Last month, Pope Francis proclaimed that married couples that decide not to have children are being "selfish". It's a strange thing for a man to say who chose to forsake sexuality altogether. We all know what the Catholic Church thinks about children. I live in a Catholic country that is overrun with children - where 34% of the population is under the age of fifteen. According to the Church's official line, a child is a gift from God, that men and women don't have a say in how many children they have, that only God can decide. If this is so, what difference does it make if a couple uses a contraceptive? If God decides, then wouldn't He make the condom break? (What a creepy concept this is. No matter how privately you may think you are fornicating, the Lord God is right there with you, guiding your ovum and spermatozoa to their appropriate destinations.)
During his visit to the Philippines in January, the Pope learned of a goof Catholic woman who had ten children and who risked her life having an eleventh. Was this not the will of God? No, said the Pope. Just because the Church denies you access to contraceptives, "People shouldn't breed like rabbits," he said. But the only alternative for a good Catholic couple that doesn't wish to breed at all is, of course, total abstinence. So, exactly what is the Pope advocating for couples, unprotected sex, unrestricted procreation, or complete abstinence from sex? If I were a practicing Catholic (which I am not, thank God), I would be more than a little confused.
I believe that, since the Catholic Church is obviously responsible for the population explosions going on in poor, predominantly Catholic countries, shouldn't the Church be offering financial support to these burgeoning families? It is a fact that when women become educated about child-bearing and are given options in the matter of how many children they have, they invariably choose to have fewer children. And the more affluent people become, the number of children they have dwindles even further. This seems to be a contradiction. If people are more well-off, shouldn't their affluence put them in a better position to care for bigger families? Or is it that women want to have full lives that aren't expended in constant child-bearing and the interminable process of child-rearing? The old saying is true: Parenting begins with the birth of your child and ends in your death.
The double-edged sword of poverty means that everyone survives because of a big family, but that families just get bigger and bigger. The consequence is a small country like the Philippines now finds itself with a population now in excess of 100 million, in addition to two million more every year. A few years ago, when a statistic was published here in the Philippines showing that one-third of all Filipinos lived on two dollars a day, I examined what that terrible statistic meant in practical terms in a post I called "The Value of Money." Could it be possible for an individual to stay alive on two dollars (or eighty-eight pesos) a day? The conclusion I came to was that, while it is conceivable, given the low cost of living, it was far more likely that individuals depend for their survival on their families.
The Pope's remark was, of course, aimed at people in developed, prosperous countries who enjoy a relatively high standard of living and "quality of life." The Pope knows full well that there are two kinds of people in the argument for an against birth control - the people in poverty-stricken countries who "breed like rabbits," and the people in successful, rich countries who are being "selfish" by having fewer children or having none. The Pope's real problem is that, even in predominantly Catholic European countries like Ital, Spain, France and Ireland, the majority of people are "lapsed Catholics" who no longer go to mass or obey the dictates of the Church.
When Pope John Paul II proclaimed in the 1990s that Europeans and Americans had lost their "sense of sin," most of us were glad that at least we hadn't lost our sense of humor.
[In 2017, the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's earth-shaking protest will be celebrated. Something Pope "Francis" should know is that Luther was Franciscan.]