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Another Papal Press Conference, Another Disaster

by Christopher A. Ferrara
January 22, 2015

I have no doubt that Father Federico Lombardi and other members of the papal entourage are filled with dread every time Pope Francis picks up the microphone to indulge in another of his airborne press conferences. This is a Pope who simply will not stop saying whatever comes into his head at the moment.  The results have consistently delighted the world media while rocking the Church to her foundations, beginning with the infamous “Who am I to judge?” concerning “gay” priests in the hierarchy, including the flagrant homosexual Francis put in charge of his very household and made rector of the so-called Vatican Bank.

Well, Francis has done it again. And this gaffe could be even more damaging to the Church than “Who am I to judge?”  On the flight back from Manila — at the end of another massively useless papal excursion during which consecrated Hosts were passed around like dinner rolls by members of the “congregation” at a “Mass” attended by a reputed six million people — Francis decided to address the issue of birth control in his usual off-the-cuff manner, always fraught with the potential for disaster.

In the face of press reports that during his Address to Families in Manila he had defended Humanae Vitae (but only rather weakly, calling for confessors to be “very merciful” in “particular cases,” as if to suggest the possibility of a confessor accommodating the sin of contraception), Francis apparently decided that it was important to show the press just how “reasonable” he is concerning procreation:

This does not mean that the Christian must make children in series. I rebuked a woman some months ago in a parish who was pregnant eight times, with seven C-sections (cesareans). “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…

After having publicly humiliated this poor woman for having had the courage to trust in divine Providence by bringing another immortal soul into this world — even publicly accusing her of the mortal sin of tempting God — Francis humiliated her again later on in the press conference.  In response to a loaded question about whether poverty in the Philippines was the result of the average Filipino woman having three children, Francis offered this stupefying comment:

I think the number of 3 (children) per family that you mentioned, it is the one experts say is important to keep the population going — three per couple. When it goes below this, the other extreme happens, like what is happening in Italy. I have heard, I do not know if it is true, that in 2024 there will be no money to pay pensioners (because of) the fall in population.
Therefore, to give you an answer, the key word is the one the Church always uses all the time and even I use it: it is responsible parenthood. How do we do this? With dialogue. Each person with his pastor seeks how to do that.  Responsible parenthood.
That example I mentioned shortly before about that woman who was expecting her eighth (child) and already had seven who were born with caesareans.  That is an irresponsibility. (That woman might say) “No but I trust in God.”  But God gives you methods to be responsible. Some think that, excuse me if I use that word, that in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood! 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 seek and I know so many, many ways out that are licit and that have helped this.

Incredibly, Francis not only publicly mocked and rebuked a Catholic woman for her heroic virtue, he also likened having many children to breeding like rabbits — thus lending credence to the world’s popular caricature of traditional Catholic parents. Worse, he suggested that before they have a child Catholics are obliged to consult and “dialogue” with “experts” and “marriage groups” in order to be “responsible.”  Perhaps they should commission a feasibility study before conceiving the next child?

Moreover, just where would Francis draw the line between “responsible parenthood” and what he clearly considers the sinfully imprudent, rabbit-like breeding of the woman who “tempts God” by having had seven Caesarians and is expecting her eighth child?  Would “responsible parenthood” mean three children — just enough “to keep the population going,” as Francis put it? How about four children? Or five?  Or six? Was it his purpose to use the tactic of citing a hard case — the woman who had seven Caesarians — to undermine the very idea of having eight or more children?

And since when does a Pope speak of “so many, many ways out” of having children, as if parenthood were a trap from which Catholics need to escape instead of God’s means for filling up the number of the elect?

Perhaps realizing that his off-the-cuff blathering might create yet another public relations disaster for the Church, Francis immediately attempted to “walk back” his remark, but only succeeded in digging the hole deeper:

Another thing in relation to this is that for the most poor people, a child is a treasure. It is true that you have to be prudent here too but for them a child is a treasure. (Some would say) “God knows how to help me” and perhaps some of them are not prudent, this is true. Responsible paternity.

