NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews/24 Jan) — Catholics don’t have to breed like rabbits but should practice responsible parenthood.
Speaking on pregnancy and family planning on his flight back to Rome from his five-day visit of the Philippines, the fascinating Pope used the rabbit metaphor to drive a point – on the moral responsibility of regulating the number of children in the family.
Why the rabbit of all animals? The Pope, known for his sense of humor, may have found the rabbit so apt to underscore the Philippine nightmarish population situation.
Rabbits are “horny,” prolific little creatures. A rabbit reaches sexual maturity at three to four months, does not have estrous or heat cycle like dogs, and are more or less ready to mate all the time. Their gestation period is only 30 days. They usually have litters of between four and 12 kits (babies), depending on the breed. Once the kits are born, the doe can mate and get pregnant again as early as the following day. Rabbits can be sexually active in most of their lifetime, that is, for nine to 12 years. It is estimated that the large-litter breed rabbits may have 100 kits per season, which is three-quarters of the year, or some 1000 babies in her lifetime.
The Pope must have noticed the sea of humanity, the throng of faithful, wherever he moved in his visit of the country. In the Luneta mass alone, it was estimated that six to seven million people, Catholics and non-Catholics altogether, were present not so much to participate in the ceremony but simply to have a glimpse at the charismatic pontiff. The staggering number was more than the current population of Norway whose territorial area is even a little larger than that of the Philippines.
There were just so many people, unequaled most likely by any of the places the Pope had earlier visited. While the great crowd was heartening, the same could have also struck a different chord in the heart of the Pontiff. Intimated to the poverty and tragedy of children driven to scavenging and prostitution, he could not help but lament on irresponsible parenting. This could explain what he actually remarked in the airborne interview:
“Some think that, excuse me if I used the word, that in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood.”
Irresponsible parents cause so much suffering and may compromise the lives and future of their children. When a weeping girl of 12 years asked him why God allows children who are not guilty of anything to suffer – to become prostitutes, the good Pope could only offer his silence. In his homily that followed, he exhorted everyone in the crowd to be more compassionate and learn to cry with the marginalized and suffering people. Good Christians must be able to cry, to shed tears over the unfathomable miseries that befall them and others, Pope Francis said one way or another. “(For there are) certain realities in life, we only see through eyes that are cleansed with our tears,” he said.
Crying, however, is only good up to the point of acceptance and surrender. One should not stop there. It definitely would not solve persistent and nagging problems that demonize people day by day. He urged everybody “to think, to feel and to do” something.
Indeed, a truly good Christian ought to do something to preclude or change an undesirable situation to his advantage. For instance, to control over-breeding like rabbits and prevents its ghastly consequences, the Pontiff advised the faithful to look for solutions. “God gives you methods to be responsible,” he said. “There are marriage groups, there are experts in this matter, there are pastors, one can seek and I know so many, many ways out that are licit and that have helped this.”
Pope Francis is a good copy because of his populist views on many things and his colloquial and sincere way of saying them. So far, however, his colorful metaphors, inspiring or provoking pronouncements have not actually made a dent on the hardened dogmas and rigid stands of the Church on many issues.
For instance, his exhortation to the faithful not to reproduce like rabbits does not in any way lift the church ban on contraceptives. Family planning or birth control remains at the mercy of natural methods such as abstinence, rhythm/calendar, temperature and withdrawal which do not apparently work well with the Filipino rabbit-like sexual appetite and behavior.
The Pontiff’s tolerant and compassionate remarks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community – Who am I to judge? – is refreshing. It signals their accommodation in the church with mercy as children of God, but does not in any way change the stand of the Church on same-sex marriage and other gay-related issues. And the Pope’s avowal for gender equality and greater participation of women in secular affairs does not translate to their equal treatment within the walls of the Church. The institution remains vehement against women in the priesthood, notwithstanding the fact that it glorifies Mary, the mother of Jesus, as the greatest of all saints being the “Mother of God.”
On the other hand, the Pope’s sympathetic statements on the plight of the poor and the downtrodden and the victims of religious, tribal and political persecutions have not so far been transformed into concrete programs that will use the Church’s vast wealth in liberating people from poverty, destitution, fear and hopelessness throughout the world.
The Pope may not be able to walk all his talk. The century-old dogmas and traditions that have calcified the institution he is leading make it resistance to change. As in the past, there would always be around him cliques and apologists for long upheld doctrines, beliefs and practices, who will covertly stamp down or undermine every move he would make along life and world-defining reforms. At the end of the day, the Pope will be like Don Quixote fighting the giant windmills.
Whatever, Pope Francis’ openness, sense of humor, simplicity and humility inspires many a soul. The good Pope comes like a whiff of fresh air to the otherwise stale and suffocating atmosphere of the Catholic faith community. It is good enough. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph. D., is a former professor and the first chancellor of the Mindanao State University at Naawan).