Friday, January 23, 2015

Was Pope Francis Correct in Publicly Rebuking as "Irresponsible" a Woman Who Had Had Seven C-Sections?


This is the latest complaint of Pope Francis' endless, relentless (and, I've found, usually wrongheaded) critics. It's the second aspect of the infamous "rabbits" controversy that I wrote about two days ago.

Here are the pope's related remarks, as recorded in America magazine:

This does not mean that the Christian must make children in series. I rebuked a woman some months ago in a parish who was pregnant eight times, with seven C-sections (cesareans). “But do you want to leave seven orphans? That is to tempt God! (Paul VI) speaks of responsible parenthood.

[. . . ]

. . . the key word is the one the Church always uses all the time and even I use it: it is responsible parenthood. how do we do this? With dialogue. Each person with his pastor seeks how to do that responsible parenthood.

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 but I trust in God' But God gives you methods to be responsible. Some think that, excuse me if I use that word, that in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood! 

A woman who is a semi-regular visitor to my Facebook page, wrote in a public post there:

I don't trust the liberal media and I do try to check original sources. And I love Pope Francis -- I really do. But I think the choice of wording was poor and I also think he threw the pregnant lady waiting for her 8th surgical delivery under the bus. I'm sorry Dave but every time I read that I wince. And what is this "tempting God" theology as it relates to being open to new life? I don't recall ever seeing that in the Theology of the Body, and I'm pretty sure this lady wasn't trying to test God's goodness or absolute power! I think Pope Francis needs to find a way to be pastoral in his evangelizing attempts -- a way that won't hurt and sadden the rest of the flock!

I replied:

It's being an irresponsible parent, is what. The pope was exactly right. Now people are going after him for attacking this woman, while ignoring his point: that she ignored grave reasons for not conceiving another child, and put her children at risk of losing their mother (as he stated).

Grave reasons for not having further children, or spacing them, is every bit a part of Humanae Vitae as being open to life is. The two are not contradictory.

She counter-replied:

Where is the evidence that the pregnant woman and her husband " ignored" grave reasons. Perhaps they factored them in. I'm really surprised at you David -- and not in a good way.

This led me to make a lengthy and detailed response:


* * * * *

I don't see that it is even arguable. First of all, the pope was himself familiar with the woman's case (having rebuked her in person); therefore he would have known (most likely) more factors than the ones he mentioned in his interview. As usual, he is not being given the benefit of the doubt by his critics. In an article in Vatican Insider it's stated:

It is clear that he scolded this woman not because she had fallen pregnant with her eighth child but because she was going to have her eighth child having given birth by cesarian seven times before that meaning that she was putting herself seriously at risk.

So now the argument (if kept up) would be over whether C-sections entail a greater risk. Yes, they do. Here is what the Wikipedia article on the topic states:
Risks to the mother

In those who are low risk the risk of death for Caesarian sections is 13 per 100,000 and for vaginal birth 3.5 per 100,000 in the developed world.[4] The UK National Health Service gives the risk of death for the mother as three times that of a vaginal birth.[11]

In Canada the difference in bad outcome in the mother (e.g. cardiac arrest, wound hematoma, or hysterectomy) was 1.8 additional cases per 100 or three times the risk.[12]

. . . As with all types of abdominal surgeries, a Caesarean section is associated with risks of postoperative adhesions, incisional hernias (which may require surgical correction) and wound infections.[13] If a Caesarean is performed under emergency situations, the risk of the surgery may be increased due to a number of factors. The patient's stomach may not be empty, increasing the anaesthesia risk.[14] Other risks include severe blood loss (which may require a blood transfusion) and postdural-puncture spinal headaches.[13]

Women who had Caesarean sections were more likely to have problems with later pregnancies, and it is recommended that women who want larger families should not seek an elective Caesarean. The risk of placenta accreta, a potentially life-threatening condition, is 0.13% after two Caesarean sections, but increases to 2.13% after four and then to 6.74% after six or more. Along with this is a similar rise in the risk of emergency hysterectomies at delivery.[15] 
Mothers can experience increased incidence of postnatal depression, and can experience significant psychological birth trauma and ongoing birth-related post-traumatic stress disorder after obstetric intervention during the birthing process.[16] Factors like pain in first stage of labor, feelings of powerlessness, intrusive emergency obstetric intervention are important in the development of birth trauma.[16]

Subsequent pregnancies 


Further information: Delivery after previous Caesarean section

Women who have had a Caesarean for any reason are somewhat less likely to become pregnant or give birth again as compared to women who have previously only delivered vaginally.[17]
 

Women who had just one previous Caesarean section are more likely to have problems with their second birth.[4] Delivery after previous Caesarean section is by either of two main options:

