Catholic World News

Pope open to discuss contraception as response to Zika epidemic

February 18, 2016

Pope Francis hinted that the use of contraceptives may be morally acceptable as a response to the Zika epidemic, during an question-and-answer session on February 18.

Speaking to reporters who accompanied him on his return flight to Rome, after a visit to Mexico, the Pope said that “avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil.” While abortion cannot ever be justified, he suggested, avoiding pregnancy could be a “lesser evil” in light of the alleged dangers of birth defects.

During an interview session that proved controversial even by the standards of this pontificate, the Pope said:

  • US presidential candidate Donald Trump is “not Christian” if he believes that a wall is the best solution to immigration problems (see today’s separate CWN headline story);
  • He would not comment on the Italian government’s proposal to allow for registration of civil unions because “the Pope doesn’t get mixed up in Italian politics.”
  • Bishops who have moved pedophile priests from parish to parish should resign;
  • Pope Benedict XVI was—even before his election as Pontiff—instrumental in leading the fight against sexual abuse; he was “the brave one who helped so many open this door;”
  • He would not comment on what was said during a "private conversation" with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, but "I walked out of it happy, and he did too."
  • The Church must do more to prepare couples for marriage; the Pontiff pointed out that priests prepare for their vocation for eight years, while engaged couples have only a few counseling sessions.
  • Catholics who divorce and remarry must be integrated into the life of the Church—but, the Pope cautioned, “Integrating in the Church doesn’t mean receiving Communion.”

In his answer to a question about the Zika epidemic, the Pope did not say that contraception would be licit. But, invoking a decision by Pope Paul VI, he said that in some circumstances it might be allowed. He emphasized throughout that abortion could never be justified. He said:

Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to throw someone out in order to save another. That’s what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil. On the ‘lesser evil,’ avoiding pregnancy, we are speaking in terms of the conflict between the fifth and sixth commandment. Paul VI, a great man, in a difficult situation in Africa, permitted nuns to use contraceptives in cases of rape.
Don’t confuse the evil of avoiding pregnancy by itself, with abortion. Abortion is not a theological problem, it is a human problem, it is a medical problem. You kill one person to save another, in the best case scenario. Or to live comfortably, no? It’s against the Hippocratic oaths doctors must take. It is an evil in and of itself, but it is not a religious evil in the beginning, no, it’s a human evil. Then obviously, as with every human evil, each killing is condemned.
On the other hand, avoiding 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. I would also urge doctors to do their utmost to find vaccines against these two mosquitoes that carry this disease. This needs to be worked on.

Pope Francis also addressed the disappointment that the leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church had expressed about the text of the Pope’s joint statement with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. Major Archbishop Sviatolav Schevchuk had voiced his regret that the statement failed to condemn Russian aggression in Ukraine. After speaking about his personal friendship with the Ukrainian prelate, the Pope skirted the question of responsibility for the bloodshed in Ukraine, saying “everyone has their own idea of this war, who started it, what to do and it’s evident that this is a historical issue, but also a personal, historical, existential issue of that country and it speaks of the suffering.” All should agree, the Pope concluded, on the goal: “to make the war stop.”

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  • Posted by: k_cusick1963 - Feb. 20, 2016 7:48 AM ET USA

    Artificial contraception is wrong. There is no "lesser of the two evils". Scripture and 2,000 years of Church teaching has always taught to "trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding. Pray (especially for this Pope), find a cure for Zika. In the meantime, couples think of this as an opportunity to offer God, through your abstinence, a sacrifice of love pleasing to God that will be rewarded richly in Heaven--a true penance, born of love for each other and God.

  • Posted by: Travelling - Feb. 19, 2016 6:07 PM ET USA

    As before, it is what he didn't say which provides the answer to the quests which arise from these statements. Even so, I am pleased to see two things here: 1) the suggestion that more formation is needed before marriage,MIT is though not quite the same as priestly formation, it needs distant formation in the family, so he needs to strengthen families!! 2) yes, it is licit to avoid pregnancy (through abstinence) if there is danger of disease transmission. But the rape case scenario of the nuns

  • Posted by: space15796 - Feb. 19, 2016 2:27 AM ET USA

    I heard these items mentioned on the news today and I didn't believe them. Turns out it is true. Something dreadful is going on. God help us!

  • Posted by: feedback - Feb. 18, 2016 11:16 PM ET USA

    St. John Paul II already presented very clear Catholic teaching on sexual morality in the danger of AIDS. There is no need to reinvent the wheel.

  • Posted by: Oliver Plunkett - Feb. 18, 2016 8:56 PM ET USA

    This is concerning. The case of the nuns being on contraception was because they were being raped... Sex between couples using contraception due to the zika virus is consensual and not even in the same ballpark. These couples should enjoy abstinence. Sex in this case is purely for pleasure and deliberately not open to life. A lesser evil is still sin and the Pope cannot promote sin! I'm sure a Vatican clarification response is forthcoming.

  • Posted by: Jim.K - Feb. 18, 2016 8:08 PM ET USA

    I'd like to hear more (accurate) information about the "nuns using contraception..." Secondly, how is the Zita virus different than the AIDS virus? These situations and the Pope's comments certainly cause confusion among the Faithful. Personally, I'm still upset about his comments about people "breeding like rabbits" when answering a question about a woman who had several children. What's going on with this Pope?

  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Feb. 18, 2016 7:40 PM ET USA

    If Pope Francis indeed thinks contraception is the lesser of two evils vis a vis Zika then abortion is next no matter what he says. Why? Simple. If it's a lesser evil to prevent the outcome it's equally a lesser evil to deal with the outcome, i.e.end potential suffering, spending of precious resources on a lost cause, etc. et. al. and so on. And most especially justified if the contraception failed.