Pope Francis yesterday hinted at a lighter view on use of contraceptives by women who are at risk of contacting Zika virus.
Whilst still maintaining the absolute stance that abortion remains a crime, he seemed to relax his stance on contraceptives in the case of Zika. This is really news because Roman Catholic teachings currently ban the use of contraception. Where before, every Christian denomination considered any acts standing in the way of pregnancy as a blockade to God’s design, 1930 saw a split in the church’s view of birth control.
While the Anglican Church and later on other Protestant churches, endorsed it, inclusive of varying methods like usage of condoms, diaphragms and cervical caps; used of course within the bounds of Christian principle, Catholicism rejected it completely. An encyclical (a letter distributed to all bishops of the Roman Catholic Church) was actually penned by Pope Pius XI maintaining that any form of contraception remained strictly prohibited.
1963 saw the arrival of hormonal birth control and the convening of a papal commission on marriage and reproduction with an aim to review the stance on contraception and it was actually concluded that the Church go ahead and embrace it. It was around that time that pope Paul VI allowed nuns in danger of rape use birth control to prevent pregnancies, a decision that was later used by members of the church to justify using contraceptives when at risk in war-torn zones. Despite all this, in 1968, Pope Paul VI sent out an encyclical whose main gist was that abortion and any form of contraception intended to prevent procreation either as an end or as a means, was still completely out of the question.
Although the Pope is not the first to stray from the absolute criminality of the idea of contraception, where we had Pope Benedict in 2010 condoning its use to prevent HIV/AIDS, his light acquiescing casts the Zika virus in an even more critical light. The pope had referenced the Pope Paul VI decision in the case of the at risk nuns in discussing the matter stating; “Avoiding a pregnancy is not an absolute evil. In certain cases, as in this one, or in the one I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it is clear,”. He is however clear on the absolute criminality of abortion;
“We must not confuse the evil consisting of avoiding a pregnancy with abortion…Abortion is not a theological problem. It is a human problem, medical. One person is killed to save another. It is evil in itself, it is not a religious evil, it is a human evil”.
The Pope has in essence shown a rather unexpected openness to the use of contraceptives to prevent transmission of Zika, whilst still upholding the Church’s stance on abortion, which makes it easier for Catholic families in affected areas to decide for themselves on the matter.