Vaginal birth after Caesarean section (VBAC)

Elective repeat Caesarean section (ERCS)

Both have higher risks than a vaginal birth with no previous Caesarean section. Criteria for making VBAC include that the previous Caesarean section should be a low transverse one. VBAC (compared to ERCS) confers a higher risk for mainly uterine rupture and perinatal death of the child.[18] Furthermore, opting for VBAC results in 20-40% of times in that Caesarean section is performed eventually anyway, with greater risks of complications in an emergent repeat Caesarean section than in an ERCS.[19][20] On the other hand, VBAC confers less maternal morbidity and a decreased risk of complications in future pregnancies than ERCS.[21]

There were also additional risks to the baby that were described in the article.

Wikipedia also has an entire article entitled: "Delivery after previous Caesarean section" which details a host of risks involved.


Fellow Catholic apologist Scott Eric Alt stated in his excellent paper on this topic: 


[N]oth­ing at all is “bad about a C-section,” . . . the pope was speak­ing of a woman who had already had seven of them and was going out of her way to get preg­nant again. A Face­book friend and fel­low Catholic blog­ger, JoAnna Wahlund, explains why the pope was right to be con­cerned. (This was in a Face­book thread on my own page.)
All preg­nan­cies have the poten­tial to be risky. But seven C-sections dras­ti­cally increases the risk of pla­centa acc­reta, which can cause the uterus to rup­ture (killing both mom and baby). If a woman has had seven C-sections, her uterus is paper thin, and doc­tors tell her, “Another preg­nancy could very well kill you and your child,” then yes, it is risky and irre­spon­si­ble to delib­er­ately seek to achieve preg­nancy in that sit­u­a­tion.
Now, what the pope says, in effect . . ., is not, Don’t have a C-section but, If you’ve had seven of them, maybe going out of your way to get preg­nant again isn’t the best thing. Don’t tempt God. There are licit ways for you to avoid preg­nancy, which you should use. If you do oth­er­wise, you risk that you will die, your baby will die, and your other chil­dren will be left with­out a mother. Respon­si­ble par­ent­hood.

Therefore, the pope's reasoning is perfectly in accord with medical knowledge (as well as Catholic ethical teaching and thinking on reproduction and childbirth). C-sections entail not insignificant risk; multiple ones entail that much more risk. It is (generally speaking) irresponsible to deliberately have eight c-sections.

For further information about the risks of multiple c-sections, see:

Multiple C-Section Complications (Sandi Busch, Livestrong, 10-24-13)

Multiple C-Sections: How Many Is Too Many? (Elizabeth McGee, C-Section Birth & Recovery, March 2009)

Placenta Accreta: Multiple C-Sections Can Kill Mother (Susan Donaldson James, ABC News, 4-18-11, with accompanying video)



How many C-sections can a woman safely have? (Roger W. Harms, M.D., Mayo Clinic, 6-12-12) 

Maternal Morbidity Associated With Multiple Repeat Cesarean Deliveries (Robert Silver, MD et al, Obstetrics & Gynecology: June 2006 - Volume 107 - Issue 6 - pp 1226-1232; with a host of further related articles listed)

Multiple C-Sections Linked to Raised Complication Risks: Study Women who had 5 or more cesarean-section deliveries had more bleeding, preterm births (US News and World Report: Health, 11-1-12)

Intra-operative complications increase with successive number of cesarean sections: Myth or fact? (Shumaila Zia and Muhammad Rafique, Obstetrics and Gynecology Science, May 2014; 57(3): 187–192)

Once again, his rebuke was a loving and wise one, and he deserves no scolding or withering criticism for making it.

People want to criticize him, moreover, because he mentioned a real person. He didn't mention her name. In the Bible, St. Paul mentions actual names of people whom he was rebuking:


2 Timothy 2:16-18 (RSV) Avoid such godless chatter, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, [17] and their talk will eat its way like gangrene. Among them are Hymenae'us and Phile'tus, [18] who have swerved from the truth by holding that the resurrection is past already. They are upsetting the faith of some.

2 Timothy 4:14-15 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will requite him for his deeds. [15] Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. 

Others, like Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:9-24), had their names mentioned in Scripture, to be known for posterity as a bad example. St. Paul wrote at length about a person in the Corinthian church (though not by name this time; just like the pope's statement) whom he recommended as a recipient of social stigmatization until he repented:
1 Corinthians 5:1-5  It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father's wife. [2] And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. [3] For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment [4] in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, [5] you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Later, Paul told them to receive the man back into the fold after he repented (2 Cor 2:6-11). It was intended to help this person and to provide an example of how we should not act (in terms of sin), and how the community should react to the sinner, for the purpose of his repentance and restoration.

