Saint Francis the Imprudent?

The public game of deciphering our Holy Father’s words on various matters, especially when spoken off the cuff, with reporters on an airplane (perhaps the air is a bit too thin??), continues.

It’s been widely reported–I first heard it on BBC radio a few mornings ago–that Francis said Catholics didn’t need to “breed like rabbits,” which prompted the left-leaning Brits to wonder hopefully whether he was tilling the soil of Catholic social teaching for a softer stance on contraception.  After having read one full account of his remarks on the plane from Philippines I conclude that no, he isn’t.  Artificial birth control will continue to be intrinsically evil, as expressed in CCC 2370:

“Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality.  These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom.  In contrast, ‘every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible’ is intrinsically evil…”

Furthermore, if the remarks quoted first-hand in the link above are accurate, he didn’t use the term “breed like rabbits,” but rather “be like rabbits.”  Perhaps a nuance, but certainly the former has a cruder edge to it.  He also spoke positively of Paul VI’s accurate predictions regarding the moral decay of society if sexual liberties were rampant, including the decline in birth rate that now does indeed threaten western society.  So, all in all this is another case of a small bit of quoted papal language being expanded beyond its original scope and, indeed, meaning.  I invite you to read the questions and answers for yourself and form your own viewpoint.  However…

In my humble opinion, the Holy Father plays this public game, and it’s a dangerous one.  It has become his particular penchant to use ambiguous and confounded language that at once raises the hopes of socially progressive Catholics and others outside the Church who desperately desire to have their secular belief system affirmed; and shakes the foundation of orthodox Catholics who by and large strive to live by the Catechism.  He no doubt considers his approach “pastoral.”  But liberals huff that he never really walks the walk on these socio-moral issues, that he’s just a rhetorical tease– and they’re right.  And the orthodox now constantly look over their shoulders in anticipation of the next big cartoon anvil about to be dropped on their heads by his careless remarks.  Either he’s a pastoral genius or a clumsy dullard.  My fears are of the latter, and I pray that I’m simply wrong.

If and when his cause for canonization commences, will we refer to him as Francis the Great or Francis the Imprudent?


  1. Didymus says:

    In addition to the lack of moral clarity promoted by the loose language which our Holy Father sometimes uses, I am also disturbed by the damage to the dignity of his office. For the Vicar of Christ to use any metaphor involving rabbits when discussing large Catholic families is not only hurtful to faithful Catholics with large families but degrading to the papacy. While I am confident that Pope Francis did not intend either of these things, he also doesn’t seem interested in reforming his populist speaking bent. There is a saying from WWII that “Loose Lips Sink Ships.” While we know that the the barque of St. Peter can’t be sunk, it certainly doesn’t need more torpedo holes.

    • Meddlesome says:

      I suspect the folksy schtick from Pope Francis is part of his anti-clericalism campaign. It is apparent the Holy Father thinks a pope shouldn’t be different from other people, but the fact is that the pope should be different and, quite frankly, better. His speech, clothes, and conduct (both private and public) should exceed what everybody else does. We live in an age of mediocrity and, in no small part, this is because presidents go on late night talk shows, popes do press junkets on planes, and leading athletes pass the buck when caught cheating. If these are the best and the brightest, is it any wonder the world’s youth can’t even muster up the sand to work a 9-5 job?

  2. Timshel says:

    One of the most interesting perspectives I’ve seen on this came from First Things, “Breed Like Rabbits: The Pope and the Anti-Catholic Slur,” which explains why that particular comparison to “rabbits” should never have been used by an Catholic leader, even with apologies. The article also links to an article on the website Jezebel, the headline of which is outrageous: “Cool Pope to Catholics: Oh My God, Please Stop Having So Many Kids.”

    Yes, Jezebel consistently calls Pope Francis “Cool Pope.” Red flag, anyone?

    Meanwhile, it’s getting to the point at which even Catholic defenders (in this case a Catholic mom who is an author and blogger) are referring to him as “kind of a blabbermouth.” This adds credence to Meddlesome’s concerns that the perception of the papacy is on the decline, to the point at which even faithful Catholics feel comfortable with insulting the pope (however mildly), in print.

  3. Hythloday says:

    So, sticking with the Holy Father’s folksy, farm-animal themed metaphors, I’d rather breed like a rabbit than speak like an ass.

  4. […] is prone to shoot before aiming when it comes to speaking and thinking, I can relate.  As Spaniard points out, these actions carry much greater consequences when performed by someone with much greater […]

  5. […] that Catholics should not “breed like rabbits.”  Other entries on this blog by Spaniard and Hythloday have addressed Pope Francis’ unfortunate turn of phrase, so there’s no […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.