In a press conference on a plane from Manila to Rome, Pope Francis said that Catholics should not breed “like rabbits” because of the Church’s ban on contraception. In response to questions about birth control, he said: “Some think that, excuse the language, that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood.”
The world’s press, as a result, screamed their headlines: “Pope says Catholics shouldn’t breed like rabbits…”.
What the Church Teaches on Family Size
The Church has always encouraged Catholics to have a positive view on children, while giving them flexibility to control their family size using natural family planning methods in case there are serious impediments to having a large family. As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops explains:
The Church teaches that a couple may generously decide to have a large family, or may for serious reasons choose not to have more children for the time being or even for an indefinite period (Humanae Vitae, no. 10). In married life, serious circumstances – financial, physiological, or those involving responsibilities to other family members – may arise to make an increase in family size untimely. The Church understands this, while encouraging couples to take a generous view of children.
Problems with the Statement
The problem with the above statement of the pope is that as can be seen in the press reactions after, the secular world will manipulate those words to precisely argue the need to control family size using artificial means.
Another problem with the statement is that it strikes a highly condescending tone to those Catholics who currently have large families. Many Opus Dei members, for example, because of their loyal adherence to the Church’s pro-life stance (ie, openness to the possibility of life in every marital intercourse), have large families. Are the parents of those large families nothing more like “rabbits” who breed children irresponsibly?
Benedict XVI’s Call to Help Large Families
Contrast this with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who, in a February 15, 2012 audience, praised large Catholic families for their “faith, courage and optimism”, and called on governments and communities to provide the necessary social support for such large families:
There is no future without children. In today’s social context, a family made up of many children constitutes a witness of faith, courage and optimism. I hope that adequate social and legislative measures are promoted that safeguard and sustain large families…
Pope Pius XII: Large Families are the “Most Splendid Flower Beds in the Garden of the Church”
In an address given by Pope Pius XII to the Directors of the Associations for Large Families of Rome and Italy in January 20, 1958, Pope Piux XII praised large families:
Large families are the most splendid flower-beds in the garden of the Church; happiness flowers in them and sanctity ripens in favorable soil. Every family group, even the smallest, was meant by God to be an oasis of spiritual peace. But there is a tremendous difference: where the number of children is not much more than one, that serene intimacy that gives value to life has a touch of melancholy or of pallor about it; it does not last as long, it may be more uncertain, it is often clouded by secret fears and remorse.