Likewise, the pope in rebuking this woman (the first time, in person), was trying to help her to better follow Catholic teaching. And by bringing it up again, he was trying to illustrate by bad example, how women should apply the responsibilities of parenthood, according to the Church. This helps people, too.

The problem is that all this is lost in today's society. Rebukes are widely regarded as terrible, "judgmental" or "intolerant" things and "personal insults" and we mustn't ever do that (unless, of course, the pope is the target). The notion of the loving rebuke for pastoral purposes is almost totally lost, even within the Church. This is what happens when people think more like the surrounding culture than according to a Catholic or otherwise Christian worldview. St. Paul also warned us:



Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. 

I don't see that the pope has done anything wrong here, according to either the Bible or Catholic teaching. On the contrary, he issued a loving (though admittedly very stern) rebuke (in essence, an act of love): the example of which will help other women to avoid the same mistaken perspective. But because of our current cultural mindset, many cannot or will not receive it as such , and realize that it is entirely within a biblical worldview to do such a thing. He acted very much as St. Paul would (judging by the above examples), and Paul urged us to imitate him (1 Cor 4:16; Phil 3:17; 2 Thess 3:7, 9) as he in turn imitated Christ (1 Cor 11:1; 1 Thess 1:6). The Vicar of Christ should certainly imitate Christ and also the great Apostle Paul, who imitated our Lord.


* * * * *

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Documentation: Pope Francis is Pro-Tradition and Against Modernism (By Dan Marcum)



This was originally posted in the Catholic Answers forum on 9 January 2015 and then expanded later on. I modified the title of #11 and deleted one quotation from it (which I felt was off-topic).

* * * * *

1. He has Affirmed his Commitment to Tradition
“We must put ourselves in line with the great Tradition which [is] under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and of the Magisterium.” source

“[T]he Tradition of the entire People of God over the centuries...cannot be mistaken in belief.” source

“The Pope, in this context, is not the supreme lord but rather the supreme servant – the ‘servant of the servants of God’; the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church...to the Tradition of the Church, putting aside every personal whim.” source
2. He is Strong on No Salvation Outside the Church
“[Do not] fall into the temptation of thinking...that we can get along without the Church, that we can save ourselves on our own... On the contrary...you cannot love God outside of the Church; you cannot be in communion with God without being so in the Church.” source

“It is not possible to love Christ but without the Church, to listen to Christ but not the Church, to belong to Christ but outside the Church.” source

“Consequently, one cannot understand a Christian apart from the People of God. For a Christian is not a monad, off somewhere alone. No, he belongs to a people, to the Church, so much so...that a Christian without the Church is a pure ideal, not a reality!” source

“It is an absurd dichotomy to think of living with Christ without the Church, of following Jesus outside his Church, of loving Jesus without loving the Church.” source
3. He is Strong on Church Infallibility
“[W]hen the Church, in the variety of her charisms, expresses herself in communion, she cannot err.” source

“[A]bove all faith is required of the Catholic exegete — [faith] received and shared with the whole believing people, which in its totality cannot err.” source

“The faith of the People of God...is a simple faith, a faith that is perhaps without much theology, but it has an inward theology that is not wrong, because the Spirit is behind it.” source

“[T]he Tradition of the entire People of God over the centuries...cannot be mistaken in belief.” source
4. He is Strong on Papal Infallibility
“[T]he presence of the Pope is the guarantee for all and the safeguard of the faith.” source

“The Pope, in this context, is...the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ.” source

“Everything happened cum Petro et sub Petro, that is, in the presence of the Pope, that is a guarantee of freedom and trust for all, and a guarantee of orthodoxy.” source

“And, as I have dared to tell you, [as] I told you from the beginning of the Synod, it was necessary to live through all this with tranquillity, and with interior peace, so that the Synod would take place cum Petro and sub Petro (with Peter and under Peter), and the presence of the Pope is the guarantee of it all.” source
5. He is Strong on the Universal Jurisdiction of the Pope
“The Pope...[is] – by the will of Christ Himself – the supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the faithful and [enjoys] supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church.” source

“Pope Francis, Supreme Pontiff...with a final and unappealable decision and subject to no recourse, has decreed dismissal from the clerical state is to be imposed on said priest for the good of the Church.” source
6. He is Strong on the Reality of the Devil
“[In] this generation, like so many others, people have been led to believe that the devil is a myth, a figure, an idea, the idea of evil. But the devil exists and we must fight against him. Paul tells us this, it’s not me saying it! The Word of God is telling us this. But we’re not all convinced of this.” source

