Responsible parenthood or just a flight of fancy?

Few things have caught the online Catholic imagination so much in recent weeks as Pope Francis’ in-flight comment that it is unnecessary to be “like rabbits” in order to be good Catholics, and that “responsible parenthood” is paramount. 

Damian Thompson points out in The Spectator that “journalists filing to deadline aren’t into magisterial context and canon law”, and so inevitably choose the easy option of claiming the Pope is sending “unprecedented” signals that the Church is “easing up on sexual matters”. 

Others have troubled to unpack this. Leila Miller, stressing at ‘Little Catholic Bubble’ the importance of reading the full transcripts of papal interviews, points out that the Pontiff was really just reiterating the teachings of Pope St John Paul II and Pope Paul VI. She notes how less than a month earlier, he praised the large family as “a school of solidarity and of mission that’s of benefit to the entire society”, adding, “every family is a cell of society, but large families are richer and more vital cells”.

Mark Lambert, of marklambert.blogspot.com, explaining that Francis’ comments on responsible parenthood and limiting children are best read as paraphrases of Gaudium et Spes 50 and Humanae Vitae 10, says it makes sense for Pope Francis to “speak colloquially” as “if he said something in Vaticanese or Theologicalese who would understand? Perhaps only those of us who have spent years studying and following such things.” 

Caroline Farrow at carolinefarrow.com adds that “if more regular church-goers knew precisely what the Church teaches and why, we’d have less reliance on impromptu papal pronouncements and far less judgementalism towards others, whatever the size of their families”.

She was cheered, nonetheless, by a subsequent papal audience in which the Holy Father praised large families “that welcome children as a true gift from God” and played them down as a cause of poverty in favour of saying that “the main cause of poverty is an economic system that has removed the person from the centre and has placed there the god of money, an economic system that always excludes children, the elderly, the youth.”


Religious exemption from laws is cause for debate on US websites

Carson Holloway, writing at Catholic Vote, highlights a Washington Post article by Eugene Volokh as perhaps offering a way to avoid many clashes in the US culture wars: rather than focusing on the constitutional right to free exercise of religion, Volokh argues instead for some religious exemptions from generally applicable laws “based on considerations of prudence and humanity”.

At First Things, however, Rod Dreher maintains that “Christians who believe that politics will save us should discard those illusions now”. Arguing that the American cultural landscape has changed more than he says most realise that even in largely religious communities, the dominant attitude has reduced to “God exists, and he wants us to be nice to each other, and to be happy and successful”. 

Lamenting that “we have allowed our children to be catechised by the culture and have produced an anesthetising religion suited for little more than being a chaplaincy to the liberal individualistic order”, he ventures that the best hope is a “Benedict Option” in which committed Christians focus on building the institutions and habits in which the Faith can be kept alive “through the coming dark ages”.  


Dreher’s concern that American Christianity is “actively being colonised and displaced by a quite different religious faith” seems to be echoed on Patheos by Mark Shea’s horror that 68% of white American Catholics believe torture of suspected terrorists can be justified. “The grotesque stain on the Church caused by anti-abortion-but-not-prolife torture zealotry has to be bleached out,” says Shea.