A recent press conference given by Pope Francisco whilst inflight from Mexico to Rome has sparked much debate among scientists and active churchgoers alike. Are the Catholic Church consenting to condom use in the face of threats posed by the Zika virus? Surely not.
Traditionally against all forms of artificial contraception, such a concession seems contradictory. Yet – reports El Tiempo – the Pope himself has condoned just this. Pope Francis reportedly insinuated that, in extreme circumstances, contraception is a far less sinful option.
The Zika virus, currently at large in several Latin American countries, is especially damaging for those expecting a child. The contraction of the disease in pregnant mothers causes serious health defects for the child once born. In many of the affected countries – Colombian daily El Heraldo reports – women are warned against falling pregnant.
“Lesser of two evils”
In said press conference – as published by the Catholic News Agency – the Pope was asked whether the Church could consider abortion or pregnancy avoidance methods as the lesser of two evils.
Pope Francisco maintained that abortion could never be excused, stating that “Abortion is not a lesser evil: it is a crime.” Yet his views on the latter half of the question were not so straight forward, as he went on to state that, “On the other hand, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil.”
The first Latin American Pope gave the example of a preceding head of the Catholic Church: Paul VI. Whilst on an official visit to Africa during a particularly violent period, this former Pope “allowed nuns to use contraceptives in cases of rape.” The citing of this example has led many to believe that Pope Francisco is granting the use of contraceptives in order to avoid pregnancy in Zika zones.
Yet, it is not entirely clear what was being condoned. The Church traditionally suggests natural methods of contraception – that is, those which do not use any form of artificial barrier – or simple abstention. The manner of contraception was not specified. It is possible that the Pope uses the example of his predecessor merely to demonstrate that the Church can be more lenient in such matters, rather than suggesting similar action be taken here.
Pope Francisco closed his response by urging doctors to find a vaccine against the Zika-carrying mosquitoes, stating that “This needs to be worked on.” For those in Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela and many other countries affected by the disease, this is a statement all can agree on.