UPDATE – February 19, 2016 – 1:30pm EST
Today Vatican Radio published in Italian the text of an interview with Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, in which he attempts to clarify some of the Holy Father’s more controversial comments from yesterday’s return flight from Mexico. In the interview, Fr. Lombardi expands on comments Pope Francis made about the possibility of married couples using contraception due to concerns about spreading the Zika virus. Human Life International is extremely concerned that, rather than clarify the comments with references to the very clear doctrine of the church, Father Lombardi instead made statements that contradict established Church doctrine on contraception, referring to both the non-magisterial decision of Pope Paul VI to which the Holy Father also referred, and adding a reference to a non-magisterial statement from Pope Benedict XVI that contradicts Pope Benedict’s own explanation of the statement. We must repeat, with the Church, her own condemnation of the act of using contraception from Humanae vitae 14:
Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary.
Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.
Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these. Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good,” it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it —in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general. Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.
Statement from Human Life International on the question of Pope Francis’ comments about Zika and birth control, given on the return flight from his trip to Mexico.
1) We are grateful for the Holy Father’s strong condemnation of abortion, and for his clear affirmation of the common sense—but often overlooked—fact that abortion does not cure any disease, but only kills babies.
2) Headlines such as “Pope approves contraception in areas threatened by Zika virus” immediately went around the world following the interview, and since this misunderstanding is already being used to pressure bishops in Latin America, we hope to see a clarification on this aspect of the Holy Father’s comments as soon as possible. We hope that the clarification emphasizes the unchangeable teaching of the Church on the absolute immorality of the use of contraception for the purpose of avoiding pregnancy, even as the permissibility of natural methods of postponing pregnancy for serious reasons is affirmed, along with the need to ensure that those threatened by Zika receive the best possible prevention advice and support, and those affected receive the best possible care.
3) As we await the official English translation of the Holy Father’s comments, we feel obliged to clarify a comparison that is being attributed to Pope Francis by available translations. Let us set aside for the moment what exactly Pope Saint Paul VI approved in the terrible situation of religious sisters being threatened by rape in the Congo in the 1960s, since there appears to be no official record of this act. The act of rape and the marital act are completely different. While this would normally go without saying, it is important to emphasize this point: A woman who is raped is under no obligation to let the act result in pregnancy. She did not participate in a sexual act, she was assaulted, and thus by using a barrier method of contraception would have no intention (no object) of having contracepted sex. The married couple who uses contraception to prevent pregnancy is engaging in an entirely different act. As the Church teaches, if there is legitimate concern about the health and safety of the mother and child, this may well constitute a serious enough reason to use natural methods (fertility awareness/periodic abstinence) to postpone conception. But unnatural hormonal and barrier methods are never licit, and cannot be approved by the Church.
4) It is outrageous that so many in the media and in the population control industry have uncritically accepted the link between Zika and microcephaly as true despite any scientific proof, even as more and more scientists raise doubts about the connection. The vast majority of those who contract Zika will never know they have it, and most of the minority who do become aware of it will see only minor symptoms. A connection between Zika and a few cases of the serious condition of Guillian-Barre syndrome is being investigated, and this investigation should be supported by all.
5) While several investigations of a possible link between Zika and microcephaly are underway, many in the media have been trying to shame the Church into changing its unchangeable teaching on contraception, claiming as fact the as-yet unproven and morally irrelevant claim that Zika causes microcephaly in the unborn children of mothers who contract the virus.
6) We reiterate here, in complete agreement with the Holy Father, that abortion (an intentional act that ends pregnancy) is an absolutely evil act, and can never be approved under any circumstances, regardless of how pregnancy was achieved. Nor does it cure any disease.
7) We are grateful to the bishops of Brazil and other Latin American nations affected by the Zika virus who have already made this teaching clear. They deserve support for teaching this unpopular truth in love, having as their goal the true flourishing and salvation of the faithful under their care.