So what exactly was said, and what can we glean from this newest fiasco? First off, I want to make clear that I think a followup to Pope Francis' statements, as well as a followup to Fr. Lombardi's explanation of said statements, is needed. Many people are now even more confused on the consequences of the gravely immoral use of contraceptives. It's common knowledge that before the Pope said anything about the Zika virus and contraception that many of the Church's faithful (and those outside Her) are openly in opposition to the Church's teaching on the subject revealed by Her ordinary and universal Magisterium. It's truly sad, because many people totally dismiss what has been said by the First Vatican Council:
"Further, all those things are to be believed with divine and Catholic faith which are contained in the Word of God, written or handed down, and which the Church, either by a solemn judgment or by her ordinary and universal teaching [Magisterium], proposes for belief as having been divinely revealed."Now one can argue (badly) that Blessed Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae was not infallible in and of itself, however, the teachings in it clearly were infallible as the doctrine that contraceptive acts constitute grave matter and defy the natural law has always been taught in the Church. And that's exactly how one Dogmatic Constitution of the Second Vatican Council, promulgated by Blessed Paul VI, defines the ordinary Magisterium:
|Blessed Pope Paul VI|
Now, let's get into the actual comments. Pope Francis 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, or in 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."Now I've seen many people trying to explain these words, and then seen many other people (mainly ultra-traditionalists or Radical Catholic Reactionaries, as apologist Dave Armstrong calls them) say that said commentators are trying too hard to explain away the Pope's words and should just admit that His Holiness has gone off the deep end and is spouting heresy.
Let's remember here, as the tongue-in-cheek article by Eye of the Tiber demonstrated, that Pope Francis was not speaking infallibly on this airplane ride. Perhaps he needs to think more before he makes "off-the-cuff" remarks on issues people are already confused or uneducated about, but he is not denying any teachings of the Church on the evil of contraception. Now at first, some people were saying the Pope may have been talking about Natural Family Planning. However, Fr. Lombardi cleared this up when he said the Pope was indeed talking about artificial contraceptives such as the pill or condoms. Now does that mean the Pope was giving the OK to using contraceptives as people on both sides of the aisle were saying? Again, the answer is no.
Fr. Lombardi mentioned two examples of "possibility of recourse" to artificial contraceptives, those being the nuns in the Congo back in the 1960's who were at risk of being raped and Pope Benedict XVI's comments back in 2010 regarding the possibility of male prostitutes using condoms to stop the spread of AIDS. To the first example, apologist Jimmy Akin has a great explanation. Here's a snippet from his article regarding what happened between Blessed Paul VI and the nuns in the Congo:
Although I have not been able to locate primary sources, many secondary sources have—for years—claimed that Pope Paul VI (1963-1978) gave permission for nuns in the Belgian Congo to use oral contraceptives as a way of preventing pregnancy due to rape.
Between 1960 and 1965, the Congo was a war-torn region in which many atrocities like rape were committed. Reportedly, nuns there petitioned the Holy See for permission to use oral contraception to prevent becoming pregnant as a result of the rapes being committed in the destabilized environment. The Holy See reportedly said that they could, and this is often attributed to Paul VI himself, though without primary sources, this claim has to be regarded with some caution (particularly given the press’s tendency to attribute anything anyone in Rome says directly to the pope).
If permission was given, it was probably by a document issued by one of the Vatican dicasteries (departments), though Paul VI may (or may not) have approved it. This would have been before Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which dealt with contraception, but the permission is not necessarily inconsistent with the teaching of the encyclical.
Quoting Humanae Vitae, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
“[E]very action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil (CCC 2370).
A key word is “conjugal” (Latin, coniugale). This is an unfamiliar word to many English-speakers, who often take it to mean “sexual.” However, conjugal does not mean “sexual.” There is a different word for that in Latin (sexuale). “Conjugal” means “married.” Even in English. It comes from the Latin word conjux, which means “spouse” (a person with whom one is yoked-together).
Thus the Catechism deals with contraception under the headings of “The Love of Husband and Wife” and “The Fecundity of Marriage.” Note how, in the relevant sections, it consistently speaks in terms of “married couples,” “spouses,” and how contraception violates “the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife” (CCC 2370).
Understood in this light, what Humanae Vitae condemns is “every action which, whether in anticipation of marital intercourse [Latin, coniugale commercium], or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible.”
Second Vatican Council
(Note: Some translations of Humanae Vitae inaccurately translate coniugale commercium with things like “sexual intercourse.” Accurate translations would be “marital congress,” “marital intercourse,” or “the conjugal act”—as in the Catechism. The inaccuracy of some English translations of Humanae Vitae is an illustration of why it is always a good idea to check the original language.)
Since nuns are celibates and so are not married (except in a mystical sense to Christ), there is no marital act between them and anyone trying to rape them. Thus many Catholic moral theologians, including conservative ones, have seen the use of contraception by nuns as a potentially legitimate defense against the consequences of an act of violence rather than an attempt to thwart the natural consequences of the “marital act.”Moral theologian and philosophy professor Melissa Moschella goes on to say:
Birth control is immoral because it violates the very nature of sex by trying to engage in sex without the natural possibility of pregnancy. “But that doesn’t happen in the case of rape,” Moschella stressed, because there has been “no voluntary sex act on the part of the woman.”
As a result, artificial birth control would be viewed not as an immoral contraceptive measure seeking to separate the unitive and procreative aspects of sex, but, rather, part of an act of self-defense, as the women seek to resist the act altogether. But Moschella said this certainly isn’t the case with the Zika virus, because it involves women who are voluntarily engaging in sexual relations and then using contraceptives to prevent those voluntary sexual acts from being fertile. “That does contradict the meaning of the sexual act, and so involves a kind of lack of integrity that’s harmful to the person and harmful to the relationship,” she said.
|Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI|
So there we have two very extreme examples where the use of a condom or other artificial contraceptive may be licit. A third example could be what another priest in the above article describes as one "having tried to persuade her husband not to engage in sexual relations, at least for a period of time, but he insisting against her will and impeding her from fleeing the situation in which she may have an obligation to remain for the sake of her children. In such an instance, “some contraceptive pharmaceutical” would be legitimate, Father Gahl said. “It’s a question of conscience what she should do, and depends on the extent that it’s violence,” he said. “This would not be an exception to Humanae Vitae but an exception to the beauty of normal married love in which a husband and wife freely give themselves to one another in openness to life.”
So he's basically saying the occasion of marital rape would be one of those extreme situations. Do any of these three examples include a wholesale, or even an opening of the door for an acceptance of artificial contraceptives? No. The Pope Francis bashing has to stop, and the twisting of his words have to stop on the other side of the fence. I do think it's a bit ridiculous we have to spell this all out. I believe we should have clear, concise remarks which avoid well-meaning Catholics trying to understand what takes place on these "papal pressers" from having to do this. In short, people such as Professor Melissa Moschella said some great things in that NCR article. I just wish they had been said on that airplane ride. The important thing to know is that Church teaching has not changed on contraceptives and Pope Francis is not misleading the faithful intentionally and is in line with said Church teaching. Let's just hope that a real clarification on why Blessed Paul VI's words in Humanae Vitae, and the Church's timeless teaching on the subject, are so true will be coming soon.