How revealing these words are!  For “the most poor people” a child is a treasure?  But a child is always a treasure — a gift from God — and not just for those who live in extreme poverty.  Equally condescending is the comment that “some of them” — meaning the poor — “are not prudent,” as if those ignorant poor folks in the Philippines, with their rabbit-like reproductive tendencies, lacked the prudence of more well-to-do Catholics who know how to practice “responsible paternity.”

Then this: “But let us also look at the generosity of that father and mother that see a treasure in every child.”  What does Francis mean by “see a treasure in every child”? This is not a matter of what “poor people” may happen to “see” in their children but what children objectively are in the divine plan. Every child born into this world, under any circumstances, into great riches or dire poverty, is by definition a treasure: an immortal soul created by God for an eternal destiny.

Further, if every child is indeed a treasure and the parents who cooperate with God in bringing souls into the world are generous in so doing, how can bearing any number of children — even eight by Caesarian — ever be condemned by anyone, much less a Pope, as being “like rabbits”? Has Francis forgotten the difference between a rabbit and an immortal human soul?  How can a Pope publicly condemn a mother of eight children for “tempting God” when it is God Himself who gave her the eight children?  Is Francis not aware that many Catholic saints were born into families with eight or more children under circumstances that even the poorest residents of the Philippines today would consider impoverished?

Saint Catherine of Siena, for example, was the 23rd of 25 children, half of whom died during the plague that was decimating Italy in the 14th century. Was Saint Catherine’s mother “like a rabbit”? Should she have practiced “responsible parenthood” so that this Doctor of the Church would never be born?  Was Saint Catherine’s mother “tempting God” by bearing all the children God sent her in the midst of a plague, including one of the Church’s greatest saints?  Where is the Pope’s eternal perspective?

The Pope’s superficial populism and colloquial vulgarism have thrilled the media and damaged the Church yet again. Predictably enough, the following headline immediately propagated throughout the Internet:  “Pope Francis: Catholics Don’t Have to Breed Like Rabbits.” No doubt there will be another Vatican “clarification” of what Francis “meant to say,” but for the umpteenth time the Church has suffered irreparable harm from this off-the-cuff papacy.

With each passing day it is becoming clearer that this pontificate is an unprecedented debacle, representing perhaps the final extremity of that “diabolical disorientation” Sister Lucia noted repeatedly in her correspondence intimating the full contents of the Third Secret of Fatima.  We can only hope and pray for the Church’s deliverance from the crisis the Secret foretells, which culminates outside a devastated city on a hill where a Pope is executed by a band of soldiers.  Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!

Addendum: In the midst of the storm his latest disastrous ad lib had provoked, Francis has backpedalled in his Wednesday audience address of January 21, but without admitting that his earlier statement was a blunder. Reading this time from a prepared text, Francis praised the “many large families” he had seen in the Philippines, “who welcome children as a gift from God.  These families know that each child is a blessing.” But there was no apology to the heroic mother of eight he had publicly condemned and humiliated during the in-flight press conference only days before, evidently in order to make himself look “reasonable” in the eyes of the media jackals who hang on his every word, waiting for the next bit of red meat Francis will almost invariably toss them when he picks up that dreaded microphone to “wing it” once again at the Church’s expense.  Indeed, despite the “clarification,” the media were quick to note that “Pope Francis on Wednesday praised big families… just days after igniting a controversy by saying Catholic parents need not reproduce “like rabbits.”

Someone near the Pope ought to insist that he stick to prepared texts that are consistent with the Catholic faith instead of speaking off the top of his head and telling us — let us face it — what he really thinks. The Church has been embarrassed and the faithful scandalized again and again by this Pope’s penchant for “speaking his mind” as opposed to affirming what the Church believes and has always taught. If Francis cannot share his thoughts of the moment without causing disaster, he should consider the possibility of keeping them to himself for the good of the Church.