Pope Francis clarified on Wednesday his statement that Catholics should not breed “like rabbits,” explaining that economic injustice was the root cause of poverty, rather than large families, reported Reuters. The clarification came after his remarks about responsible family planning while visiting the Philippines caused an uproar on social media, with some commentators noting that the statement was offensive to people raised in large families.
"I have heard it said that families with many children and the birth of many children are the among the causes of poverty. I think that is a simplistic opinion," Francis said at his weekly audience at the Vatican, according to Reuters. The main cause of poverty is an economic system that places money at its center and creates a “throwaway culture,” not large families, he said.
The controversy around Francis’ initial comments on the issue went beyond the subject of large families. The pontiff’s explicit endorsement of efforts to control family size did not go far enough for some critics, who accuse the Catholic Church of ignoring the need for more access to reproductive health care for women in developing countries. The church currently only approves natural methods of birth control, primarily abstinence from sex during a woman’s peak fertile periods. Francis only reinforced that with his statement that members of the church should be capable of “responsible parenthood,” while reiterating the church’s opposition to artificial methods of birth control.
The staunchly Catholic Philippines, where Francis visited this week, has seen a shift toward more open attitudes regarding sex and contraception, with many now choosing to dismiss the church’s line on the issues. Only a small fraction of women who do not use artificial birth control do so out of religious conviction, according to the Wall Street Journal. Last year, despite fierce opposition from the church, the Supreme Court of the Philippines approved a landmark reproductive health law that cleared the way for the government to start giving thousands of families access to contraception.