Pope Francis’ remark about Catholics breeding like rabbits is a joy.
Just when I reach the point of indifference and exhaustion with religion reporting, the pope breathes life into journalism. He makes me laugh. What a grand fellow he is, and a misunderstood one.
The casual comment given to the press during his flight home from Manila has sparked great press interest. One might have heard the rabbit remark from Ian Paisley and other hard-nosed Protestants a generation ago. Today such comments are heard in the last bastions of anti-Catholic prejudice: the faculty lounge and press room.
Reuters has a nicely written report on Francis and rabbits, which summarizes the story and the difficulties of reporting on Pope Francis. He combines high and low culture in his comments, mixing pastoral and theological categories, church and secular language. The problem for reporters is discerning into which category to place his words.
The Reuters piece begins:
ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) -- Catholics should not feel they have to breed "like rabbits" because of the Church's ban on contraception, Pope Francis said on Monday, suggesting approved natural family planning methods.
Francis used the unusually frank language during an hour-long news conference on the plane from Manila to Rome at the end of his week-long Asia trip. The freewheeling encounters have become a hallmark of Francis's simple style, his penchant for straight talk and his ease at using colloquialisms to make his point.
This is a well written lede. It provides the news hook of the rabbit quote with the context of Francis’ ambivalent language. The core of the story follows in these paragraphs.
Francis spoke at length about birth control and population, issues that arose in the Philippines, where the local Church opposes a government law making contraceptives easily available. "Some think, excuse me if I use the word, that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits - but no," he said, adding the Church promoted "responsible parenthood".
He mentioned a woman he recently met who already had seven children by caesarean sections and put her life at risk by becoming pregnant again. He said he chided her for "tempting God" and added: "That was an irresponsibility."
Reuters was correct in characterizing the pope’s comments as “unusually frank”, which can be code words for “what was he thinking when he said this?” And, Reuters also sought to give Francis the benefit of the doubt, explaining that this was a “hallmark” of his style – using “colloquialisms” mixed with Catholic code words to drive his point home.
The fun continued with the second-day stories. My favorite comes from the Daily Telegraph. German rabbit breeders are up in arms, it writes, saying the pope’s comments are a slur against rabbits, whom they claim do not have a rampant sex drive and do not breed like Catholics.
When I read the pope’s account, my mind oscillated between images from high and low culture; Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny and Titian.
Continue reading "Madonna and the rabbit" by George Conger.