The other day I noted, writing about Pope Francis‘ comments about attempts to “redefine marriage,” that for all the progressive tone, the Pope is still head of the Catholic Church. He is more progressive than his predecessors, but much of the theology that drives the Church remains regressive. I mentioned that the Pope’s opposition to contraception use was an example of an issue upon which he maintains a conservative stance.
In comments made yesterday, Pope Francis reiterated the Church’s position on birth control… but not exactly how one might expect:
“Some think, excuse me if I use the word, that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits — but no,” he said, adding the Church promoted “responsible parenthood”.
I’m not sure where people got the idea that having as many children as “God gave you” was necessary, if not from the Church. But the idea of promoting responsible parenthood is a good one. It’s unfortunate, then, that Pope Francis maintains a staunch opposition to the most practical and reliable means of responsible planning.
The Pope’s remarks about medically risky pregnancies were also worth noting:
He mentioned a woman he recently met who already had seven children by caesarean sections and put her life at risk by becoming pregnant again. He said he chided her for “tempting God” and added: “That was an irresponsibility.”
The leader of the 1.2-billion-strong Roman Catholic Church restated its ban on artificial birth control, adding there were “many ways that are allowed” to practise natural family planning.
The Church approves only natural methods of birth control, principally abstinence from sex during a woman’s fertile period.
It’s good to see the head of the Catholic Church cautioning women against endangering their lives through risky pregnancies (although I’m not going to speculate on what kind of God would be tempted to kill a person for following what has long been interpreted as the Church’s — and God’s — design for women…).
But, again, while this is a more compassionate approach than some others have embraced, it does not resolve the root problem: the Church’s absurd opposition to the most reliable means of preventing unwanted (and, in some cases, dangerous) pregnancies. It does not change the reality that the “natural methods” Pope Francis referenced are unreliable and impractical for many couples. It does not change the fact that, as long as people embrace the Church’s teachings on contraception and abortion, women will continue to have unplanned pregnancies, and some women will die from them.
This is, as I discovered during my journey out of faith, the problem with trying to embrace a truly moral, reasonable outlook while constraining yourself to an arbitrary religious moral code: at some point, the two will become mutually exclusive. Pope Francis may be able to advocate for good on a number of fronts, but, inevitably, these unyielding religious teachings will conflict with the goal of promoting human welfare. We’ve seen this already in relation to LGBT rights and reproductive rights; and I’ve no doubt we’ll see further examples in future.