Papal exchanges on long distance flights have certain reporters salivating. Ever since the Holy Father’s famous remark, “Who am I to judge?” (taken out of context), uttered in the summer of 2013 on the way back to Rome from World Youth Day in Rio, reporters have waited anxiously as the Pope pushes aside the plane’s curtain and reaches for a microphone. His return trip from Asia on January 19 was no exception.
Once again antsy reporters were rewarded with another “sensational” (to them) sound-bite ready for top-billing in their newspapers and blogs. This time the clever chaps almost presented their findings as though they comprised a new Commandment: “Thou shalt not reproduce like rabbits.”
An English language Google search of “Pope Francis, rabbits” came up with 9.5 million results. A similar Italian language request turned up only 598,000—but with the correct context of the word. After all, the Pope was speaking in Italian. As reporters can attest, the Pope speaks mostly good Italian given his first- generation Italo-Argentinian upbringing. The remarks were part of a rather erudite discourse on population matters that commenced with praise for the wisdom and foresight of Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” and contrasted that with efforts to impose alien anti-life concepts on the poor of the world.
About the rabbits: Pope Francis was elaborating on his address to families in Manila on January 16, when he referred to the attempted imposition on poor countries of alien practices by donors of foreign assistance as a form of “ideological colonization.” Such conditionality usually includes forced adoption of family planning, contraception, and abortion—all population-control measures. To the Holy Father these attempts represent a new form of colonialism.
On the plane he went on to observe that global population has trended downwards for years and cited examples of low birth rates in such countries as Spain and Italy, describing the trend as “universal neomalthusian.” Having listened to the video in Italian, actually the Pope went on to say this: “Some believe, pardon my use of the word, that to be good Catholics we should be like rabbits. No.”
This is a far cry from “breeding like rabbits” which the English language reporters incorporated into their sensational headlines. Once again the Holy Father, taken out of context and with altered language, has been betrayed. All but ignored by the Anglo press was what the Holy Father said after his rabbit remark. He advocated for “responsible parenthood” and “paternal and maternal responsibility” to correct the demographic disequilibrium. In his concluding remarks on the subject he reminded the reporters—and would-be colonizers—that “for the poorest people a child is a treasure.”
*Vincenzina Santoro is an international economist. She represents the American Family Association of New York at the United Nations.