This was part of the Pope's press conference yesterday as well, though his comments about Trump made most of the news. But I think this response is even more significant, and raises huge questions.
As the Pope noted, "avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil," but Church teaching on artificial contraception has presented these methods as "intrinsically evil," meaning that it's grave matter, one of the criteria for determining whether a sin is mortal or venial. The Church does acknowledge that there are times when couples need to avoid pregnancy, and that there's nothing wrong with doing so, even for economic reasons. So "avoiding pregnancy" is not a problem, only the means for doing so, with teachings since Humane vitae (1968) approving only "natural" methods like rhythm or Natural Family Planning. Every diocese has been charged with providing instruction to married and engaged couples about these matters; many have diocesan offices explicitly focused on NFP education, which boasts a 98% effectiveness rate when practiced properly.
That's even better than prevention rates by condom and pill users!
What's curious, here, then, is not so much that the Pope affirmed the wisdom of avoiding pregnancy during this time of Zika virus infections, but that he didn't recommend NFP as the means to do so. One can only wonder why, especially given the success rate claimed by the Church's own NFP teachers. Why not use the occasion to remind everyone about NFP and the evils of artificial methods, including some forms of birth control pills that might be occasionally abortificent?
I don't think the Pope's comments represent "a new teaching" or a revision of existing teaching, and I'm sure the Vatican will make that clear shortly. But it does tell us something about the Pope. If he is moved by compassion to suggest that artificial contraception might be the "lessor of two evils" for couples in Zika regions, how about for:
- newlyweds who are going to college, don't have much income, and need some time to develop their relationship?
- women married to an abusive alcoholic
- couples who are unemployed, or struggling with health situations?
- etc. etc.
I know, I know: NFP. Use NFP.
But that's not what the Pope said.
And it's not what Catholic couples are doing, at any rate.
Why the Pope gives those conferences on the planes, where he says things contrary to the Magisterium? Is this just bad P.R.? I know he is not infallible during such conferences, but what about the decorum of his Office?
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