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Kenya’s Catholic bishops provoke debate over public health and contraception

Bishop Paul Kariuki of the Diocese of Embu in Kenya. Courtesy photo

NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) — There’s nothing strange about a Roman Catholic bishop in this east African nation calling for an end to the use of contraceptives. But when a bishop here cited Kenya’s acute shortage of priests late last year as a reason to obey the Vatican’s longstanding ban on artificial forms of family planning, he ignited a larger debate about family size and poverty.

“I’m asking Christians to have more children and not to be afraid because of the economy,” Bishop Paul Kariuki told Catholics in November at an ordination ceremony at St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Nembu. “Let us have a large family of three, four, five or even more so that we can have people to serve this country.”

Edwin Wekesa, a 46-year-old plumber and one of Kenya’s 7.5 million Catholics (about one-third of the country), told Religion News Service that the bishop’s teachings about contraception ignore the plight of poorer Kenyans who struggle to make ends meet.

“You have to bear children you can take care of,” said Wekesa, a father of two who lives in Kayole, a slum on the outskirts of Nairobi, the capital. “It’s not a sin to use contraceptives to plan for your family because you need money to feed these children, take them to good schools and provide medical care for them.”

Kenya, in red, located in eastern Africa. Map courtesy of Creative Commons

Bishop Kariuki’s speech has revived a still unsettled controversy the bishops caused two years ago when they fervently opposed the distribution of a tetanus vaccine, claiming the solution was laced with a hormone said to cause infertility in women. The vaccine, they charged, was targeted at women of child-bearing age.

Late last year the bishops also opposed a proposal by government and rights groups to have teenagers use contraceptives. The church instead said pregnancy among minors was a form of child abuse that should be dealt with by law enforcement.

“Agreeing to provide contraceptives only means we have given a go ahead to teenagers to engage in sex, which is against the law,” read a church statement issued at the time. “The use of contraceptives exposes the young ones to long term side effects that could harm their reproductive health.”

Joseph Karanja, chairperson of Catholics for Choice, said the bishops have consistently put church teachings and growth of the Catholic population above public health concerns. “The church here has been in the forefront to encourage huge families and fight government initiatives such as immunization and sex education,” he said. Catholics for Choice has called on the Vatican to suspend the ban on the use of contraceptives altogether.

The church’s concerns about a shortage of priests is real. In May last year, Pope Francis voiced alarm about the acute shortage of priests worldwide, saying numbers were dwindling instead of increasing. The pope said he was ready to see married men especially in isolated communities becoming priests because the church was running short of clergy.

Bishop Philip Anyolo, chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, at St. Joseph Mission Catholic Church during mass on Oct. 17, 2018, in Nairobi, Kenya. RNS photo by Tonny Onyulo

But Bishop Philip Anyolo, the chairman of Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, told Religion News Service that the issue of contraceptive use went beyond the question of the supply of priests.

“The use of contraceptives is against God’s will and has side effects to women’s reproductive health,” Anyolo said. “The issue of children should be left to God to control because he is the one who gives children. We should accept the number of children God gives us.”

Some Catholics agree with the bishop. Mercy Anyango, who is a Catholic and mother of seven, praised the bishop’s message and encouraged other women to stop taking artificial contraceptives, saying Jesus Christ couldn’t have been born had his mother Mary taken contraceptives.

“We are saved and free from sin because of our Lord Jesus Christ,” said Anyango, 48. “Jesus could not have been born if Mary had taken contraceptives. God has plans for every life.”

(This story has been changed from an earlier version, which overstated the number of Catholics in Kenya.)

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Doreen Ajiambo

46 Comments

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  • “I’m asking Christians to have more children and not to be afraid because of the economy,”

    How nice – a “prince of the church” whose every material need is taken care of urging his flock to have as many children as possible, presumably because “God will provide.” Memo to the bishop: God does not provide unlimited funds to people to help them pay for their steady stream of children. As my late father said after Humanæ Vitæ was promulgated in 1968, “the pope’s not paying my bills.”

  • Since these bishop can’t get past their medieval superstitions and mindset, perhaps they should father a few children themselves to help with the shortage of priests. Or perhaps they already have.

  • “Mercy Anyango, who is a Catholic and mother of seven, praised the bishop’s message and encouraged other women to stop taking artificial contraceptives, saying Jesus Christ couldn’t have been born had his mother Mary taken contraceptives.”

    Well, I’m not sure Mercy quite gets the concept of the virgin birth, but okay.