“[T]he Prince of this world, Satan, doesn’t want our holiness, he doesn’t want us to follow Christ. Maybe some of you might say: ‘But Father, how old fashioned you are to speak about the devil in the 21st century!’ But look out because the devil is present! The devil is here… even in the 21st century! And we mustn’t be na├»ve, right? We must learn from the Gospel how to fight against Satan.” source
7. He is Strong on Traditional Marriage
“[T]he complementarity of man and woman...is at the root of marriage and family.” source

“The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage.” source

“The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis... Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But…[as] the French bishops have taught, [marriage] is not born of loving sentiment, ephemeral by definition, but from the depth of the obligation assumed by the spouses who accept to enter a total communion of life.” source

“May this colloquium be an inspiration to all who seek to support and strengthen the union of man and woman in marriage as a unique, natural, fundamental and beautiful good for persons, families, communities, and whole societies.” source
8. He Condemns Abortion
“It is must be therefore reiterated the strongest opposition to any direct attack on life, especially innocent and defenseless life, and the unborn child in the womb is the most concrete example of innocence.” source

“From the moment of its conception, life must be guarded with the greatest care while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes.” source

“[So] many times in my life as a priest I have heard objections: ‘But tell me, why the Church is opposed to abortion, for example? Is it a religious problem?’ No, no. It is not a religious problem. ‘Is it a philosophical problem?’ No, it is not a philosophical problem. It’s a scientific problem, because there is a human life there, and it is not lawful to take out a human life to solve a problem. ‘But no, modern thought…’ But, listen, in ancient thought and modern thought, the word ‘kill’ means the same thing. The same evaluation applies to euthanasia.” source
9. He Condemns the Ordination of Women
“[As] far as women’s ordination is concerned, the Church has spoken and said: ‘No’. John Paul II said it, but with a definitive formulation. That door is closed.” source

“The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion.” source
10. He Opposes Communion for the Divorced and Remarried
"About the problem of Communion to those persons in a second union, that the divorced might participate in Communion, there is no problem. When they are in a second union, they can't. I believe that it is necessary to keep this within the entirety of pastoral care of marriage." source

“The exclusion of divorced people who contract a second marriage from communion is not a [punishment]. It is important to remember this.” source

“People who are divorced can receive communion, people who are remarried can’t.” source
11. He Teaches the Exclusiveness of Christian Indwelling of the Holy Spirit
“You can follow a thousand catechism courses, a thousand spirituality courses, a thousand yoga or zen courses and all these things. But none of this will be able to give you the freedom as a child (of God). Only the Holy Spirit can prompt your heart to say ‘Father.’ ” source
12. He Condemns Media Distortion of his Papacy
“Look, I wrote an encyclical, true enough, it was a big job, and an Apostolic Exhortation, I'm permanently making statements, giving homilies; that's teaching. That's what I think, not what the media say that I think.” source

“[S]ome people are always afraid because they don’t read things properly, or they read some news in a newspaper, an article, and they don’t read what the synod decided, what was published. What was worthwhile about the synod? The post synodal connection and the Pope’s address. That is definitive.” source
13. He is Strong on the Reality of Hell
“[M]afia crimes [produce] blood money, it is power soaked in blood, and you cannot take it with you to the next life. Convert, there is still time, so that you don’t end up in hell. That is what awaits you if you continue on this path.” source

“God of infinite mercy… May none of your children be lost to the eternal fires of hell, where repentance is no more.” source
14. He Condemns Contraception
“[O]penness to life is a condition for the sacrament of matrimony. A man cannot give the sacrament to the woman...if they are not in accord on this point of openness to life. If it can be proved that he or she married with the intention of not being Catholic [on this point] then the matrimony is null. [It is] a cause for the annulment of the marriage, no? Openness to life. source 
“[About] Humanae Vitae…[the] genius [of Pope Paul VI] was prophetic, as he had the courage to go against the majority, to defend moral discipline, to apply a cultural brake, to oppose present and future neo-Malthusianism.” source

“Paul VI was not antiquated, close minded. No, [he was] a prophet again who with [Humanae Vitae] told us to watch out for the Neo-Malthusianism that is coming. This is what I [want] to say.” source
15. He Teaches the Limits of Papal Infallibility
“If the Pope says that the earth is the centre of the universe, and not the sun, he errs, since he is affirming something that ought to be supported by science, and this will not do.” source 
“I’m not a specialist on bioethical arguments, and I’m afraid of being mistaken in my words. The Church’s traditional doctrine states that no one is obliged to use extraordinary methods when someone is in his terminal phase. Pastorally, in these cases I have always advised palliative care. On more specific cases, should it be necessary, it’s appropriate to seek the advice of specialists.” source
16. He Teaches the Limits of Free Speech Rights
“[F]reedom of expression must take account of the human reality and for this reason one must be prudent. ... Prudence is the virtue that regulates our relations. I can go up to here, I can go up to there, and there, beyond that no. … For this reason freedom must be accompanied by prudence.” source

