(The Guardian) Commenting on the Zika crisis during a press conference on the papal jet, Pope Francis told reporters that abortion is â€œwhat the mafia doesâ€, that is to say â€œa crime, an absolute evilâ€. Explaining, he said, â€œYou kill one person to save another, in the best case scenario. Or to live comfortably, no?â€ According to the pope, it seems, women exposed to Zika choose abortion the same way they choose sofa cushions.
Of course, youâ€™re unlikely to have read about these vicious attacks on the ostensibly murderous and materialistic motives of women who have abortions, because what the media reported instead is that Pope Francis suggested contraception could be used to stem the effects of Zika. This was widely praised as a radically liberal departure from Catholic doctrine, with the potential to improve Latin American womenâ€™s lives.
But Pope Francis never said that contraception can be used in the case of exposure to Zika. He advised, rather, not to â€œconfuse the evil of avoiding pregnancy by itself, with abortionâ€. In other words, contraception is still evil; itâ€™s just less evil than killing people for lols. Given the framing of the question by the reporter, who asked whether the Catholic doctrine of â€œthe lesser of two evilsâ€ might be applicable, Pope Francisâ€™s response has been interpreted as a liberalisation of Pope Paul VIâ€™s 1968 Humanae Vitae, which bans all artificial contraception.
This is quite the jump. In the interview, Francis references a case in the 50s and 60s where Catholic nuns in the Congo were at risk of rape, and Pope Paul VI â€“ then an archbishop â€“ is understood to have tacitly condoned a religious paper arguing that it would be â€œthe lesser of two evilsâ€ for these nuns to use contraceptives. However, when Paul became pope in 1963, he did not write this position into law.
In aligning the Zika crisis with the Congo case, Francis does nothing to signal that he intends to liberalise church teaching on contraception. As Vatican expert John L Allen Jr reminds us, the Pope â€œdid not say he was formally endorsing birth control to prevent infectionâ€. Subsequent Vatican clarifications of the comments do not approve contraception for women at risk of Zika either. Rather, the Vatican says contraception can be â€œthe object of discernment in a serious case of conscienceâ€. Which we have known since the 50s. [More]