The following comes from a September 28 California Magazine article by Krissy Eliot:
As Pope Francis ended his widely hailed U.S. visit yesterday and flew home, he left behind at least one disappointed American: UC Berkeley professor of public health Malcolm Potts.
Once again the Pope ignored the urging of family planning advocates such as Potts, who has repeatedly—and most recently in a letter to the editor of The New York Times—called on the Pope to resolve turmoil in the Catholic Church over its opposition to married priests and its condemnation of contraception. And he said the Pope could do so by making one simple statement: “I reject the teaching of St. Augustine that sexual intercourse transmits original sin.”
A millennium and half ago, St. Augustine—who wrote of his struggles with lust—declared that the primary purpose of sex and marriage was the procreation of children. Such thinking has permeated church doctrine ever since. By 1968, after the introduction of The Pill and other artificial methods of contraception, most U.S. Catholics believed that the church would drop its ban on contraception. But Pope Paul VI instead reiterated Augustine’s beliefs with the encyclical Humanae Vitae.
Potts suggests that the requirement that priests be celibate explains why it’s so difficult to recruit priests today, and that the prohibition against artificial birth control helps explain why so many U.S. parishioners have left the church. The most recent Gallup Survey on the subject found that not only do 89 percent of Americans say they believe birth control to be morally acceptable, but so do 82 percent of U.S. Catholics.
Noting that he is “known around campus as the professor with the condom ties, ” Potts also contends that refusing contraceptive options unfairly robs a woman of her autonomy. “The definition of a slave is someone who can’t control their body,” he says. “If you can’t separate sex from childbirth, you can’t control what happens in your life.”
Aside from statistical evidence that access to family planning can solve other societal problems, Potts notes that sex is not just about babies. “Most humans have sex because they love each other. And to suggest that that transmits original sin … is really a horrible teaching,” he says.
Asked why, given his arguments about female autonomy, he has not included an appeal to the pontiff for the Catholic Church to abandon its moral prohibition of abortion, Potts draws a distinction. “Abortion is a different set of decisions. As a person who has performed abortions, I respect people who have a different opinion on that,” he says. “I don’t respect people who have a different opinion on contraception. That’s crazy.”
And although he is not Catholic, he nonetheless says he knows enough about Catholicism to understand that acceptance of abortion probably won’t change in the next 50 years, if ever. The prospects seem greater for swaying official church views on birth control—eventually.