“We have the obligation to speak openly, to enjoy this freedom, but without offending others. … That is, there is a limit. Every religion has dignity; every religion that respects life, human life, the human person...I cannot make fun of it. This is a limit and I have taken this sense of limit to say that in freedom of expression there are limits.” source
17. He Teaches the Doctrine of Just Warfare
“With terrorism one must fight, but I repeat what I said in my previous trip: when an unjust aggressor must be stopped, it must be done with an international consensus.” source 

“One nation alone cannot determine how to stop an unjust aggressor. ... To stop an unjust aggressor is a right of humanity, but it is also a right of the aggressor to be stopped in order not to do evil.” source

“In reaffirming that it is licit, while always respecting international law, to stop an unjust aggressor, I wish to reiterate, moreover, that the problem cannot be resolved solely through a military response.” source
18. He Condemns Recreational Drug Use
“Attempts, however limited, to legalize so-called ‘recreational drugs’, are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects. Substitute drugs are not an adequate therapy but rather a veiled means of surrendering to the phenomenon. Here I would reaffirm what I have stated on another occasion: No to every type of drug use. It is as simple as that.” source

“I am delighted to welcome...the families of young people from San Patrignano, whom I join in saying no to every form of drugs. And perhaps it will do some good for everyone to say this, simply: no to every kind of drugs!” source

“Let me state this in the clearest terms possible: the problem of drug use is not solved with drugs! Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise. To think that harm can be reduced by permitting drug addicts to use narcotics in no way resolves the problem.” source
19. He Condemns Euthanasia
“The dominant thinking sometimes suggests a ‘false compassion’, that which believes that it is: helpful to women to promote abortion; an act of dignity to obtain euthanasia; a scientific breakthrough to ‘produce’ a child and to consider it to be a right rather than a gift to welcome; or to use human lives as guinea pigs presumably to save others. Instead, the compassion of the Gospel is that which accompanies in times of need, that is, the compassion of the Good Samaritan, who ‘sees’, ‘has compassion’, approaches and provides concrete help.” source

“The same evaluation applies to euthanasia… [T]his is to say to God, ‘No, I will accomplish the end of life, as I will.’ A sin against God the Creator! Think hard about this.” source

“But there is also the reality of the abandonment of the elderly: how many times we discard older people with attitudes that are akin to a hidden form of euthanasia! The culture of discarding human beings hurts our world. We discard children, young people and older people under the pretense of maintaining a ‘balanced’, economic system the center of which is no longer the human person, but money. We are all called to counter this culture of poisonous waste!” source
20. He Condemns Syncretism in Ecumenism
“In this [ecumenical] dialogue, ever friendly and sincere...[a] facile syncretism would ultimately be a totalitarian gesture on the part of those who would ignore greater values of which they are not the masters. True openness involves remaining steadfast in one’s deepest convictions, clear and joyful in one’s own identity... What is not helpful is a diplomatic openness which says ‘yes’ to everything in order to avoid problems, for this would be a way of deceiving others and denying them the good which we have been given to share generously with others. Evangelization and interreligious dialogue, far from being opposed, mutually support and nourish one another.” (Evangelii Gaudium 251) source

“Christians often do not even know the core of their Catholic faith, the Creed, so as to leave room for a certain syncretism and religious relativism, without clarity on the truths to be believed and the salvific uniqueness of Christianity. The risk is not far off today of people building a so-called "do-it-yourself" religion. Instead, we should return to God, the God of Jesus Christ, we must rediscover the message of the Gospel.” source 
“We must be careful not to fall prey to conciliatory syncretism which, in the end, is empty and a harbinger of a totalitarianism without values. … This invites us, first, to return to the fundamentals.” source


* * * * *



Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Catholics Reproducing Like "Rabbits": The Essential Silliness of the Clueless Perceptions of Pope Francis' Perfectly Catholic and Orthodox Remarks



There is nothing whatsoever wrong with what the pope said. In context (and even out of context, for those who understand Catholic teaching on this score), it is altogether sensible, orthodox, and defensible.

But if people are looking for heterodoxy (or "liberalism") in the Holy Father's utterances, assuredly they will "find" them. Folks seem to "see" whatever they want to see. The arts of logic and objective analysis (not to mention classical rhetoric) appear to be in very miserable, decrepit shape anymore.



