ROME - Pope Francis appealed Monday for responsible parenting and said that good Catholics should not have to breed "like rabbits".
The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics said he defends the Church's teaching against artificial contraception but claimed that didn't mean "Christians should have children one after the other."
He told journalists on his flight back from his visit to the Philippines that he once asked a mother of seven children -- all born through caesarian section -- who was pregnant with her eighth if she wanted to "leave behind seven young orphans".
"She said, 'I trust in God.' But God gave us the means to be responsible," the pope said.
"Some think, and excuse the term, that to be good Catholics, they must be like rabbits."
Francis said creating new life was "part of the sacrament of marriage" and in Manila had strongly defended his predecessor Paul VI's outlawing of artificial contraception for Catholics in 1968.
"Paul VI was worried by the growth of neo-Malthusianism" (which advocates restricting the number of children the poor can have) which tried "put a control on humanity... he was a prophet," he said.
"The key teaching of the Church is responsible parenthood. And how do we get that? By dialogue. There are marriage groups in the Church, experts and pastors," he added.