Pope Francis greets children who attended the General Audience at the Vatican on Wednesday (Photo by Roi Lagarde)
Large families are a “gift from God”, Pope Francis said Wednesday, days after making waves by urging Catholics not to breed "like rabbits”.
The pontiff’s comments in Rome seem to backtrack on a statement he made earlier this week when he urged the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics to practice responsible parenthood.
"I have heard it said that families with many children and the birth of many children are among the causes of poverty. I think that is a simplistic opinion," said Francis during his weekly General Audience at the Vatican.
The pontiff, who returned from a five-day visit to the Philippines on Monday, hailed big Filipino families “who welcome children as a gift from God” as “a reason for consolation and hope”.
“[Filipinos] know that every child is a blessing,” he told some 7,000 people who attended the General Audience.
Francis said the blame for poverty should not fall on overpopulation, but on an economic system that “creates the throwaway culture that we live in today”.
“We have become used to seeing people who have been discarded. This is the main reason for poverty, and not numerous families,” the pontiff said.
On Monday, the pope told reporters that the Church’s teachings against artificial contraception did not mean that “Christians should have children one after the other”.
"I believe that three children per family … is the key number for sustaining the population," the pontiff said.
“Some believe that — excuse the expression — to be good Catholics we must be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood.”
Catholic teaching prohibits the use of artificial contraception but allows the use of the so-called rhythm method, where couples avoid unwanted pregnancy by planning sex on days during the woman's menstrual cycle on which she is less likely to conceive.
Francis's comments had particular resonance in the Philippines, where large families are seen by some as perpetuating and exacerbating poverty levels which act as a restraint on development.
The Church claims more than 80 percent of the country's 100 million as its followers and it waged a 15-year battle to block a family planning law. The law was finally introduced last year, allowing the state to distribute free contraceptives.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines on Wednesday issued a clarification of the pope’s statement, saying that the pontiff did not make “the rather unseemly remark that Catholics breed like rabbits”.
“What the pope did say was that some Catholics mistakenly believe that to be Catholic, we ought to breed like rabbits,” Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the bishops’ conference, said in a statement sent to media.
He said the point of Francis’ statement is that the Church has always taught that it is a Catholic obligation to be responsible about parenthood.
“Births should be planned rationally by both parents who must always remain open to new life, but who must also take into consideration their physical, financial and emotional capacity to raise children,” Villegas added.
Additional reporting by AFP