In Brief

Pontiff passion killer: why Italians have less sex when the Pope’s in town

New study reveals drop in unintended pregnancies following papal visits

Visits by the Pope create high levels of excitement among Italy’s Catholics - but not of the sexual kind, according to academics.

Economists at Queen’s University Belfast “concluded that the Pope is a passion killer” after studying medical records for Italian towns that had welcomed John Paul II or Benedict XVI on 129 separate occasions between 1979 and 2012, says The Times.

The data shows that while there was no rise in the number of births, abortion rates fell by between 10% and 20% from the third month after the visit up until around the 14th month.

Or as the academics say in a paper in the Journal of Population Economics, “papal visits induce a reduction in unintended pregnancies that starts around the time of the visits and persists for almost one year”. 

Explaining the possible reasons for this drop, study co-author Egidio Farina said: “Some couples might decide that contraception is the ‘lesser of two evils’, to prevent the moral dilemma attached to abortion.” 

But “since the Catholic Church has traditionally opposed contraception, increased abstinence seems a more plausible option”, he continues.

The drop in abortion rates was higher following visits when the Pope had specifically mentioned the evils of abortion.

The study also found that women were more likely to attend church for three months after the Pope passed through their town - but that there was no such increase in male worshippers.

What are Catholicism’s rules for sex?

Catholics believe that sex has the fundamental purpose of procreation, with the Church teaching that “it is a grave sin to deliberately separate sexuality from procreation”, says the National Catholic Register.

In 1968, Pope Paul VI said in his encyclical Humanae Vitae that contraception was “intrinsically wrong”, a message that was repeated in July 2018 by the head of the Vatican Commission.

However, many Catholics ignore the teaching. A 2014 poll found that large majorities of self-indentified Catholics in the Church’s strongholds support the use of contraception, with 93% in favour in Brazil, 84% in Italy and 68% in the Philippines, reports The Wall Street Journal.

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