As in all such controversies regarding Pope Francis, we must necessarily get as much context as we can. The importance of this cannot be emphasized enough. That is found in the complete transcript of the pope's press conference on his flight from Manila: published in America (1-19-15; see also another online text from Catholic News Agency). I found it in five seconds on Google. Here are the key sections (blue highlighting my own):


On Paul VI: It’s true that openness to life is a condition for the sacrament of matrimony. A man cannot give the sacrament to the woman, and the woman cannot give it to him, if they are not in accord on this point of openness to life. If it can be proved that he or she married with the intention of not being Catholic (on this point) then the matrimony is null. (It is) a cause for the annulment of the marriage, no? Openness to life.

Paul VI had studied this with the commission for life, what to do to help many cases, many problems, no? The important problems that make for the love of life; the problems of every day—but many, many.

But there was something more. The refusal of Paul VI was not only about the personal problems, that he then tells the confessors to be merciful, to understand if this is true, and then (he tells them) “you can be merciful, more understanding.” He was looking at the Neo-Malthusianism that was underway worldwide. What do you call this Neo-Malthusianism? Less than one percent of birth rate in Italy. The same in Spain. That Neo-Malthusianism that seeks to control humanity on behalf of the powers (that be).

This does not mean that the Christian must make children in series. I rebuked a woman some months ago in a parish who was pregnant eight times, with seven C-sections (cesareans). “But do you want to leave seven orphans? That is to tempt God! (Paul VI) speaks of responsible parenthood. What I wanted to say was that Paul VI was not antiquated, close minded. No,(he was) a prophet again who with this (encyclical) told us to watch out for the Neo-Malthusianism that is coming. This is what I wanted to say.

[ . . . ]

Christoph Schmidt (CIC): How does the Church respond to the criticisms about its position on birth control given that the world population is growing so much. And to the criticism that the poverty in the Philippines is due to the fact that Filipino women have an average of 3 children each?

PF:I think the number of 3 (children) per family that you mentioned, it is the one experts say is important to keep the population going,. three per couple. When it goes below this, the other extreme happens, like what is happ[en]ing 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, to give you an answer, they key word is the one the Church always uses all the time and even I use it: it is responsible parenthood. how do we do this? With dialogue. Each person with his pastor seeks how to do that responsible parenthood.

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 but I trust in God' But God gives you methods to be responsible. Some think that, excuse me if I use that word, 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 seek and I know so many, many ways out that are licit and that have helped this. You did well to ask me this.

Another 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 but let us also look at the generosity of that father and mother that see a treasure in every child.

It's patently obvious what his reasoning is. But (to step back for a moment), when it comes to the issue of contraception and birth control (the two are not absolutely identical), there are several things that must be kept in mind, that are of the essence of the Catholic teaching:

1. Married couples are to be open to life, and not "anti-child." A couple who decide to not have any children from the outset of a "marriage" make the ostensible "marriage" null and void, as the pope noted.

2. Artificial contraceptive methods are thus gravely sinful, because they attempt to unnaturally separate the procreative (childbearing) and unitive (pleasurable) functions of sexuality within marriage.

3. Natural Family Planning (NFP) is approved and encouraged by the Church because it is not (i.e., understood and practiced in the right way) "anti-child" and (by recourse to infertile periods and abstinence) does not separate the procreative and unitive functions.

4. NFP is a moral and permissible practice precisely because Catholics are allowed to space and limit children for appropriately serious reasons.

5. In other words, Catholic couples are not obliged or required to have an unlimited number of children, and to not make any efforts whatsoever to avoid having a child at a particular time and circumstance.

The problem is that the secular world (typically) only understands the "mechanics" and "difficult" elements of the Catholic prohibition of artificial contraception, and that in a superficial and "surfacey" way, and not the underlying worldview and philosophy. The world understands that Catholics are not supposed to use a condom or birth control pill, but they don't understand why this is the case and why it is infinitely more than the Church (which the secular person pictures in his head as a bunch of old celibate, joyless men) merely seeking to make people miserable and to deny them pleasure, and being supposedly "anti-sex."

And of course every time objections are voiced, it is noted that many Catholics dissent from Catholic teaching (as if that is relevant to anything). Lots of people can't, e.g., control their tongues from gossip and calumny, either, but does it follow that the Bible doesn't teach that we all should do so?

Now, because the world poorly understands the rationale of the sinfulness of contraception (that all Christians agreed with until 1930, when Protestants and later the Orthodox started chipping away at the traditional teaching), the world (and Christians who think in the same manner) caricatures Catholic teaching as "obliged or required to have an unlimited number of children, and to not make any efforts whatsoever to avoid having a child" (#5 above).

