How damaging was the latest papal interview? Let me count the ways.
Tomorrow, no doubt, the Vatican press office will go into its now-familiar “clarification” mode. Loyal Catholic defenders of Pope Francis will argue that the Holy Father’s words were taken out of context. But this time, the problem cannot be attributed to sensationalistic reporting; the Pontiff definitely conveyed the impression that he was ready to discuss the morality of contraception in the context of the Zika epidemic. The Pope’s own words are—at best—confusing.
Questioned as to whether contraception is the “lesser of two evils” when the Zika threatens birth defects, the Pope replied, in part: “On the lesser evil, avoiding pregnancy, we are speaking in terms of a conflict between the 5th and 6th Commandments.” What conflict? Does he mean to suggest that in some cases, adhering to one of God’s laws might entail violating another?
In the next sentence, the Pope refers to the decision by Pope Paul VI, authorizing nuns in (what was then) the Belgian Congo to use contraceptives when they were threatened with rape. But that decision does not apply to the situation created by the Zika epidemic. Contraception is immoral because it violates the integrity of the marital act. In the Congo, the use of contraceptives was justified as a means of thwarting an act of violence. In Latin America today, some officials argue that, because of the Zika problem, contraceptives should be used to thwart an act of marital love.
No doubt the Pope’s defenders will argue—in fact some already have argued-- that the Pope did not actually say that contraception could be justified. True enough. What he said was that “avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil.” But in context, what other message were reporters likely to draw from his statement? If you ask me whether it is justifiable to rob a bank, and I reply that bank robbery is not an absolute evil, haven’t I indicated that I am open to a discussion about whether bank robbery is licit in certain circumstances? Certainly I have not given the impression that I think bank robbery is always immoral.
Yet the Church teaches that artificial contraception, when used to frustrate the purpose of the marital act, is always immoral. UN officials are now suggesting that artificial contraception should be practiced by married couples routinely because of the Zika epidemic. Nothing in the Pope’s statement suggested that there is an inherent moral problem with that approach. I have seen defenders of the Pope remark that secular reporters generally don’t understand the Church’s teaching on contraception. That’s true; and nothing that the Pope said would further their education.
Moreover, in answering the reporter’s question about Zika, the Pope failed to point out the flaw in the major premise of the argument for routine contraception. That argument is based on the assumption that the Zika virus is responsible for microcephaly. But there is very little scientific evidence to support that assumption: a fact that the Pope’s own representative highlighted in a presentation this week to the UN. Proponents of contraception and abortion have been exploiting the Zika epidemic as a means of advancing their cause. The Pope had an opportunity to remind the world that the effects of Zika are not well understood, and to suggest that research should be concentrated on killing the disease rather than its victims. He missed it.
Steve Skojec: Did the Pope Just Permit Contraceptive Use?
Short answer: yes...
The language, as always, is slippery. So why do I think he just permitted contraceptive use?
Because context matters.
The question he was asked took abortion off the table in order to make contraception look better by contrast – the proverbial “lesser of two evils.”
Pope Francis talks about “avoiding pregnancy,” which sounds like NFP talk, until he goes on to say, “Paul VI, a great man, in a difficult situation in Africa, permitted nuns to use contraceptives in cases of rape.”
Now, there are any number of Catholic researchers out there trying to track down the truth of this anecdote as we speak. My friends Hilary White and Oakes Spalding (of Mahound’s Paradise) believe this to be nothing more than a myth, invented to promote the idea that Bosnian women who fell victim to the war crime of rape could use the morning-after pill, as argued in this 1993 article by Jesuit Father Giacomo Perico (abstract in Italian, with link to protected PDF fulltext). Hilary also notes that Fr. Perico was trying to wring serious nuance out of Humanae Vitae as far back as 1969, which the Vatican did not oblige him on.
But even if what Pope Francis said was true — the moral implications of such an allowance set aside for a moment — this situation is different.
Zika fears have nothing to do with rape, or even with the transmission of the virus. They have to do with concerns about birth defects arising in a pregnancy resulting from consensual sex. And the science so far is sketchy on the connection between the virus and the defects, but again, let’s assume that this is true. Let’s assume that infected persons can transmit effects of the virus to an unborn child, causing microcephaly.
Why do they have to have sex?
Why can’t they abstain?
If any Catholic decides they need to “avoid pregnancy,” abstinence during fertile times is the only moral solution. What would make this situation different?
