Monday, January 26, 2015

Robert Mickens on Pope Francis, Contraception, and Neo-Malthusian Schemes of Developed Nations: My Response

And then, of course, there's Robert Mickens's interpretation of Humanae Vitae and the ban on use of artificial contraceptives as being about protecting the poor in developing countries from neo-Malthusian policies of family planning forced on them by affluent developed nations, who don't want the poor breeding like rabbits. At least, that's Mickens's reading of HV through the optic of Popes Paul VI and Francis in the NCR article linked at the head of the posting.

What this interpretation completely ignores is that people — especially women — in developing nations want access to contraception. They want to be able to limit the size of their families in the same way that women in more affluent parts of the world have long had the freedom to do. As Jamie Manson notes in her article on Glyzelle Palomar that I discussed here several days ago, a 2014 poll conducted by Social Weather Stations showed 84% of Filipinos agreeing with the statement "the government should provide free supply or service to the poor who wish to use any family planning method."

The idea that married couples should have the freedom to limit the size of their families and to employ the best scientific technologies avaialble as they pursue that goal is not some cynical neo-Malthusian population-control notion imposed on developing nations by people in developed countries. It arises as a real aspiration of the people in those nations for a more fulfilling life for themselves and their children.

And these aspirations have been directly countered by the hierarchy of the Catholic church, even as the leaders of the church claim to be serving "pro-life" values. There's something twisted in the extreme about the rhetoric of the Catholic hierarchy, echoed in Mickens's article, that people in poor nations seeking to control their fertility are refusing to be "open to life," and are aided and abetted in that refusal by selfish affluent people who are anti-life.

None of this rhetoric stands any critical scrutiny at all. It's noxious spin. It disguises what can easily be ascertained as Paul VI's real concern when he chose to ignore the teaching of his papal commission on contraception and reconfirm the hierarchical ban on contraception with HV. That real concern was that, if he admitted the papacy might have been wrong about the issue of contraception, people would then begin to conclude that the papacy might be wrong about other issues.

Mickens gives legs to the claim of the Catholic hierarchy that the teaching about contraception is a "hard teaching" that people are ignoring largely because they cannot live up to it. Insofar as Catholic magisterial teaching in the area of human sexuality is based in crude biologistic natural law ideas — as the ban on contraception is — it's not a hard teaching but a wrong teaching.

Catholic people are refusing to abide by this teaching because they realize that it's an erroneous teaching, not a hard one. Ironically, in intending to safeguard the teaching and moral authority of the Catholic magisterium with HV, Paul VI succeeded, instead, in evacuating that authority of any real significance for increasing numbers of people.

And no amount of spin by the current pope or Catholic journalists is going to change that fact — certainly, not cynical spin about how the aspiration to control family size is being imposed on Catholics in poor nations by selfish people in affluent countries. The spin and rhetorical game-playing are only further going to erode people's confidence in the moral authority of the magisterium by making people question, as Jerry Slevin rightly predicts, the intellectual integrity of the current pope.

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