The latter is what the pope was referencing in his remarks about "rabbits." This is a function of rhetoric or polemics, as part of argumentation. He was not attacking orthodox Catholic teaching on contraception in the slightest. He was, rather, sharply attacking the world's caricature of Catholic teaching, as supposedly requiring large numbers of children. Secular thinking has little subtlety or sense, and the hostility to Catholicism often reduces it downright cluelessness and rank stupidity.

Not being able to comprehend moderation and sense in matters of childbearing, the world (i.e., "world-system" or kosmos in Greek, in biblical usage), can only grasp two extremes:

1) no children or very few (the anti-child / contraceptive mentality), or

2) unlimited children and no planning whatsoever. 

Thus, when any Catholic who knows what he is talking about explains the Church's view on contraception, he or she necessarily has to delve into this latter miscomprehension as well. That is precisely what the pope was doing above.

I understood it immediately because it is exactly what I myself have been doing, lo these past 24 years since I became a Catholic. Indeed, contraception was the very first issue concerning which I changed my mind, even before I was fully convinced of Catholicism. I don't think any lay apologist has defended Catholic teaching on contraception any more than I have, for this reason. And I have often noted (in my defenses and explanations) the extreme caricature of Catholicism supposedly requiring ten or twelve children of every couple.

Thus, my own case can be seen as a very minor analogy to the pope's: being totally in favor of the Church's teaching on contraception, while at the same time explaining that the teaching also includes family planning, understood in the proper, "pro-life" / "pro-child" way. I can easily produce several past statements of mine that are along the lines of what the pope said, in his references to "rabbits." Here are three examples out of many such:

I think the crux of the matter is the nature of sufficient cause to avoid further children, and the limitations on the command to "be fruitful and multiply." I don't think it is a sin to intelligently, thoughtfully plan, in the matter of children. That is a matter of stewardship, just as in any related matter of care of that which God has entrusted to us. We are stewards of our children, as well as of our gifts and abilities and money and possessions and responsibilities, or our time. Hence, Pope Paul VI wrote in Humanae Vitae (16):
. . . the Church is the first to praise and recommend the intervention of intelligence in a function which so closely associates the rational creature with his Creator; but she affirms that this must be done with respect for the order established by God.
Paul VI goes on, in this passage, to explain the Catholic rationale for such Catholic planning and NFP:
If, then, there are serious motives to space out births, which derive from the physical or psychological conditions of husband and wife, or from external conditions, the Church teaches that it is then licit to take into account the natural rhythms immanent in the generative functions, for the use of marriage in the infecund periods only, and in this way to regulate birth without offending the moral principles which have been recalled earlier.

The Church is coherent with herself when she considers recourse to the infecund periods to be licit, while at the same time condemning, as being always illicit, the use of means directly contrary to fecundation, even if such use is inspired by reasons which may appear honest and serious. In reality, there are essential differences between the two cases; in the former, the married couple make legitimate use of a natural disposition; in the latter, they impede the development of natural processes. It is true that, in the one and the other case, the married couple are concordant in the positive will of avoiding children for plausible reasons, seeking the certainty that offspring will not arrive; but it is also true that only in the former case are they able to renounce the use of marriage in the fecund periods when, for just motives, procreation is not desirable, while making use of it during infecund periods to manifest their affection and to safeguard their mutual fidelity. By so doing, they give proof of a truly and integrally honest love.
I think a related factor is the matter of heroic virtue. No woman is required to go to extraordinary lengths to have children, simply because she and her husband are commanded to multiply. There comes a point where it becomes "excessive" to some extent (in some cases, even to the point of morbidity). For example, if a woman has good medical reason to believe that she has, say, a 90% chance to miscarry (perhaps if she has had five in a row and has very weak ovaries and/or uterus), should she try to become pregnant, anyway? I say no, and I think it is very clearly no. It is a reasonable and moral determination to make, that the risks are too great. We make such choices all the time in life.

It is not "anti-child" at all to come to such a conclusion. It is pro-woman. It is pro-reasonable expectation of failure and success. 
(Critique of the "Quiverfull" and "Divine Family Planning" Positions on Childbirth (That Oppose Catholic Natural Family Planning), 9-20-08)
The Catholic Church does not teach that one must have ten or 15 children. Couples are to take into consideration relevant factors, such as physical health, psychological, and financial aspects. But one must be open to life . . . (Dialogue on Contraception & Natural Family Planning, 5-16-06)
Couples do not need to have 10 kids to be good Catholics, as there are permissible reasons to limit the numbers (financial, emotional, and physical). (Dialogue on the Ethical Distinction Between Artificial Contraception and Natural Family Planning, 2-16-01)

Compare, then, what I wrote, with what the pope said. I contend that we intended the same meaning:

1) Dave #1 (2-16-01): "Couples do not need to have 10 kids to be good Catholics . . ."