  • Can a Catholic in the audience here list the scriptures supporting the ban – besides Genesis 38. As i read it Onan’s sin was failing to follow the duties of a brother-in-law.

  • Perhaps it would have been clearer had Bishop Anyango said that Jesus Christ could not have been born of Mary had she been sterlized by removal of her womb.

  • She’s not a bishop. She’s identified as a mother. I’m sure she’s a nice person and a faithful Catholic. I just found her comment amusing.

  • This is probably the shortest authoritative statement on the topic of birth control.

    https://w2.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae.html

    There are others before and since, and this one said nothing new.

    The Catholic position rests on three pillars: the purpose of marriage from Scriptures and Natural Law; the nature of the conjugal act as a participation in the creative work of God, primarily from Scriptures; the sanctity of life itself.

    As you can imagine these are also bound up with the Catholic teaching on marriage, and its opposition to abortion.

    The article is misleading. The bishops did not provoke debate over contraception, they responded to a debate.

    Children are considered an asset and a blessing in Kenya, and the Western pro-contraception and abortion mentality has faced tough sledding.

  • Just like it was sheer evil when African bishops told their flocks that it would be a sin to use contraceptives when doing so might have prevented them from contracting HIV.

  • She likely believes that dinosaur fossils were placed in the earth by the devil to confuse modern paleontologists because she believes that the earth and the universe is only 6000 years old.

  • That’s odd. Our priest-starved diocese has hosted good priests from Nigeria. I suppose there may be reasons why priests from there would not be accepted in Kenya? Language barriers, perhaps?

  • are you the Dave Allen comedian? He was Irish…
    Fossils were buried during The Flood 4,350 years ago.
    But if you want to believe they were put into deep holes drilled by little green men in UFOs that’s OK by me.

  • Fossils were buried during The Flood 4,350 years ago.

    That’s a new one! Most young earth crackpots, such as yourself, tell the devil burying them story. There were no dinosaurs 4350 years ago. It’s funny when fundamentalists can’t all get their story straight.

  • Is not a sheep skin condom natural? The RCC would do itself a big favor by re-evaluating all contraceptives as having some basis in nature.

  • Don’t think so. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the universe and our planet are billions of years old. They allow that the 6 creative days are not literal days. They know dinosaurs and man did not coexist. Plus no JW in good standing would post in that rude manner.

  • Also, I think the “priest-exchange (I don’t know official title)” program, is for additional training abroad. Yet, they are very much missionaries to our diocese, in helping us understand more about the Church Universal.

  • On the other hand she rejects “hell fire”, which rules out a Fundamentalist.

    She touts the KJV, but can’t cite it.

    I’m tending towards “mental case”, but am open to other suggestions.

  • Sub-Saharan Africa is seriously overpopulated. For church officials to attack contraception is sheer insanity. Catholics for Choice and its excellent journal Conscience are a good antidote.

  • Clerics who think everyone needs more children should have gotten themselves married and had a bunch. If there is a priest shortage, it is for every reason under the sun EXCEPT a shortage of people who are already alive.

  • To suggest that every single member of any group, religious or otherwise, is evil is ludicrous. That in itself is evil. Repent!

  • As China and Japan are finding, contraception is a double-edged sword.

    “Catholics for Choice” was founded by an ex-Catholic who owned an abortion clinic.

    Whatever the organization has, it does not have Catholics.

  • Ah, Friendly, I was one of 5 children and we learned a lot about life, getting along, love, family, sharing – so much from siblings and from parents who managed it all. One bathroom in a house with 5 teenagers teaches a lot of lessons – patience and saving hot water for the next person come to mind. I treasure my siblings in our old age, the joy of families of nieces and nephews.

    But, family size is much smaller in the current “young” generation of parents. My Dad was one of 12. I was one of 5. No one in the next generation has more than 3 – and that 3 was the surprise of twins in a plan for 2.

    But, I do think that families need to plan when to have children and how many to have. The Church is just crazy wrong on birth control. And this bishop in Kenya is loony if he thinks just having more children means there will be more who want to be priests. There are already hundreds of millions of Catholics – and they can’t find enough priests???????? It isn’t the size of the Catholic population that is the problem.

  • The Washington based Catholics for Choice publishes the excellent quarterly magazine Conscience. Check out CFC on line and you will find it is far better than the nonsense spewed regularly by Mark/Bob, the aspiring Grand Inquisitor. Let me also recommend a book by the eminent Catholic writer Garry Wills, Head and Heart: A History of Christianity in America. Wills criticizes Pope Paul VI for ignoring the advice of the vast majority of his own advisers and condemning contraception.Wills scorns the Vatican’s position on abortion and agrees with the consensus of scientists (and me) that a fetus does not become “a human person” until it has a functioning brain, which “is not present in the fetus until the end of the sixth month at the earliest.”

