It’s Not About Rabbits, But Maybe It’s Not About You Either

It’s been a little over 24 hours since I woke up to Facebook hopping (pun unintended) because of a remark the Pope made on the plane to Rome from Manila, where he spent four days with the Filipino people, celebrating, teaching, loving.

Many are upset because once again, the Pope said something that just *hit* them the wrong way.

I am a Filipina who came to the US when I was 18. I’ve lived here, got married, had kids and raised them for the next 28. Today I also work with a pro-life group in the Philippines. The entire transcript is a must read if one wants to fully understand, but I ask that you not stop there. Please consider reading the transcripts from his four days in Manila. The Pope’s rabbit remark has to be evaluated not just within the context of everything he said on that plane, but ALL the teaching he did in the third world last week. I am hoping that today’s clarification helps.

In a nutshell, and because I tend to ramble on, he’s basically teaching BALANCE. In Manila he taught a lot about being open to life, about GENEROSITY. Prompted by further quetions on the plane, he continued the lesson, this time highlighting RESPONSIBILITY. These two go hand in hand. His words on the plane did not cancel out what he said in Manila, as some claim. On the contrary, they are but parts of a whole. But there are farther nuances I’d like to point out if I may.

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He came to the Philippines to be with the poor. While there he addressed corruption, the cause of so much suffering there, as opposed to the liberal anti-life mantra of overpopulation. He spoke against foreign ideologies, many of which are funded and exported by us US taxpayers. Instead of helping them with the basics like food, clothing, shelter, education that uplifts them and upholds their dignity — we give them instead contraception, abortion, pornography, and contribute to their corruption. Pope Francis described this ideological colonization as insidious. The colonizers of old may have used guns and swords to conquer other lands. Today they use books, movies, music, social media, to conquer hearts, minds, souls. In addition, programs brought in by population controllers and eugenicists do irreparable harm.

In that same homily, he reiterated the Church’s teachings on the value of human life. During his trip he also traveled to see the victims of Yolanda, and spent time with the youth, many of whom experience suffering as a daily reality. (The rest of the transcripts are at Salt and Light TV.)

When he got on that plane, it’s reasonable to assume that his mind was still on the people he encountered. I’d like to propose that his words on RESPONSIBILITY AND GENEROSITY cover so much more than what appears on the surface:

He was calling pastors to shepherd their flock well, to catechize better. In the Philippines, many are cultural Catholics. They live the faith, but have little understanding of the Church’s basic teachings, especially Her teachings about sex. Many men still think it is their right to have on-demand sex and many women still think they are obligated to comply. Yes, this is partly a failure on the part of the clergy. The Pope is saying they need to teach more effectively; their flock need to listen and understand better. It is a pressing need and Pope Francis addressed it, for which I thank him.

Each person with his pastor seeks how to do that responsible parenthood.

When the Pope talked about responsibility, however, he was addressing not the first-world mother who has access to modern hospitals and well-trained doctors and the newest technology. A woman having an 8th caesarean section in the US is different from a woman having an 8th child in a third world country, caesarean or not. Here in the US, we have 911; they don’t. Here we have a medical team, in the Philippines you’re lucky if you can afford to go to a private hospital. Midwives there are not the same as midwives here. The Philippine maternal mortality rate has improved, but it is not the same as first world numbers.

Please don’t get me wrong, as the mom of 5 who has a lot of mom friends, many of whom live heroic lives of sacrifice, I do have some sense of the confusion or, as one commenter put it, devastation, that some of them felt when they heard the phrase. I have great compassion for them who have been so generous with their lives and with their bodies; and it’s not about the number of children anyway. That’s not the point and never was. Church teaching is clear that it’s a prudential decision left to husband and wife, and that’s beyond the purview of even us pro-lifers. But while those of us who have more than “the experts’ ‘required'” 2.1 kids sit here, tweeting, Facebooking or blogging away, getting our voices heard, what about the moms who don’t even have access to a computer or even a phone, much less good medical care? What about their voices?

Pope Francis was talking to the parents about being responsible because each child needs a mother and a father. In the first world, a mother’s chance of surviving childbirth is higher than it is in the third world. A child losing a parent in the first world, while he/she would not be any less devastated emotionally, would almost certainly have better access to material support and resources than his or her third world counterpart. We may have homeless and jobless people here, but in poverty-stricken Philippines, if a mother is lost, where do the orphans end up? If not in orphanages such as the one Pope Francis visited, they end up in the streets, begging for their food, or prostituting themselves. Trafficking is a huge problem, and it is directly related to poverty. The Philippines is easy prey for those who believe contraception and abortion to be the answer to these ills.

