Penny Mourdant. Credit: Daniel Leal-Olivas/Afp via Telegraph

During a meeting at the Vatican with Archbishop Vicenzo Paglia and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Britain’s International Development secretary Penny Mordaunt “told the Pope to relax the Catholic Church’s strict ban on the use of contraception,” reports The Telegraph.

The minister cited “the tragedy of 800 girls and women unnecessarily losing their lives every day through pregnancy or childbirth complications,” especially in relation to Africa, and added: “It is crucial we engage with faith leaders to help us challenge deeply held beliefs and attitudes.”

Perhaps it is Ms Mordaunt who should be engaged with in order to challenge deeply held beliefs that birth control is the answer to poverty. There is also the matter of caring attitudes that have led to nine million abortions in the UK, and maternal and infant mortality rates lagging behind the rest of the developed world.

Perhaps, too, she should be challenged on why birth control (including abortion) is becoming the top priority in our international aid budget when the poor women and girls that she claims to speak for do not even have access to ante-natal and maternity care – or to any health care at all, in many cases. And this at a time when in some hospitals our own health services seem to have been operating a death service.

It is certainly interesting that the Catholic Church, widely held by progressive opinion to be dying, and its tenets widely ignored, is suddenly regarded as a powerful and effective force for change.

It is interesting, too, that this sudden interest in changing the Church’s teaching on birth control should come on the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae. Reviled for its rejection of artificial birth control, 50 years before the #MeToo campaign it has proved prophetic in warning of the negative effects of the contraceptive mentally, especially on women.

The papal instruction warned of an increase in infidelity, a “general lowering of morality” throughout society, and that men would cease to respect women, treating them as “mere instruments of selfish enjoyment” rather than as esteemed partners. Most significantly, it warned that unscrupulous governments would use contraception as a weapon against the weak and marginalized.

Less than a decade later, Indira Gandhi thought contraception too slow and ordered mass sterilisation – a method still in use in some parts of India.

The British Government lectures the papacy on health care, when the Catholic Church pioneered hospice care and is the largest non-government health care provider in the world, with 18,000 clinics, 16,000 homes for the elderly and those with special needs, and 5,500 hospitals, 65 per  cent of which are located in poor countries.

One thing that Humanae Vitae did not mention, and the Government might be reluctant to admit, is that their “rational” approach to sex has succeeded in one important respect: removing natural limits to sex has made it boring, fuelling the quest for more interesting variations and umpteen different “sexualities”.

The only way to make sex special again is to rebuild the fences around it, and devote our energies to promoting true love, especially love for our fellow human beings. Hopefully the Vatican offered Ms Mordaunt a copy of Humanae Vitae to aid in this vital educational project.

Ann Farmer lives in the UK. She is the author of By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control, and the Abortion Campaign (CUAP, 2008); The Language of Life: Christians Facing the Abortion Challenge (St Pauls, 1995), and Prophets & Priests: the Hidden Face of the Birth Control Movement (St Austin Press, 2002).

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is a New Zealand journalist with a special interest in family issues. She began her working life as a secondary school teacher but always fancied the life of the scribe. Too late, she...