by Victor Kuijpens

Dear Holy Father,

Having followed your first papal appearance from Africa, I was happy to see a South-American successor to Saint Peter. We wished for a black pope, but anyone from the global south is welcome. From what the newspapers say, you have a strong reputation in poverty reduction in Buenos Aires, and you are attached to humbleness and social justice. Naming yourself after Francis of Assisi has reinforced the impression that you are attached to the principle of loving thy neighbor, especially the poor. However, I’m concerned about your position towards the more worldly forms of love.

According to you, this love should not be practiced with contraception. Your opposition to birth control and sexual disease prevention has kept the HIV epidemic and demographic expansion of the world’s poor intact. In Benin, the neat 5.4% economic growth in 2012 was largely offset by the 3.25% population increase. This means that the actual effective economic development is stagnant, leaving the environmental burden, migration streams and social consequences aside. One of the main causes is that contraceptives are available only to 6% of the population, while an estimated 30% of the population would like to have them. Development organizations are increasingly addressing this problem, issuing contraceptives, improving reproductive health education and discussing these sensitive issues with youths. However, they face a powerful obstacle.

Religion is an important factor in the lives of most Africans and your church’s message is therefore instrumental. This is equally true in international forums such as the UN, where the Holy See has used its observer status to frustrate numerous family planning resolutions. Using its moral authority and diplomatic network, its strict stance allows conservative states to vote against any progressive resolution. Most illustrious was its role at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, where it hijacked the debate by reinterpreting reproductive health as an international right to abortion, calling the U.S. position ‘biological colonialism’ and making quid-pro-quo deals with Qaddafi’s Libya in order to canvas a pro-life coalition. While, the Church has changed its wording and tactics, its main position has mostly remained stubborn.

Your solution to the problem is to change the ethics of our presumably corrupted and egoistic society. We should either abstain from having sexual relations, or bind ourselves to one lifelong partner. Abstinence has however often proved a recipe for stress, hastened marriages and increasing sexual violence. Secondly, it is simply not plausible that everyone can commit to it in a culture in which polygamy is prevalent. Faithful monogamy can of course be a safe and beautiful solution if lovers are given the chance to choose who and when to wed or divorce, but this is often not the case.

So while your Church views contraception as anti-life, I would like to argue that it is pro-life and perfectly sane. Having confessed these worries to Your Holiness, I pray you for the sake of St. Francis, to work on a new Church doctrine on love.

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