Last week, a Huffington Post headline stung: “Dear Pope Francis: Saving the World Requires Contraception.” I clicked it anyway, to find an open letter to the Vicar of Christ.
It is written by John Seager, president of the Population Connection Action Fund, who — like lots of non- and nominal Catholics — is disturbed by the Catholic Church’s proscription of contraception. I — a proponent of all the Church’s teachings — at first was disturbed by what he wrote:
That contraception, for instance, provides people with healthy sex lives. That the pope has a responsibility to ensure that Catholics have the tools to reduce their “carbon output,” including contraception. That 90 percent of the unintended pregnancies in the Philippines “are the result of a lack of modern contraception.”
My heart pounded and ached, because Seager’s letter was a disappointing reminder of the widespread presumption that people can’t not have sex.
So to borrow a few of your own words, Seager, “Don’t get me wrong. You seem like a sincere, congenial man,” and I admire your impassioned desire to combat climate change. But while the pope’s defense of the Church’s teaching on contraception boggles your mind, what you wrote is starting to warm my heart.
You urged Pope Francis to toss the Church’s ban on contraception, because if he did, you said, unintended pregnancies would drop, population growth would decelerate and as a result, the planet would be spared further effects of climate change.
And I get it, because the planet’s dying with the people in it, and you care, and I like that you care. And while you ask the pope to toss what the Church teaches, I think of Christ on the cross, who while bleeding and barely breathing spoke to God: “…They know not what they do.”
Today, you give me a reason to hope.
You see, Seager, you are asking the Church for help to undo the damage done by the world’s refusal to follow its instructions. You are sharing your deepest concerns, your worst aches, and your sincerest fears with Her.
You don’t acknowledge that the damage done could have been prevented if only we had practiced the chastity She always has taught us to practice. However, by reaching out to the pope, you implicitly express to the Church what I don’t think you know you express:
You’re starting to trust Her.
You admit, by asking Pope Francis to reject a Church teaching, that you believe the Church can impact the planet. That you believe the Church can make the world a better place. And you think She has to change in order to do it. But I want you to know that in order for what the Church teaches to help save the world, the Church does not need to change.
You are asking the pope to lift the Church’s ban on contraception because you have observed that without contraception, today’s classic human behavior isn’t sustainable. You are asking the Church to change so that people don’t have to. But you have not, to my knowledge, considered that today’s classic human behavior is not sustainable because it isn’t supposed to be.
That’s part of the Church’s point. That’s always been part of the Church’s point. How many people have spent all of their time, energy, and money searching for ways to make sustainable what isn’t, without ever even trying what the Church teaches?
Yes, what the Church teaches will royally disrupt life as most people know it. But if you are serious about saving the world, you must acknowledge that most people’s lives need a royal disruption, that the problems you hope to solve are perpetuated by the rejection of the teachings you want the Church to toss, that the planet is not in the shape it’s in because of what the Church teaches, but because the world has ignored what it teaches, that contraception will never save the world because conception isn’t destroying it.
You warned Pope Francis: “You simply must end your proscription of modern birth control.”
But Flannery O’ Connor reminds us:
“The Church’s stand on birth control is the most absolutely spiritual of all her stands and with all of us being materialists at heart, there is little wonder that it causes unease. I wish various fathers would quit trying to defend it by saying that the world can support 40 billion. I will rejoice the day when they say: This is right whether we all rot on top of each other or not, dear children, as we certainly may. Either practice restraint or be prepared for crowding…“
I believe Pope Francis would agree — the pope, you wrote, on whom the world is depending. I’m so glad, Seager, that you are asking the Church for help. That you are aware of the need for change. You have gotten the Church’s attention (or, at least, the percentage of it that I follow on Twitter). But I ask you now to give Her yours.