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Don’t breed like rabbits: Pope Francis for responsible parenthood

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE – Pope Francis is firmly upholding church teaching banning contraception, but said Monday that Catholics don’t have to breed “like rabbits” and should instead practice “responsible parenting.”

Speaking to reporters en route home from the Philippines, Francis said there are plenty of church-approved ways to regulate births. But he said most importantly, no outside institution should impose its views on regulating family size, blasting what he called the “ideological colonization” of the developing world.

African bishops, in particular, have long complained about how progressive, Western ideas about birth control and gay rights are increasingly being imposed on the developing world by groups, institutions or individual nations, often as a condition for development aid.

“Every people deserves to conserve its identity without being ideologically colonized,” Francis said.

The pope’s comments, taken together with his defense of the Catholic Church’s ban on artificial contraception during the trip, signal that he is increasingly showing his more conservative bent, which has largely been ignored by public opinion or obscured by a media narrative that has tended to highlight his populist persona.

On the trip, Francis gave his strongest defense yet of the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which enshrined the church’s opposition to artificial birth control. He warned against “insidious attacks” against the family – a reference to gay marriage proposals – echoing language often used by overwhelmingly conservative US bishops. And he insisted that “openness to life is a condition of the sacrament of matrimony.”

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At the same time, however, he said it’s not true that to be a good Catholic “you have to be like rabbits.” On the contrary, he said “responsible parenthood” requires that couples regulate the births of their children, as church teaching allows. He cited the case of a woman he met who was pregnant with her eighth child after seven Cesarean sections.

“That is an irresponsibility!” he said. The woman might argue that she should trust in God. “But God gives you methods to be responsible,” he said.

He said there are many “licit” ways of regulating births that are approved by the church, an apparent reference to the Natural Family Planning method of monitoring a woman’s cycle to avoid intercourse when she is ovulating.

During the Vatican’s recent meeting on the family, African bishops denounced how aid groups and lending institutions often condition their assistance on a country’s compliance with their ideals: allowing health care workers to distribute condoms, or withdrawing assistance if legislation discriminating against gays is passed.

“When imposed conditions come from imperial colonizers, they search to make people lose their own identity and make a sameness,” he said. “This is ideological colonization.”

Cabral, lawmakers agree with pope

In Manila, former health secretary Esperanza Cabral yesterday agreed with the pronouncement of Pope Francis that Catholics do not have to breed “like rabbits.”

In an interview, Cabral noted the pontiff’s statement that parents should practice “responsible parenting.”

“That is true. What the Church is saying is that parents should have children that they can raise. But they want this done through natural family planning. That means the Church is still opposed to artificial or modern means of contraception,” Cabral, now leading the implementation of the Reproductive Health Law by Department of Health, said.

She assured the public that the law gives “concession” to those who are against the use of contraceptives.

“This is not only for Catholics but for everyone. Under the law, both the artificial and modern natural methods will be promoted,” Cabral added.

Meanwhile, lawmakers both supportive of and opposed to the RH Law agreed with Pope Francis’ call for Catholic couples to practice responsible parenthood.

Reps. Lito Atienza of Buhay party-list and Amado Bagatsing of Manila – both of whom voted against the RH Law in the House of Representatives – said the pope’s call has long been the Church’s position on family planning.

“That has been the long-standing position of the Church, for couples to exercise responsible parenthood but not in the context of the use of harmful contraceptives,” Atienza said.

“Take care of your family and make sure that you can truly provide for them but be open to life,” he said.

Bagatsing said the Aquino administration should heed the pope’s call in that it should stick to the ruling of the Supreme Court, which had struck down certain unconstitutional provisions in the RH Law, in implementing the statute.

“The law was passed simply because of the lobby of huge pharmaceutical companies. The implementation must not skirt the law,” he said.

Gabriela party-list Rep. Emmerenciana de Jesus, one of the principal RH advocates in the House, said Pope Francis’ statement should be taken in the context of the state’s having the primary obligation of ensuring the best quality of life for families.

“My appreciation of the pope’s statement is that he meant the overall quality of life that the state has the obligation to take care of, like ensuring quality jobs so that families can be productive members of society,” De Jesus said.

She said the pope’s statement should be taken by Malacañang as a wake-up call to improve the economy for the sake of families. – AP, Sheila Crisostomo, Paolo Romero

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