Understanding what responsible parenthood is about and getting access to what Pope Francis refers to as licit ways to plan the family aren’t the same either. NFP instructors have a hard time promoting NFP because those “insidious programs” that Pope Francis talked about refuse to give it priority or simply pay them lip service. The recently passed RH Law, for instance, mandates that people get access to whatever contraceptive method they choose. Millions are budgeted for artificial birth control, with subsidy coming in from outside sources; zero for the Church-approved NFP, which is left entirely to the laity to fund and promote.

NFP instructors have to deal with the “Pinoy macho image”. They hesitate to teach NFP outside of the Catechism *because* they need the Catechism to provide the backbone — there are places where the secular or scientific approach won’t be adequate or appropriate. Often the responsibility falls on the woman. And while that in itself isn’t a problem specific to the third world, the difference is that in the poorest areas of a third world country, men who don’t understand NFP and/or Church teaching fully end up raping their wives during the fertile period — this from a veteran NFP instructor. In the population controllers’ eyes, this is one more reason to accuse the Church of inefficiency and oppression, and one more excuse to promote aggressive anti-life measures.

I ask that you keep these in mind as you read the Pope’s words. All these are part of the whole, and when we take that whole apart and nitpick what is offensive to us, we not only turn a blind eye to those who are most in need of compassion, we undermine our own Church’s and our Pope’s ability to speak out on these issues that we may not fully understand but nevertheless exist. More than that, I am afraid that we also undermine our own efforts to reach those who see the Church’s teachings as archaic and oppressive, and to open their eyes to the truth.

Recommended Reading:
Breed Like Rabbits: The Pope and an Anti-Catholic Slur
Someone is getting lost in all this talk about Francis and rabbits
Pope Francis and Catholic Rabbits–5 Points to Consider
The Pope Said What about Rabbits? And I said Ee-I-ee-I-oh!
“Breeding like rabbits”, eh?
About the Pope’s “don’t be like rabbits” remark UPDATED


    • stef says:

      I know, Jenn. Especially after months of frustration and confusion with other things. I get frustrated understanding him myself sometimes, but gosh, all the teachings that he did the last week, and this is what we’re going to focus on? It doesn’t make sense to me.

  1. Bob Roesser says:

    However comparing the procreation of humans to the breeding of rabbits does not help the understanding of NFP. All your points about context are devoid of relevancy.

    • stef says:

      I don’t agree that he was comparing. He was clarifying Church teaching. Some (many?) people do think that’s what the Church teaches, that we should breed like rabbits. I’ve heard that said so many times in so many contexts maybe I’m immune to it by now and can laugh it off. He was saying, no, that’s NOT what the Church teaches. But I can understand how the phrasing and the use of the term itself can be hurtful and how people can see it as careless. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Karen Dvorak says:

    I’d like your thoughts on two things. One, the Pope seems to have suggested we all should use NFP to prevent pregnancy. You say that the laity has to fund it. Why, then, with all sacraments but anointing of the sick, requiring funds, materials, and specific preparation is NFP not required of marriage preparation here in the s5ates? Two, all 7 of my children have been born by ceasereans. Am I tempting God or not and should that be based on where I live? That doesn’t make sense. Further, Gianna Molla is a saint and the woman in hus example is rebuked. How is one to reconcile the two? I understand the overall message of the Pope, but I find his example needing real clarification for those of us who only have ceasereans and an apology to the woman he referenced.

    • stef says:

      Hi Karen. Re the laity having to fund it — that’s in the Philippines that I’m talking about. NFP itself is free to learn and use, but depending on need, some parishes (all?) will need to hire part-time or full-time NFP instructors so that their parishioners are taught and followed-up adequately. I’m not sure exactly how it works here in the US. I know I’ve been in parishes were we had an NFP instructor who offered couple-to-couple sessions on a regular basis, and they were available by person or phone for follow-up. My pro-life primary doctor has an Creighton/NaPro specialist (?) who can come in by appointment to meet with patients needing instruction — I believe there’s a minimal fee for that ($40 if I’m not mistaken). No idea if insurance will cover or not, and with Obamacare, probably not. Your question re sacraments and NFP+marriage preparation I don’t know the answer to either, but I can ask around and get back to you. In the Philippines, as far as I know, family planning instruction is required before a couple is granted a marraige license — the FP instruction often includes artificial birth control only. I have no idea if you’re tempting God or not, that’s not my place to decide. If I were faced with a high-risk pregnancy my first recourse would be prayer, discernment with my husband, and a trusted spiritual advisor if necessary, my doctor too of course (my doctor’s pro-life). I honestly wouldn’t ask around on the internet because I’m bound to just get confused and I have OC tendencies as it is — it would just totally stress me out to hear all kinds of opinions about it. Re apology to the woman, I think that’s between her and the Pope. If I were the woman concerned and if I were offended, I’d contact him and demand an apology. On the other hand, I might be grateful too that he was able to use my story as an example. Who knows really. All we can do is pray for the Holy Spirit to keep on moving and to touch all involved. God bless and thanks for the comment.