    As for China, its overpopulation led to its “one child per couple” policy. That put its population a bit out of balance, but they had no choice. Our planet cannot sustain the population we have now at a decent level. Without contraception and abortion we would already top a totally unsustainable 10 billion.

  • I’m glad you have enjoyed your large family. More power to those who want to do it and who can do it—-and for whom things work out reasonably well. I’m also glad we agree that Religion should not be leaning on people to run the considerable risks involved with having too many children, risks that more and more people are reasonably (REASONABLY) scared of.

  • The RCC would do itself a big favor by re-evaluating all contraceptives as having some basis in nature.
    see more

  • “Catholics for Choice” has a number of things, not among them being any actual Catholics.

    China’s policy is now bearing dire consequences. It has a rapidly aging population and no one to take care of them.

    We have heard that “(o)ur planet cannot sustain the population we have now at a decent level.” for hundreds of years.

    Technology has continually raced ahead of gloomy predictions.

    At your age if you were concerned about population you’d get your affairs in order and toddle off. The fact that you don’t says this another case of “Do what I say, not what I do.”

  • If Nark/Bob would read the publications of the National Catholic Educational Association he would find that a great many teachers in Catholic schools do not adhere to church doctrine.

    Re climate change, Mark/Bob thumbs his nose at today’s scientific consensus. And he seems to be proud of his ageism.

    And he is afraid to take on Catholic writer Garry Wills.

  • No one for a moment does anyone doubt that many people who call themselves “Catholic” are not Catholic.

    There once was a scientific consensus for cold-blooded dinosaurs. Within the last twenty years global cooling was touted to be the Thing To Be Feared, and there is some indication it may yet be:

    https://www{DOT}americanthinker.com/articles/2018/10/why_some_scientists_say_global_warming_is_out_and_global_cooling_is_in.html

    “These must be trying times for Garry Wills. In 2001, he wrote a book blasting the papacy, Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit. But ordinary Catholics did not take up Wills’ call to turn St. Peter’s into a Congregationalist meeting house. Instead, when John Paul II died in 2005, some 5,000,000 people came to Rome to mourn the great Polish pope, and his funeral was, by some estimates, the most watched event in history. The papacy is an institution that matters, as even a hostile secular press knows. But Wills’ disdain for the papacy is understandable, since it has been instrumental in thwarting Wills’ hope of transforming the Catholic Church into another liberal Protestant denomination.”

    https://www{DOT}crisismagazine.com/2013/the-strange-world-of-garry-wills

  • “I’m asking Christians to have more children and not to be afraid because of the economy,” Bishop Paul Kariuki told Catholics….”
    ” Let us have a large family of three, four, five or even more so that we can have people to serve this country.”

    According to HHS, in 2012 some 21,000,000 fetuses worldwide suffered miscarriage and died.

    According to UNICEF – About 29,000 children under the age of five die every day ( 5 a minute ) mostly in the 3rd world.

    Have these children ” fulfilled ” God’s reason for their being born ?

    Why does ” God ” allow these children and their families to suffer this horror ?

    Why does God so torture and prolong the death of so many who are suffering so horribly – especially the children ?

    Because He isn’t the warm and loving God Christians believe Him to be ?


  • The church’s concerns about a shortage of priests is real. In May last year, Pope Francis voiced alarm about the acute shortage of priests
    worldwide, saying numbers were dwindling instead of increasing.”

    Telling – isn’t it….

  • Given your mouth, warm and loving God or not few would want to be in your shoes when the bus, truck, or car takes your trash out.

  • Readers will find Garry Wills a better representative of thinking Catholics than Mark/Bob the aspiring Grand Inquisitor.

    And Mark/Bob curtly disdains the very solid science consensus on climate change. He evidently does not give a hoot about the futurfe of our planet.

  • Catholic readers will find Garry Wills to be an anti-Catholic, like Edd himself.

    Edd is no scientist, but he does know what propaganda spins his propeller.

    https://www{DOT}foxnews.com/science/error-in-major-climate-study-revealed-warming-not-higher-than-expected

  • Miscarriages are Nature’s way of preventing birth defects. An all-knowing god would have not allowed it to happen in the first place. Ditto for the children who die from malnutrition although UNICEF’s data are suspect and smell of errors to continue the charity money-grab.

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