POPE Francis has reaffirmed longstanding Catholic teaching against artificial birth control, while reminding couples that the Church also wants them to practice “responsible parenthood.”

In a press conference aboard the plane going back to Rome after a tumultuous five-day visit to the Philippines, Pope Francis clarified earlier remarks particularly during his meeting with families at the Mall of Asia Arena last Jan. 16. At the arena, the Holy Father upheld Blessed Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae against contraception, and spoke out against the destruction of the family by “ideological colonization” from the west.

The Pope said couples do not need to be like “rabbits.” There are “licit” or Church-approved means to space births, which do not need to happen “in series,” he said.

“Some think that—excuse the language—that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits,” Pope Francis said. “God gives you means to be responsible. This is clear and that is why in the Church there are marriage groups, there are experts in this matter, there are pastors, one can search, and I know so many ways that are licit and that have helped this,” the Pope said.

Pope Francis cited the example of a woman who was expecting her eighth child after seven babies through Caesarean section. “But do you want to leave seven orphans? That is to tempt God! [Paul VI] speaks of responsible parenthood. What I wanted to say was that Paul VI was not antiquated, close minded. No, [he was] a prophet again who with this [encyclical] told us to watch out for the Neo-Malthusianism that is coming. This is what I wanted to say,” the Holy Father explained.

“Neo-Malthusianism,” he said, seeks to “control humanity on behalf of the powers [that be],” but has resulted in “less than one percent of birth rate” in countries like Italy and Spain.

In Humanae Vitae, Paul VI said: “If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile…” Paul VI said the marriage act is fundamentally both for intimacy and procreation, thus “every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.”

“But there was something more,” Pope Francis said. “The refusal of Paul VI was not only about the personal problems, that he then tells the confessors to be merciful, to understand if this is true, and then [he tells them] ‘you can be merciful, more understanding.’”

Openness to life

Also citing Paul VI, Pope Francis said “openness to life is a condition for the sacrament of matrimony,” adding that a marriage could even be annulled if this was not the case. Francis said: “A man cannot give the sacrament to the woman, and the woman cannot give it to him, if they are not in accord on this point of openness to life. If it can be proved that he or she married with the intention of not being Catholic [on this point] then the matrimony is null. [It is] a cause for the annulment of the marriage, no?”

Asked to clarify what he meant by “ideological colonization,” Pope Francis cited the experience of Argentina in 1995 when a big loan for school buildings required schools to use books teaching gender theory. “They enter with an idea that has nothing to do with the people; but with groups of people yes, but not with the people. It colonizes the people with an idea that wants to change a mentality or a structure.”

In four instances in Manila, Pope Francis spoke about marriage, family, and sexuality issues. Below are selected quotes:

Address at Malacañan Palace (Jan. 16)

“Families have an indispensable mission in society. It is in the family that children are trained in sound values, high ideals and genuine concern for others. But like all God’s gifts, the family can also be disfigured and destroyed. It needs our support. We know how difficult it is for our democracies today to preserve and defend such basic human values as respect for the inviolable dignity of each human person, respect for the rights of conscience and religious freedom, and respect for the inalienable right to life, beginning with that of the unborn and extending to that of the elderly and infirm.”

Homily before bishops, priests, and religious at Manila Cathedral (Jan.16)

“Proclaim the beauty and truth of the Christian message to a society which is tempted by confusing presentations of sexuality, marriage and the family. As you know, these realities are increasingly under attack from powerful forces which threaten to disfigure God’s plan for creation and betray the very values which have inspired and shaped all that is best in your culture.”

Meeting with the Families at Mall of Asia Arena (Jan. 16)

“Let us be on guard against colonization by new ideologies. There are forms of ideological colonization which are out to destroy the family. They are not born of dreams, of prayers, of closeness to God or the mission which God gave us; they come from without, and for that reason I am saying that they are forms of colonization.”

“I think of Blessed Paul VI. At a time when the problem of population growth was being raised, he had the courage to defend openness to life in families. He knew the difficulties that are there in every family, and so in his Encyclical (Humanae Vitae) he was very merciful towards particular cases, and he asked confessors to be very merciful and understanding in dealing with particular cases. But he also had a broader vision: he looked at the peoples of the earth and he saw this threat of families being destroyed for lack of children. Paul VI was courageous; he was a good pastor and he warned his flock of the wolves that were coming. From his place in heaven, may he bless this evening!”

“Be sanctuaries of respect for life, proclaiming the sacredness of every human life from conception to natural death.”

Homily during the Concluding Mass at Rizal Park (Jan.18)

“Sadly, in our day, the family all too often needs to be protected against insidious attacks and programs contrary to all that we hold true and sacred, all that is most beautiful and noble in our culture.”

“In the Gospel, Jesus welcomes children, he embraces them and blesses them (Mk 10:16). We too need to protect, guide and encourage our young people, helping them to build a society worthy of their great spiritual and cultural heritage. Specifically, we need to see each child as a gift to be welcomed, cherished and protected. And we need to care for our young people, not allowing them to be robbed of hope and condemned to life on the streets.” Angeli Mae S. Cantillana and April Joy E. Dy


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