2) Dave #2 (5-16-06): "The Catholic Church does not teach that one must have ten or 15 children."

3) Dave #3 (9-20-08): "No woman is required to go to extraordinary lengths to have children, simply because she and her husband are commanded to multiply."

4) Pope Francis #1: "This does not mean that the Christian must make children in series." [my italics]

5) Pope Francis #2: ". . . 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 but I trust in God' But God gives you methods to be responsible." 

6) Pope Francis #3: "Some think that, excuse me if I use that word, that in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood!" 

Note that the phrase "responsible parenthood" is nothing new, either. As Pope Francis alluded to, Blessed Pope Paul VI repeatedly used it in Humanae Vitae:

In relation to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised, either by the deliberate and generous decision to raise a numerous family, or by the decision, made for grave motives and with due respect for the moral law, to avoid for the time being, or even for an indeterminate period, a new birth.

Responsible parenthood also and above all implies a more profound relationship to the objective moral order established by God, of which a right conscience is the faithful interpreter. The responsible exercise of parenthood implies, therefore, that husband and wife recognize fully their own duties towards God, towards themselves, towards the family and towards society, in a correct hierarchy of values. (section 10)

I am not in the least bit opposed to either 1) large families, or 2) the Catholic prohibition of artificial contraception. But I made the remarks above, because they oppose the secular or otherwise contra-Catholic caricature of what we supposedly teach.

The same thing is true of the Holy Father. Once again, this controversy is "much ado about nothing".

Matthew Schmitz, writing at First Things,  stated:

The Church has never taught that Catholics are to have as many children as possible. They can use abstinence, including the selective abstinence of “Natural Family Planning,” to limit the number of children they bear. Yet such nuance is bound to be lost on the Pope’s secular audience.

Thus far, we agree. But he goes on to blame the pope for using terminology that will likely be misunderstood by the media and secular world.  He continues:

Defenses of Pope Francis’s most controversial statements usually take the form, No, of course this is not counter to church teaching. If so, we can always be glad of the fact, but that is a rather low bar by which to judge any statement. Questions of prudence, relevance, and helpfulness must also be weighed.

. . .  one lesson will be that there must be responsibility in how we speak as well as in how we love.


I strongly disagree with that. Catholics will always be misunderstood, no matter how carefully we use language. I say that we ought to say what is true and oppose what is untrue and let the chips fall where they may. If we become overly concerned with image and perception, then we are playing the world's game. The Catholic goal and responsibility is to speak truth. The pope spoke truth. If it is misunderstood, it is. Those who are supposed to understand it, in God's grace, will do so. Those who won't (out of God's graces and will) will not. It's always been that way and always will be.

Jesus and St. Paul spoke (or wrote) a lot about this sort of thing:

Matthew 11:25-26 (RSV) At that time Jesus declared, "I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; [26] yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will."

Matthew 13:10-16 Then the disciples came and said to him, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" [11] And he answered them, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. [12] For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. [13] This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. [14] With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says: `You shall indeed hear but never understand,  and you shall indeed see but never perceive. [15] For this people's heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.' [16] But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear."

Romans 1:21-22 for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. [22] Claiming to be wise, they became fools,
1 Corinthians 2:10-16 God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. [11] For what person knows a man's thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. [12] Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. [13] And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit. [14] The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. [15] The spiritual man judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. [16] "For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.
Ephesians 4:18-19 they are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart; [19] they have become callous and have given themselves up to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of uncleanness.

The world and the legions of Christians who think more like the world than like Christ and historic Christians, don't comprehend these things, not because Pope Francis or anyone else has not made them clear enough, but because it doesn't want to hear them, and willfully disobeys Christian, Catholic, biblical truths (most of the time because they are difficult to follow, and never more than in matters of sexuality). It's not fundamentally a matter of "botched PR / presentation" but of a hostile will.

Schmitz  -- and all those who have carped on and on these past two years about the pope's supposedly "unfortunate" language -- analyze this incident based on the former approach, whereas I look at it from the latter perspective. Christians will always be misunderstood and hated. Jesus was accused of being possessed by demons, for heaven's sake (did He screw up in His presentation and choice of words, too?).

Yet we are foolish enough to expect that our popes will not also be pilloried and misunderstood from those in certain quarters? Granted, the pope may slip up and not say things as best he could at times, but so do we all. That's not the crux of the issue. The primary problem remains one of folks not wanting to hear and follow his message.