      • Karen Dvorak says:

        Sorry for any typos. I need to clarify. I’m expecting my 8th by a 6th ceaserean this year. I’m always terrified, but have faith that this is God’s Will. His example has shaken that faith. If one has had a ceaserean before, you’d know why. I also must say that it’s easy to suggest NFP and prolife doctors, but there are some of us out there for whom it does not work or seeing suggested doctors with 7 already is also a great hardship. I feel very stuck and that my support system in the faith is gone. I’m pointing out its easy to gloss over his statement unless you’re the one to which he is referring. I’m not looking to the intent for advice, rather I’m shedding light on there are real people like his example and in our time of needed proliferation support, we’ve been given to the dogs. They’ve been nipping our heals for a long time already.

        • stef says:

          I’m so sorry to hear that this has shaken your faith. These *are* trying times. Please don’t think that your support system in the faith is gone though. We need to put weight on the Pope’s words, of course, but if we’re going to do that, let’s not forget how he’s also spoken about how large families are blessings, that we are needed, etc. Also try to remember that no matter what the world or the media says, WE have each other — we faithful Catholics who pray for each other and who are trying, each and every day, to grow in holiness. We have the saints, we have Mama Mary, most of all we have our Lord, Who will never let us down. They haven’t disappeared. I’m sure there *will* be more trials and more doubts in the future, this is not the first time and it won’t be the last. I’ve been on the receiving end of hurtful comments about my family and the number of my kids before, so I do have some understanding of what you’re going through. And I myself have been frustrated with the Pope’s words before… but I can’t let those frustrations with him, or with other clergy, totally break my faith down. The world will always be against us and there will be times when we feel alone and abandoned, even by the ones closest to us and on whom we rely the most. Other times, you may be the strong one where others are having their own crises. I don’t know if my words are of any comfort to you; I hope they are. Please be assured of my prayers.

    • De says:

      Your situation is entirely different than St Gianna’s. She was midpregnancy when she discovered a medical situation that she refused treatment for her to save the life of her child. With every cesarean section the risks of you and your child dying increases. That is what is tempting God. You continue to put yourself in a situation that could kill you. There is a reason doctors recommend stopping at three to four cesareans. I also don’t believe it matters where you live. The United States has one of the highest maternal death rates in the world.

      • Karen Dvorak says:

        I didn’t say that I was anything like St. Gianna, but as far as I am concerned, who risks less? Any pregnant woman can die in childbirth at any time. Further, my doctor has never said I should have quit at any point. How would I fix it now, abortion? I need support, not admonition. I wish for a hysterectomy if I survive this one, but the church is against that as well. Though, since I have had problems since college with my cycle, I may in one of those loopholes. Again, I am not a good candidate for NFP. I feel very stuck at this point. Damned if do and damned if I don’t, pardon my language.

    • Granny Smith says:

      Gianna Molla is a saint b/c she refused abortion when, *already pregnant*, she learned that she had a cancerous tumor on her uterus — it was too late to prevent pregnancy, she was already 2 or so months along. The woman in his example might be putting health (life?) at risk by seeking pregnancy when it would mean another (potentially risky) c-section. Quite a bit of difference between the two.
      Needing repeated c-sec’s can be grounds for avoiding pregnancy, but maybe his comment there can be seen more as a warning to OB’s than to moms: do what you can to help the woman avoid the first one! Because while VBACs can be done, most docs are hesitant to do them, insurance companies are reluctant to promote them, and the general climate seems to be that it’s easier to just do repeat surgeries. And then since many docs recommend not more than a few c-sec’s, … well, you get the idea.

      • Karen Dvorak says:

        We’re assuming the rebuked woman was seeking pregnancy. Only abstinence is 100%. That would bode well with my husband. I didn’t know the Pope was an expert in this area and that ceasereans were addressed in the Catechism as well. I didn’t wish to be in this position, but I am. It would be nice to get a clear answer from the church in such situations. Again, NFP does not work well for me.

        • heidimama says:

          Karen, if I could hug you I would. I understand. His statement hurt me for similar reasons. We are faithful to the teachings. We have used NFP off and on for 11 years. I have had two baby’s while using NFP. One baby was a ‘not perfect use but pretty close’ baby(we were more concerned about timing rather than avoiding indefinitely), but the last baby was conceived during perfect use(we did not need to have a baby given very serious reasons). I was ashamed to tell people about my last pregnancy. It was a terrible feeling. Because *I* knew and *everyone* knew that it was irresponsible to have this baby during a very trying time. No one knows how hard NFP can be, or that you may be the 1-2% that ends up pregnant. Anyhow, his statement stung because he has no idea what it is like to only have NFP or abstinence as your back up. Especially when it fails. His solution for this woman is NFP? If her life is at risk, the only real solution is total abstinence, but he won’t say that. How he dealt with her was uncharitable. Let’s be honest. For her to really be ‘responsible’ she has to abstain completely and that is brutally hard…instead of making the solution seem so simple and easy(just use NFP for goodness sake) or placing the blame on her, how about we show her compassion, respect, and give her support because abstinence for years in a marriage is not easy.

