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?