What our dear Holy Father Francis meant, or might have meant, when he solemnly declared that good Catholics need not “be like rabbits” is, as per usual, difficult to say. Patrick Archbold, writing over at his personal blog Creative Minority Report, finds the Sovereign Pontiff’s words “highly imprudent.” I’ll say. Archbold goes on:
It is imminently foreseeable that such a phrase will be used as a cudgel to beat and mock those Catholic parents who, with love and sacrifice, endeavor to always be open to life and as a result have large families. While it is not against Catholic teaching, utilizing such a strawman gives ammunition to those who oppose Church teaching.
Scratching one’s head, or planting one’s face in the palms, is now an everyday ritual for orthodox Catholics who make a point or a penance of keeping tabs on every papal sermon, address, and interview that comes down the pipe. Fr. John Hunwicke has some more general thoughts on the Pope’s penchant for off-the-cuff statements, including Francis’s foray into the Charlie Hebdo controversy. (My own brief remarks on the matter are available here.) Hunwicke, naturally, is worth quoting at length:
[W]itness the endearing remarks which our beloved Holy Father made in the airliner about how he would thump anybody who insulted his mother. In the present circumstances, I don’t see how any reasonable person could fail to see this as being at least a mitigation of the condemnation due to the Islamic terrorists who murdered the Paris Blasphemers. Yet again, Fr Lombardi went out afterwards to try to clear things up. It seems to me arguable that Popes should not make public statements which have not been vetted by the responsible dicastery of the Roman Curia. Because a Pope is not . . . or should not be . . . sharing his very interesting personal opinions (as I do in this blog). He should be reproving doctrinal error and strengthening us in doctrinal truth. And he is not enabled to do this by magic, but by a spirit-filled process of discernment in which his servants in the Roman Curia are indispensable assistants. He does not teach qua individual, but as the Bishop of Rome faithfully handing on the Tradition which the Roman and Petrine Church (pre-eminent and rock-like among all the Particular Churches in which the deposit of Faith has been handed down from the Apostles) has received.
Lamentably, in the modern Catholic mentality, the great “doctrinal error” of our time is the Catholic Church’s strict, unambiguous, and timeless teaching on marriage and the family, which includes her prohibition on artificial contraception and sterilization. Now these same wayward Catholics can argue, with a certain degree of plausibility, that the Pope is opening the doors to reproving that magisterial misstep. Of course we all know the Pope can’t authoritatively mess with this teaching, especially not onboard an airplane and/or gabbing with a group of reporters, but that reality doesn’t do much to steer the average man and woman in the pew back to both a right understanding and full acceptance of Church doctrine. So what happens to them? What happens to their souls? Does anyone care?
Being something of a rabbit myself, in possession of four cute little bunnies, should I not be dismayed, even offended, by Francis’s words? They strike me as deeply unpastoral, even mean. However, given that I am also an unabashed neo-Pelagian with unbridled Promethean tendencies, I learned some time ago what the Successor of St. Peter thinks of me, along with my friends and family. These statements of the Pope are like an insult to one’s mother: the first might fill you with rage, but repetition wears off the effect.