Who would have guessed that the Pope is Catholic?
It’s funny that Pope Francis is the most quotable of Popes . . . except when he’s not. A few weeks ago, when he appeared to criticize couples who were ‘irresponsible” in having children “in a series”, dismissing the idea that, “in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits,” it was big news. More recently, when he said that “Not to have children is a selfish choice,” and suggested that a culture that “views children above all as a worry, a burden, a risk, is a depressed society,” well, where was the news media? Where are the “Spirit of Vatican II” Catholics who trumpet every reference to rabbits and every off-the-cuff “who am I to judge” remark? Yes, it was reported (mostly in non-U.S. outlets), but given very little play and quickly forgotten, especially compared to the hullaballoo surrounding some other comments from this Pope.
Not that any of this is a surprise, of course. Since the revolt against the Church’s teaching on contraception that erupted into public view at the issuance of Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968, reproduction and sexuality have been Ground Zero in the culture of dissidence that exists within the Church. Not coincidentally, those are also the issues that animate the drivers of cultural trends in the secular world as well. The “news” media is a major component in the Spirit of this Age, and so it is happy to run with anything the Pope says that could further its agenda, especially if it can be spun to undercut Catholic moral teaching on their favored issues.
It may be hard for some of us to believe just how important this last point is to the promoters of the new sexual ethic. They quite correctly see the Church as the main obstacle in their way. The Popes agree. In his encyclical letter Casti Connubii (“Of Chaste Marriage”), published in response to the abandonment by the Anglican Church of the age-old Christian ban on contraception, Pope Pius XI describes:
. . . the Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her . . . (Casti Connubii, 56)
If this description was true in 1930, when Casti Connubii was published, how much more so today? Not only are the moral ruins around us more widespread than ever, but there is a visible group of people who identify as Catholic actively working to pull down the Church into that debris. Pope Francis’ remarks on the selfishness of sterility are most unwelcome both to this set of Catholics, and to the media, not only because he is contradicting their agenda, but specifically because he is re-stating long-standing Catholic teaching. These comments give the lie to the mythical Pope Francis who is freeing the Catholic Church from its judgmental and puritanical past. And we can’t have people think the Pope really is Catholic, can we?