News are going round that Pope Francis, in one of his by now notorious of-the-cuff interviews on the airplane bringing him back from Mexico to Rome, has “allowed the faithful to use the contraceptive pill in order to avoid the conception of children that might carry the Zika Virus. The virus is believed to cause severe malformations of the fetus.
Whoever reads the transcript of the interview will discover that the Pope has not said this. In addition, whoever is familiar with Catholic doctrine will know that the Pope has not got to change, or dispense from, the moral law.
What the Pope indeed did say was that he believed that back in the 1960s Pope Paul VI had granted permission to nuns in the Congo to use the contraceptive pill in order to avoid getting pregnant in case they were raped, a scenario that, in the civil war situation at the time, was certainly not unrealistic.
1) Pope Paul VI never made such a statement. Instead, the suggestion that the contraceptive pill might legitimately be used by women fearing to be raped was contained in an academic article by…
2) The position taken in that article is contingent on the assumption that the pill solely has a contraceptive, but not an abortive effect. More recent medical research suggests, however, that the contraceptive pill in many cases may act as an abortifacient, i.e. destroy a child that has already been conceived.
3) The analogy drawn between, on the one hand, what is said in the statement (erroneously) ascribed to Paul VI. and, on the other, the situation of women concerned over the Zika virus is, in any case, misguided. The nuns in the Congo may have feared to become victims of rape, but they had in fact no intention of engaging in any sexual acts. What makes the use of contraceptives morally reprehensible is the intention of engaging in sexual acts that are wilfully dissociated from their natural procreative purpose.