Pope Francis was surprised that his words on responsible parenthood were not widely taken in the sense that he intended them, a Vatican official related in an interview on Thursday.

Archbishop Giovanni Becciu, Substitute at the Secretariat of State, also told Avvenire, the Italian bishops' publication, on Jan. 22 that the Pope was saddened at the misunderstanding.

"The Pope is truly sorry that it created such disorientation. He absolutely did not want to disregard the beauty and the value of large families," Archbishop Becciu stated.

"Seeing the headlines, the Holy Father, with whom I spoke yesterday, smiled and was a bit surprised that his words were not fully contextualized with regards to a very clear passage of Humanae vitae on responsible parenthood," Archbishop Becciu stated.

Bl. Paul VI's 1968 encyclical on the regulation of birth said that "responsible parenthood, as we use the term here, has one further essential aspect of paramount importance. It concerns the objective moral order which was established by God, and of which a right conscience is the true interpreter. In a word, the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society."

In the in-flight press conference back from Manila Jan. 19, Pope Francis said, "some think that -- excuse the language -- that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits," an stressed that it was instead important to exercise "responsible parenthood."

Archbishop Becciu said the Pope's statement "must be interpreted in the sense that the procreative act of humans cannot follow the logic of the animal instict, but it is instead the fruit of a responsible act that is rooted in love and in the mutual gift of the self."

He then lamented that "unfortunately, very often the contemporary culture tends to diminish the authentic beauty and high value of conjugal love, with all the negative consequences that follow."

During the press conference, Pope Francis had also said he is saddened when people say three children per family is too much, citing that three children per couple "is the number experts say is important to keep the population going."

Many interpreted this as a proclamation as a normative number of children for each Christian couple, but Archbishop Becciu dismissed this interpretation.

"The number three only refers to the minimum number that would assure the stability of population, as indicated by sociologists and demographers. In no way did the Pope want to say that it represented the 'just''number of children for each married couple," Archbishop Becciu said.

He then explained that "every Christian couple, in light of grace, is called to discern according to a variety of divine and human parameters the number of children they should have."

The archbishop said the correct interpretation of Pope Francis' words comes from the teaching of Bl. Paul VI and from the ancient tradition of the Church, which Pius XI's 1930 encyclical Casti connubii reiterated: that "even if the unitive and procreative aspects of the sexual act must never be separated," the act "must always be included in the logic of love" with regard to the "capacity of each person to open to the mystery of the gift of self in the bonds of marriage."