Pope Francis encourages us to contradict “a mentality that is often hostile to life”
Yesterday, Aleteia ran a piece titled “Contraception: Are We Seeing the End of the Ban?,” which reaches the hair-raising conclusion that “the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia marks not the repeal, but the elimination, implicit but real, of the absolute prohibition of contraception for Catholic couples.” How anyone could draw that conclusion from Pope Francis’ words is a complete mystery.
Amoris Laetitia contains an entire chapter on fruitfulness, where the pope movingly praises children as a living reflection of their parents’ love and as a gift from God (165-166). He speaks of the conception of each child as “the Creator’s eternal dream come true” and urges pregnant mothers to revel in excitement, letting no one rob them of their happiness (168, 171).
The pope insists that a child is “not an accessory or a solution to some personal need” (170). Speaking to parents, he baldly states, “It matters little whether this new life is convenient for you, whether it has features that please you or whether it fits into your plans and aspirations” (id.) He calls abortion “horrendous” and adds that “large families are a joy for the Church” (83, 167).
No fewer than six times, Amoris Laetitia quotes approvingly from Humanae Vitae, the encyclical that unequivocally continued the Church’s prohibition against artificial contraception. Restating the principles of Humanae Vitae, Pope Francis affirms the” intrinsic bond between conjugal love and the generation of life” (68).
More explicitly, he concludes: The child who is born “does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment.” He or she … is present from the beginning of love as an essential feature, one that cannot be denied without disfiguring that love itself. From the outset, love … is open to a fruitfulness that draws it beyond itself. Hence, no genital act of husband and wife can refuse this meaning (80).
The pope encourages us to counter “a mentality that is often hostile to life” and he promotes natural family planning (NFP) as a means of responsible parenthood (222). Quoting directly from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis praises methods of NFP because they “‘respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them and favour the education of an authentic freedom’” (id., quoting CCC 2370).
So why would anyone read Amoris Laetitia to say the opposite of what it clearly says? The previous article makes four basic assertions. Two are irrelevant, and the other two are flat out wrong.
Irrelevant Assertion #1: Birth control is not a central theme of Amoris Laetitia, and the pope uses neither the word “permitted” nor “forbidden” when addressing the topic. Perhaps, but so what? The challenge of modern family life spans a multitude of problems. The fact that Pope Francis did not waste an inordinate amount of ink on artificial birth control suggests that he treated it as a settled issue — which, of course, it is. If the pope was trying to make a radical break from prior teaching, he likely would have said a bit more about it. Similarly, the pope is not required to use certain words like “permitted” or “forbidden” when reaffirming a particular doctrine.
Irrelevant Assertion #2: Amoris Laetitia stated that spouses, not pastors, are primarily responsible for deciding whether or not to have a child. This statement surely surprises no one. It is plain common sense that parents are the ones who exercise responsible parenthood. As it says in the Catechism, “For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children” (CCC 2368 [emphasis added]). But the decision to delay having a child is not equivalent to the decision to use artificial birth control.
Erroneous Assertion #1: Because Pope Francis praises amorous and erotic love, he is allowing artificial birth control. This is an utterly baffling perspective that completely ignores at least 40 years of Church teaching. Pope St. John Paul II made a splash when he began praising amorous and erotic love in his addresses on the Theology of the Body in the late 1970s. The conclusion of those addresses, delivered in 1984, was an impassioned defense of Humanae Vitae’s ban on artificial birth control. Amorous and erotic love does not require artificial birth control.
Erroneous Assertion #2: The good of the spouses requires artificial birth control. Cutting and pasting words from different paragraphs of Amoris Laetitia, the previous article argues that “in certain circumstances, it is legitimate that the good of the community of life and love takes precedence over excessive theological conclusions that put an almost exclusive emphasis on the duty of procreation.” This argument sets up a false dichotomy between the good of the spouses and the existence of children. Pope Francis’ heartfelt praise of marital fruitfulness shows instead how children are great blessings for spouses.
In short, the challenging parts of Amoris Laetitia are confusing enough on their own. Let’s not create more confusion where there is none.
Karee Santos is the founder of the Can We Cana? blog and also has written for Catholic Match Institute, Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register and CatholicMom.com. Together with her husband, Manuel Santos, MD, she co-authored The Four Keys to Everlasting Love: How Your Catholic Marriage Can Bring You Joy for a Lifetime (Ave Maria Press, 2016). The Santoses write a monthly marriage advice column on CatholicMom.com called “Marriage Rx.” They also contribute regularly to FAITH magazine’s “Marriage Matters” advice column.