And even if they have a child with these defects, the child lives. They’re human beings. They still have value and dignity as a person.
But you’re still probably wondering, “Yeah, but ‘avoiding pregnancy’ to me still means, ‘NFP.'” I was thinking the same thing. Until I looked at it again. And again. So here’s the second part of what he said, again:
“[A]voiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil. In certain cases, as in this one, such as the one I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear.”
There is simply no way to separate the words he uttered from the context he uttered them in. He mentions this mythical case of “Blessed Paul VI” giving a dispensation for contraception in the same breath as he says, “avoiding pregnancy.” To him, these are equivalent. This is what his syntax is telling us.
Papal apologists are going to parse these words for their life. They’re going to say, “The pope said ‘avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil.’ That’s correct. It isn’t.” They’re going to focus on his comments calling abortion a “crime,” which will serve as a distraction, since it’s the strongest statement he’s ever made on that issue. In fact, it’s so strong, it easily distracts from the more subtle bombshell he drops in the same answer.
But a bombshell it is. He is clearly, undeniably equating “avoiding pregnancy” with Pope Paul VI allegedly allowing nuns to use contraceptives. And considering the impracticality of trying to use a barrier method when a man willing to rape a nun is in mid-assault, we can assume that he’s thinking of hormonal contraceptives – which makes the situation even worse, since they are most likely abortifacient at least some of the time.
This is not okay. This is wrong. And people — people who are paid to answer questions about the Catholic faith and to educate you in what the Church teaches — are most likely going to tell you that this is fine.
And if they do that, they’re lying to you.
I cannot overstate how big this one is. If he doesn’t issue a clarification — which is going to require quite a lot of explaining — the upshot of this is that a sitting pope just contradicted the authoritative Church teaching on contraception. He just chucked Humanae Vitae and Casti Connubii and…well, all of it. The slope he just made is so slippery, I can’t even imagine how many Catholics will lose their footing…and there’s nothing but perdition at the bottom.
And at this point, I don’t even know what else to say.
Mary Ann Kreitzer: Another Head Buster: Did the Pope Really Say Contraception was Legit ...
At this point I'm not surprised by anything this pope says or does, but the idea that Pope Paul VI giving nuns in danger of being raped permission to use contraceptives (probably barrier methods) is totally different than giving permission for contraception for Zika. Those nuns were not sexually active and trying to prevent pregnancy. They were using contraceptives like a police officer uses a bullet proof vest to protect himself from a shooter's bullet.
It's a completely different scenario from couples using contraception to prevent pregnancy -- for whatever reason. Once you justify it for Zika, you've basically justified it for any health reason and why stop there? The woman who wants to continue her education without the complication of a pregnancy or the woman who thinks she has too many children already - she will argue her serious circumstances justify contraception too. And what does it say about the handicapped babies who are born. Will their moms be villified for not acting "responsibly?"
Contraception is a grievous moral evil. In many ways it's even more evil in intention than abortion is. Abortion kills a baby who is created and will live for all eternity. It's murder. Contraception basically tells God, "Screw your creation, I don't want it and will do everything in my power to make sure that baby you planned doesn't interfere with my life." And so the contracepting couple doesn't allow the baby to come into existence at all. That couple makes themselves gods. Imagine the horror on Judgment Day when God tells them that the children He desired to give them AS GIFTS were never created because of their refusal to cooperate with His will.
Are there difficult situations and serious reasons for women to avoid pregnancy? Yes. Is there a morally licit way for women to avoid pregnancy during those serious situations? Yes, Natural Family Planning. As a teacher for over twenty years, I can testify to the fact that NFP is effective, both at planning pregnancies and postponing them. When couples are well taught and follow the rules, NFP is more effective than most artificial birth control methods at avoiding pregnancy. And it doesn't attack the good of God's gift which contraception does. The couple simply chooses not to "know" each other as Scripture used to so delicately put it, during the fertile time. They choose a holy silence until the serious reason for avoiding pregnancy has passed. The difference is between a silence due to not speaking versus a silence created by stuffing your mouth with cotton balls or cutting out your tongue.
NFP is part of the good news of the Church. Contraception is a killer since many so-called contraceptives actually cause abortion (all the chemicals do at least part of the time, as do the IUDs). And contraception is the root cause of abortion. Pope Francis has once again betrayed Our Lord.