Monday, January 19, 2015

UPDATED: The predictable provocations of the Pope of Rome

Predictably, much is being made of some comments made by Pope Francis regarding sexuality during his in-flight press conference on his way back to Rome from the Philippines. UPDATE: America magazine has published a complete, but unofficial, transcript of the Holy Father's presser. Here are the relevant parts:
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...

...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 [end of UPDATE]
While firmly setting forth the inherent immorality of contraception, the Holy Father noted, in his characteristically frank manner, that Catholics are not required to breed "like rabbits." Rather, he insisted that Catholic couples should practice "responsible parenthood."



I am amazed at the number of Catholics who remain suspicious, or downright critical, of Humanae Vitae who have no familiarity with Bl Paul VI's encyclical. It may surprise many to learn that an entire section of this relatively brief encyclical is entitled "Responsible Parenthood." All Pope Francis did in his remarks was to clearly convey the teaching handed-on in Humanae Vitae to the effect that Catholic couples are not morally obligated to have as many children as they are physically capable of having.

Here's Paul VI from Humanae Vitae:
With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time (par 10)
In reality, Pope Francis was merely clarifying ends and means. How many children result from a particular marriage and how far those children are spaced are matters for the couple to decide. However, one may not employ immoral means to attain what may well be a moral end (i.e., one may not do evil that good may come of it). Probably the biggest myth about using the various forms of NFP is that it requires requires heroic virtue in terms of abstaining from marital relations for those couples who either temporarily or permanently do not aim to conceive. For the vast majority of couples, it simply does not.

It seems to me that Pope Francis has been very wise concerning sexual matters from the beginning of his pontificate by insisting the Church's teaching on various aspects of human sexuality need to be kept in context for a variety of reasons, not least among which is to avoid the absolutist tendencies of those on the polar extremes.

If I may be so bold, the vast majority of people in Western societies who tend to conduct their sexual lives "like rabbitts" (to use the Pope's phrase), most of whom are men (though not all), make use of contraceptives to constantly have available what they want and, failing that, abortion. Bl Pope Paul VI foresaw this back in 1968
Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection (par 17)
Pope Francis, in his remarks, pointed to another aspect of Humanae Vitae, one that took aim at policies like China's "one child" per couple goal. His specific reference was to African bishops who pointed out that seeking to solve certain problems on that continent often amount to making contraceptives (i.e., condoms) widely available, what the Holy Father referred to as "ideological colonization."

Bl Pope Paul VI
Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife (par 17)
And the end of the day, the aim to preserve the humanity of this most human of acts, which is the meaning of chastity as defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man's belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman. The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift (par 2337)
As usual all this amounts to is the further confirmation that Pope Francis is Catholic. The pope being Catholic is hardly newsworthy. I urge you, especially if you have never done so, follow one of the links in this post and read Humanae Vitae.

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