WHEN the Pope confronted the sensitive issue of birth control in India, the second most populous nation on earth, he did not cite Church teaching.
Instead, he quoted from the works of Mahatma Gandhi, the late Hindu philosopher and activist who is known as the “father of the country” in India.
“Moral results can only be produced by moral restraints,” the Pope said, quoting Gandhi’s writings.
“This, … is the Church’s profound conviction,” the Pope said at a Mass for families in Bombay’s Shivaji Park, where 20,000 people gathered.
Like Gandhi, the Church believes that children must be limited, “not by immoral and artificial checks, but by a life of discipline and self-control,” the Pope said, quoting the Indian independence leader.
The 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae” condemned artificial means of birth control, but allowed for natural methods that rely on self-control.
The Pope’s talk Feb 9 was typical of his diplomatic approach to Church-State problems during his India visit.
The government promotes birth control, sterilisation and abortion.
“It is the role of the family everywhere and of all society to proclaim that all human life is sacred from the moment of conception,” the Pope said, referring to abortion. He did not explicitly mention the government’s policy.
“The Pope is speaking to the conscience of the Christian family here, not to government leaders,” said a Vatican official who asked not to be identified. He said the Church does not consider India’s current birth control efforts a major problem.
In the 1970s the Church protested the forced sterilisations that occured in many areas of India. That policy has disappeared, but birth control promotion is evident throughout the country.
The day after the Pope landed in New Delhi at the beginning of his trip, a local newspaper published a photograph of him kissing the airport tarmac. Next to it was a two-column ad for “safe” and “friendly” abortions.
In several of the cities where the Pope has stayed, large billboards advertise various methods of contraception. Each had the upside-down red triangle that is the symbol of India’s population control programme.
The Catholic News, Sunday, Mar 2, 1986