Updated: October 15, 2014 04:44 PM GMT
A health worker (out of frame) shows an intrauterine device (IUD) to mothers at the Likhaan Center for Women's Health in the Baseco slum in Manila (AFP Photo/Jay Directo)
While most members of the media spent this week perseverating on what the synod's midterm progress report actually means for cohabitating, civilly married or same-sex couples, few apparently noticed that the Synod fathers also had something to say about contraception.
Since few commentators seemed to think that paragraphs 53 and 54 of the report were worth mentioning, those sections bear repeating here:
53. It is not difficult to notice the spread of a mentality that reduces the generation of life to a variable of an individual's or a couple's plans. Economic factors sometimes have enough weight to contribute to the sharp drop in the birthrate which weakens the social fabric, compromising the relationship between generations and rendering the view of the future less certain. Being open to life is an intrinsic requirement of married love.
54. Probably here as well what is required is a realistic language that is able to start from listening to people and acknowledging the beauty and truth of an unconditional opening to life as that which human life requires to be lived to its fullest. It is on this base that we can rest an appropriate teaching regarding natural methods, which allow the living in a harmonious and aware way of the communication between spouses, in all its dimensions, along with generative responsibility. In this light, we should go back to the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Paul VI, which underlines the need to respect the dignity of the person in the moral evaluation of the methods of birth control.
That these paragraphs did not garner greater attention is tragic, especially among Catholics invested in social justice issues and the plight of the poor.
The Synod fathers claim to be concerned about a declining birth rate. While it is true that there is a decline in countries like Germany, Japan, Brazil and Russia, in sub-Saharan Africa, the population is soaring. In Niger, Mali, Somalia, Uganda, and Burkina Faso, the average number of births per woman is six or higher.
Concerns over contraception are not limited, of course, to the continent of Africa. The Catholic church in the Philippines spent 10 years in the Supreme Court blocking the implementation of a state-sponsored reproductive health bill. Although 82 percent of Filipinos say that "the choice of a family planning method is a personal choice of couples and no one should interfere with it," the Filipino hierarchy pressed on until a modified and more limited version of the law went into effect earlier this year.
Yet in all of the interviews I've seen with Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila (a darling of some Catholic progressives) at the synod, I have not seen any reporter question him about contraception, the swelling population crisis in the Philippines, or the fact that Catholic Filipino families want access to contraception so they can feed their children and give them access to education.
For the global poor, access to contraception can mean the difference between starvation and nourishment, poverty and stability, illness and health, death and life. Few issues are more crucial to the fate of poor families around the world.
It seems to be inherent in human nature: If an issue isn't affecting us directly, it's harder to become impassioned about it. Sometimes even the most well-meaning progressives can get caught up in their tight circle of concerns and cannot see beyond their own privilege. On the issue of contraception, that needs to change, especially as the Synod of Bishops on the family develops over the next two years.
Jamie L. Manson is NCR books editor. She received her Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School, where she studied Catholic theology and sexual ethics.
Source: National Catholic Reporter
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