          • stef says:

            We’d have to make an awful lot of assumptions about the woman, the Pope, what they talked about, etc. to really judge what was going on, or why the Pope chose to mention her as an example, etc. Just too many variables really for anyone outside that conversation to make an adequate/appropriate assessment.

        • De says:

          Karen, I owe you an apology. I was in a bit of a crabby place when I wrote my comment. I was also thinking of a certain couple I know when I responded. I didn’t mean to come off snarky at you. I also struggle with NFP. I have very irregular cycles and my last cycle showed 5 peaks! I’m also extremely fertile. We had our two children very close together. My husband recently lost his job and we are still paying off our last delivery! We have been mainly abstinent for the last year and it’s been really hard and put a strain on our marriage at times. I was insulted by the “doing it like rabbits” statement because it’s felt like he is really out of touch with the reality.

          • stef says:

            Wow, 5 peaks!! :O Sorry to hear about your difficulties. I’ve entered perimenopause and it is quite an interesting spot to be in after having been regular forever.

        • stef says:

          Is it perhaps your NFP method, Karen? I’m just throwing it out there in case you haven’t considered it. I’m in several NFP groups on FB and I’ve found that people try different methods until they find out that suits them — don’t know if that will help you or not. I’ve been a sporadic NFP user, can’t really claim that I understand it all, but especially for those with problems with their cycle or fertility, I do know we have NaPro Technology. It certainly helped my daughter and several friends. Just in case people want to check it out:

  3. Tom says:

    Well, your interpretation of the Pope’s words is one plausible interpretation… but certainly not the only one, and one must wonder why the Pope says such things *knowing* how it will be received in the West.

    It would be a wonderful clarification of NFP if the Pope indeed mentioned that it’s to be used in consultation with “with [one’s] pastor” as a moral guide, so it does not become a simple Catholic contraception method used for unworthy reasons that are not “grave” as, alas, has become very routine in the US.

    • De says:

      I find it really disturbing how freely people judge the outward appearance of others when it comes to the number of children they have. There are many couples who struggle with infertility after having a child. Also, it isn’t anyone’s business why a couple decides to have more or not. God gave us the ability to reason. It certainly isn’t your place to judge when you have no idea what their situation is.

    • stef says:

      I’m not “interpreting” the Pope’s words — I’m relaying them. They’re all there for evaluation. I’ve linked to them — and they can be read in their entirety, or not. Your choice. Thanks for visiting and for commenting. I do agree that NFP is not “Catholic contraception”, and shouldn’t be used as such, but then again, so many nuances to that I can’t even begin to cover here. 🙂 Meanwhile, let’s continue to pray for the Pope.

  4. David Cosson says:

    Yours is an interesting perspective since you have experience in both cultures. I appreciate your thoughts. I spend over 65 years in the American culture before moving to the Philippines. There are vast difference between the two cultures. Often times ignored is the difference between the Manila culture and the province culture within the Philippines. There is more than just the US and Filipino culture but the subcultures to look at also within the Philippiines.
    The words “consequences” and “personal responsibility” seem to be missing within the Filipino culture. This has lead to a cultural of denial and corruption.
    The most hideous behavior I have seen here is the young men getting the young woman pregnant and leaving them when they are 3 months pregnant.. the fathers move on with no responsibilities required of them for their actions. The number of single moms is about 60% (not within a committed marriage). Of coarse the effects on the children are tremendous with no father support, emotional or financial, the young children do struggle in life, along with their mothers. The mothers usually stop their education because of pregnancy, at very early ages, which erodes her ability to financially care for her children. There are laws here to make the fathers responsible but if you are familiar with the present legal system here the laws look nice but are seldom enforced except as punishment against an political foe. Of coarse most fathers are no more than children themselves, so they can not support their children emotionally or financially even if required.
    With a country that is supposedly in excess of 80% Catholic, and a single mother rate in excess of 60% some hypocrisy at best is prevalent, or just plan denial for personal responsibility. The Catholic Church does need to step up and offer some teachings on the subject of parenting, other than large families are nice.
    I came here because of the strong religious proclamations of the country that are almost everywhere, but I do not see the accompanying actions to go with the proclamations. Maybe “responsible parenting” whatever that means, should be give more thought because right now there is a large segment of the population locked in to a poverty lifestyle with little hope in sight.

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