ROME: Pope Francis has said good Catholics do not have to breed “like rabbits,” defending the Church’s stance on artificial contraception and appealing to the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics to practice responsible parenting.
Speaking to journalists on his flight back from the Philippines on Monday, the Pope recalled that he once asked a mother of seven children who was pregnant with her eighth if she wanted to “leave behind seven young orphans.”
“She said, ‘I trust in God.’ But God gave us the means to be responsible,” the pontiff said. “Some think, and excuse the term, that to be good Catholics, they must be like rabbits.”
Francis said creating new life was “part of the sacrament of marriage” and in Manila he strongly defended his predecessor Paul VI’s outlawing of artificial contraception for Catholics in 1968.
But he noted that following the Church’s teachings did not mean “Christians should have children one after the other.”
His comments came at the end of a trip to the Philippines, the Catholic Church’s Asian stronghold, which last year passed a family planning law after a 15-year battle by the Church to block state-sanctioned contraception.
The law allows the government to begin distributing free contraceptives to millions of poor Filipinos.
It was a rare loss for the Church, which has for centuries been one of the nation’s most powerful institutions and continues to count more than 80 percent of the nation’s 100 million people as Catholics.
The Pope said his predecessor had foreseen the rise in policies restricting childbirth.
“Paul VI was worried by the growth of neo-Malthusianism” (which advocates restricting the number of children the poor can have) which tried to “put a control on humanity . . . he was a prophet,” he added.
“The key teaching of the Church is responsible parenthood. And how do we get that? By dialogue. There are marriage groups in the Church, experts and pastors,” Francis said.
In 2013, six months after becoming Pope, he urged the Church to drop its “obsession” with contraception, divorce, gays and abortion, in an interview signaling a dramatic shift in the Vatican’s tone.
The Argentine Pope has brought a series of fresh perspectives to the notoriously rigid Church since he took over, signaling a strong reformist drive.
He stressed at the time that the Church’s official position had not changed, but said it should “always keep in mind the individual.”
Francis’ papacy—he is the first Jesuit Pope and the first from South America —has marked a series of breaks with Vatican tradition.
The pontiffe has become known for his humility and concern for the poor, and has reached out to non-believers and those in other religions. He regularly picks up the phone to call ordinary people who write to him.