-Malthusianism that was in progress. And how do you call this neo-Malthusianism? There is less than 1% of birthrate growth in Italy; the same in Spain. [It is] that neo-Malthusianism that sought to control humanity on the part of the powers.This doesn’t mean that the Christian must make children “in series.”I met a woman some months ago in a parish who was pregnant with her eighth child, who had had seven C-sections. But does she want to leave the seven as orphans? This is to tempt God. I speak of responsible paternity. This is the way, a responsible paternity.But what I wanted to say was that Paul VI was not more antiquated, closed-minded. No, he was a prophet who, with this, said to watch out for the neo-Malthusianism that is coming. This is what I wanted to say.
Christoph Schmidt: Holy Father, first of all I would like to say: Thank you very much for all the impressive moments of this week. It is the first time I accompany you, and I would like to say thank you very much. My question: You have talked about the many children in the Philippines, about your joy, because there are so many children; but according to some polls, the majority of Filipinos think that the huge growth of the Filipino population is one of the most important reasons for the enormous poverty in the country. A Filipino woman gives birth to an average of three children in her life, and the Catholic position concerning contraception seems to be one of the few question on which a big number of people in the Philippines do not agree with the Church. What do you think about that?
Pope Francis: I think the number of three children per family that you mentioned — it makes me suffer. I think it is [that] the number experts say it is important to keep the population going, three per couple. When this decreases, the other extreme happens, like what is happening in Italy. I have heard, I do not know if it is true, that, in 2024, there will be no money to pay pensioners because of the fall in population. 
Therefore, the key word, to give you an answer, and the one the Church uses all the time, and I do too, is responsible parenthood. How do we do this? With dialogue. Each person with his pastor seeks how to do carry out a responsible parenthood [according to Church teaching].
That example I mentioned shortly before about that woman who was expecting her eighth child and already had seven who were born with caesareans: That is an irresponsibility. That woman might say, "No, I trust in God." But, look, God gives you means to be responsible. Some think that — excuse the language — that, in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood: This is clear, and that is why, in the Church, there are marriage groups; there are experts in this matter; there are pastors; one can search [for them]; and I know so many ways that are licit and that have helped this [like natural family planning]. You did well to ask me this.
Another curious thing in relation to this is that, for the most poor people, a child is a treasure. It is true that you have to be prudent here, too, but, for them, a child is a treasure. Some would say, "God knows how to help me," and perhaps some of them are not prudent, this is true. Responsible paternity [is key], but let us also look at the generosity of that father and mother who see a treasure in every child.
In a nutshell
The pope reiterates Humane Vitae, Casti conubii and Theology of the Body - marriages requires an openness to new life! It does not, however, demand that couples must purposefully try to conceive as many children as they possibly can every time they make love.  That has never been the teaching of the church and it is not now! Being co-creators with God requires responsibility, prayer and trust.

But finally he ends it all by reminding all that it is a generosity to have children and that every child conceived is a treasure.

So because the Pope spoke those truths, I think we can overlook the mishap with a reference to rabbits.  He was plain-speaking something that needs to be more nuanced and finessed. It's probably very difficult to do that on a plane with reporters after a strenuous trip.

The reference to the mother of eight who has had multiple C-sections was unfortunate.  But maybe this is an opportunity for Catholic mothers to teach their parish priests and bishops, and maybe even write to the pope and let them know about the state of birth in the world - because I guarantee many of them are not aware of how moms are treated once they get on the standard hospital plan of care!

I've had three cesareans.  I do not believe I was ever given full informed consent before any of them - surprisingly not even before the scheduled Cesarean although by that time I was certainly listening for it and felt that on the topic of Cesareans and the risks, benefits, options and potential complications, I was at least as informed as the nursing staff at my OB's office and in the hospital.

I also think that unless a mom knows where to get information and support, if her physician tells her she needs a cesarean, she will most likely allow it.  If that is what happened to the mom in the pope's examples, I'll bet she was rather shocked to get an admonishment for doing everything the way she thought she was supposed to!

I think our clergy have much to learn from the female members of the flock and maybe this is the time we start to educate them.  Then, hopefully Pope Francis won't make those types of comments about mothers and fathers trying to live out their faith again.
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