While strict Catholics may not agree, Pope Francis recently stated that contraceptives could assist in the prevention of the Zika virus spread. A bold statement, despite the Catholic church’s longstanding view against most birth control methods.
While boarding a flight back to Rome from Mexico, the Pope was questioned as to whether the church views contraception as a lesser of two evils; that is if compared against the potential that pregnant women may choose abortion as an option for fetuses that have the Zika virus, as there has been a connection to the illness and a birth defect known as microcephaly.
The Pope initialled answered by stating that abortion was an ‘absolute evil’, and ‘crime’. He referred to abortion as killing an individual, to save another; comparing it to what happens in the Mafia. Yet, he went on to say that he considered preventing pregnancy not an ‘absolute evil’. He went on to point out a small exception as it relates to the Catholic church’s ban on most birth control, stating that Pope Paul VI sanctioned contraceptive use for African nuns, in situations of rape.
CNN reported Pope Francis went on to state that in some situations, like the one he mentioned involving Paul VI, it was clear. For those who recall, in 1968 Paul VI drafted the official papal document, the Humanae Vitae, which outlined the Catholic church’s position against most birth control methods. Francis was probably referring to the 1960s, where Belgian Congo nuns were granted approval to use anovulant, a contraceptive that stops ovulation. This was granted, so that they could prevent these nuns from getting pregnant, as rape was running rapid, and the controversy threatened the country’s political balance.
Rev. James Keenan, expert in regards to Catholic sexual ethics and morality, chimed in stating that there was a legitimate reason for contraception in those times, and that the Zika virus presents a similar situation. He goes on to say, that while the Pope’s provided this statement off the cuff, and it was not made official in a papal document, the comment could have a huge impact for health care providers in Latin America, as well as the U.S., and other countries moving forward.
He points out, this could affect many, where Catholic hospitals can assist the situation, by handing out contraceptives to women. Keenan also compared Pope Francis’ comments to a statement made by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. In 2010, during a lengthy interview, Pope Benedict stated that in certain situations, using a condom to avoid spreading an illness could be the initial step to moral responsibility.