The Holy Father Francis sent a message to the participants in the WOOMB International Congress on Natural Family Planning, held at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome on April 28-29, 2023.
The Congress met on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the proposal of the Billings Ovulation Method. The World Organization of the Billings Ovulation Method was established in 1953 following the clinical studies of Australian Doctors John and Evelyn Billings. Father Maurice Catarinich, marriage guidance counsellor of Melbourne, asked Dr John Billings’ help for married couples who had a serious reason to avoid a pregnancy and who wanted to respect Catholic moral doctrine.
Pope Francis points out that contraception, as a widespread practice, has impoverished societies, to the point that some countries run the danger of demographic collapse. Basically, many people separate the sexuality of conception, giving priority to pleasure and relegate the birth of new children to economic and material calculations. In fact, in many cases, procreation is seen as an evil.
The Pope proposes a serious and necessary education. “We live in a world dominated by a relativist and banal vision of human sexuality. Needed, instead, is an anthropological and ethical look, in which there is further reflection on doctrinal questions, without undue simplifications or rigid closures. In particular, it is appropriate to always keep present the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative meaning of the conjugal act” (cf. Saint Paul VI, Encyclical Humanae Vitae, 12).
Pope Francis’ statements will inevitably disappoint those that reject the teaching of Pope Paul VI in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, and hoped they would be somewhat backed, as he reiterates the Church’s moral doctrine on this aspect of marriage and the teaching of Popes Pius XI and Pius XII, an emphasizes the need to follow a natural contraception.
Pope Francis recalls Saint Paul VI’s request to scientists to discover new and effective ways to regulate fertility that respect the Natural Law and the moral principles of openness to procreation.
It’s important to recall that, according to the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, the use of natural planning methods cannot happen for just any reason: “If serious reasons exist to space births, stemming from physical or psychological conditions of the spouses, or of exterior circumstances, the Church teaches that it is then licit to take into account the immanent natural rhythms of the generating functions to make use of marriage only in infertile periods and thus regulate birth without offending the moral principles we have just recalled” (Humanae Vitae 16).
Pope Francis adds: “In the second half of the last century, while pharmacological research was extending to control fertility and the contraceptive culture increased, John and Evelyn Billings carried out careful scientific research and developed a simple method, accessible to women and to couples, for natural knowledge of fertility, offering them a valuable instrument for the responsible management of procreative options.”
In a society where hedonism and individualism prevail, the Holy Father stresses the tested effectiveness of the Billings Method and stimulates “a serious reflection” on “the need to educate on the value of the human body, an integrated and integral vision of human sexuality, the capacity to appreciate the fecundity of love even when it is not fertile, the building of a culture that accepts life and the ways to address the problem of demographic collapse.”
“At the root of the present demographic crisis lies, together with different social and cultural factors, an unbalance in the vision of sexuality.”
The Pontiff’s accent on human sexuality and the contraceptive culture lies in education in human values and in the virtues. The dominant pragmatic mentality reduces the solution of human needs to statistics and physical or chemical science, to information, forgetting that the human being is not a robot that acts according to logarithms or plans, but a free being with a will, which is also weak and limited, which triumphs when it reinforces his interior talents above material resources. There is a “connection between sexuality and every person’s fundamental vocation, the gift of oneself, which finds its particular realization in conjugal and family love.”
Pope Francis took advantage of the message to the Congress to condemn the manipulation of embryos and surrogate motherhood. “Today, the ideological and practical separation of the sexual relationship of its generative potential, has given room to the search for alternative ways of having a child, no longer through conjugal relations, but through the use of artificial processes. However, although it is appropriate to help and support the legitimate desire to conceive with the most advanced scientific knowledge and technologies that can improve fertility, it is an error to create test tube embryos to then do away with them, to trade in gametes and to take recourse to the practice of surrogate motherhood.”