A British minister has called on the Church to permit artificial contraception after a meeting with senior Vatican officials last week.
Penny Mordaunt, the International Development Secretary, said 800 girls and women lose their lives every day due to pregnancy and childbirth complications, and claimed that wider access to contraception would help alleviate the problem.
Faith leaders should help change “deeply held beliefs and attitudes” in order to allow women greater access to “reproductive healthcare”, she said.
Ms Mordaunt disclosed her words to the Daily Telegraph after meeting Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.
She told the newspaper: “Child marriage, and a lack of control over their own bodies or access to reproductive healthcare including contraception means many girls have no hope of completing an education.
“It is crucial we engage with faith leaders to help us challenge deeply held beliefs and attitudes.
“The Catholic Church can help us in that and my appeal to them was to help us save lives, especially of young mothers.
“As we work with African leaders to help them build their nation’s it is vital that family planning is part of that plan. It will save lives and huge suffering.”
Her comments coincide with the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s encyclical that restated the Church’s teaching, saying artificial contraception is intrinsically wrong.
Last month, 500 British priests signed a letter endorsing the encyclical. “Many found the teaching that the use of contraception was in all cases ‘absolutely excluded’ and ‘intrinsically wrong’ difficult to accept and challenging to proclaim,” the letter said. “Fifty years later so much has unfolded in our society that has been to the detriment of human life and love. Many have come to appreciate again the wisdom of the Church’s teaching.”
Ms Mordaunt’s comments will raise fears of government interference in Church teaching. Last summer Justine Greening, then Education Secretary, said major faiths should “keep up with modern attitudes” on same-sex marriage.
“It is important that the church, in a way, keeps up and is part of a modern country,” she said.