Climate change, poverty, contraception
Church’s stand on these issues can be controversial
As a church leader who fears for humanity’s future, Pope Francis, contrary to what some observers have said about his recent encyclical, “Laudato Si,” on the environment, has more than a right, he has a responsibility to speak out on such an important topic.
The pope is absolutely on the mark when he says that climate change affects the poor disproportionately, especially those who live in areas subject to tornadoes, floods, tsunamis, and so forth.
The pope’s concern for the poor loses some of its impact however, when one considers the church’s stand on contraception, a stand he wholeheartedly endorses.
“I am a son of the church,” he has said when questioned about contraception and other social teachings of the church.
His visit to the Philippines in January could have been an eyeopener for him had he ventured into the streets of the poor areas where children who looked as young as seven or eight lived and begged in order to survive.
BBC Hardtalk’s Stephen Sackur spent time in Manilla and discovered local health workers going door to door on behalf of the government offering pamphlets to women informing them of various methods of contraception, including the pill and tubal ligation. The women had no problem declaring their Catholicism or revealing the form of contraception they used. Smiling widely, they waved their hands in the air and shouted “Ligation, ligation.”
One 30-year-old woman was expecting her eleventh child and when asked how many children she would have preferred to have, she answered “three.”
Archbishop Luis Antonio-Tagle of Manilla, spoke to Sackur in March, 2015, and expressed the fear that government would begin limiting the number of children a couple could have which would, in his view, be wrong. He seemed to have no problem with the fact that two million babies are born in his country every year, mostly one assumes, to the 85 per cent of the population who are Catholic.
Sadly, many parents leave their homes to work abroad and send money back to relatives who are looking after their children. The number of children living on the streets might indicate that when a family has more children than it can care for, losing a couple to the streets would seem almost inevitable.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis’ crude response to a question about birth control, “Catholics don’t have to breed like rabbits,” while insisting that natural planning is the only method whereby Catholic couples can limit the size of their families, makes a mockery of his lament about world poverty when he refuses to recognize how church teaching contributes to that poverty.
When “the pill” was introduced in the early 1960s, Pope John XXIII established a commission “to study questions of birth control and population.” Following Vatican II, Pope Paul VI expanded the commission to 72 members who brought in a report in 1966 stating that artificial contraception was not “intrinsically evil” and “couples should be allowed to decide for themselves what methods of birth control should be employed.” A minority report, however, disagreed with those findings, and in his 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” Pope Paul went with the minority, entrenching the church’s view on contraception.
The key factor in all this is that Pope Paul VI had the final word, just as Pope Francis could do, thereby empowering couples to make their own decisions on birth control, something millions of Catholics are doing anyway. His clarion call on climate change and the desperate conditions it creates for the poor would ring more true if he acknowledged that his own institution, by its unreasonable and long-outmoded stand on contraception, contributes greatly to the problem.
A former Canadian Prime Minister said that government has “no place in the bedrooms of the nation.”
Perhaps that should apply to the church as well.