Francis, contraception and climate change

Oh my! If I could speak to Pope Francis directly, I would say: “Really? You are in the Philippines urging people to deal with widespread poverty and you include in your talk an anti-contraception message? Really? Do you see no contradiction in those messages?” 

News reports say that Francis deviated from his prepared text to praise Pope Paul VI for “courageously” resisting calls to change church teaching on sexuality. Paul VI was, of course, the pope who wrote Humanae Vitae, the 1968 encyclical which upheld the church’s opposition to artificial birth control and in so doing, dismayed millions of Catholics across the world. 

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True to his nature, Francis urged confessors to be “compassionate” in special cases. Still, this is yet another example of Francis’ need to sit down and talk to women -- and in this case, perhaps young couples. 

And while he’s at it: climate scientists.

Rumor has it that Francis will issue an important encyclical on climate change later this year. Personally, I look forward to that. But the climate-related issue which few people, especially Catholics, discuss actively is the growing world population. It seems logical -- given the carbon-related activities of the average human being, at least in the Northern Hemisphere -- that we cannot keep expanding the human population if we have any hope of stemming the worldwide effects of climate change. 

Contraception is one means of keeping population growth from getting totally out of control. Now, I’m sure that advocates of natural family planning would say that their methods work well, but that is far from the consensus. The truth is: for many couples, they do not work. And -- as any poll over the last several decades will tell you -- Catholics use artificial contraception at the same rate as those who are not Catholic. 

Maybe Francis does not feel that he can change this teaching just now, but emphasizing it when he is calling the world to face both widespread poverty and the global climate crisis is, for many, a contradiction. The climate crisis especially calls us all to look at contraception through a new lens.  


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