Note: This Link Roundup, in addition to coming a day late, is devoted to a single topic.
The Holy Father’s recent statements about contraception in the light of South America’s Zika virus crisis have thrown everyone into a frenzy. Secular news outlets have leapt to proclaim papal endorsement of contraception, noting that some Catholics have argued that the Holy Father’s statements are largely in keeping with the Church’s traditional teaching.
Catholics of a certain stripe are especially happy to hear that the Holy Father has, allegedly, opened a crack in the Church’s doctrine, since, we are unfailingly reminded, most American Catholics don’t buy the Church’s position on contraception.
One point of controversy that has emerged is the Holy Father’s anecdote about Paul VI giving women religious in the Congo dispensation to use birth control, since they were in danger of being outraged. In Catholic News Service’s translation of the Holy Father’s interview, the Holy Father said:
Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to throw someone out in order to save another. That’s what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil. On the ‘lesser evil,’ avoiding pregnancy, we are speaking in terms of the conflict between the fifth and sixth commandment. Paul VI, a great man, in a difficult situation in Africa, permitted nuns to use contraceptives in cases of rape.
Don’t confuse the evil of avoiding pregnancy by itself, with abortion. Abortion is not a theological problem, it is a human problem, it is a medical problem. You kill one person to save another, in the best case scenario. Or to live comfortably, no? It’s against the Hippocratic oaths doctors must take. It is an evil in and of itself, but it is not a religious evil in the beginning, no, it’s a human evil. Then obviously, as with every human evil, each killing is condemned.
On the other hand, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil. In certain cases, as in this one, or in the one I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear. I would also urge doctors to do their utmost to find vaccines against these two mosquitoes that carry this disease. This needs to be worked on.
(Emphasis supplied.) Some writers have, understandably, focused on this bit about Paul VI.
John Allen has a piece at Crux about the origins of the Holy Father’s anecdote. However, Allen concludes that no such juridical act occurred. What happened was, in 1961, an academic article about birth control was published in a magazine close, according to Allen, to then-Cardinal Montini. That article concluded that, under the circumstances alleged to exist in the Congo, birth control would be acceptable. Fr. John Zuhlsdorf has a longer version of the story at his blog, which includes some detail about the article and its post-publication history.
We note, as a parenthesis, that the question of “the pill,” which involves natural hormones, was very much debated before Humanae vitae, when it was still essentially a scientific breakthrough. For example, Charles de Koninck and Msgr. Maurice Dionne, two of the titans of Laval Thomism, wrote a lengthy brief in 1965 for Maurice Cardinal Roy, then the archbishop of Quebec, arguing that, under certain circumstances, “the pill” might be permissible. We mention this not to show that “the pill” is or is not permissible, but to add some context for those of us who have grown up, essentially, in the wake of Humanae vitae and the pontificate of its primary author, Karol Wojtyła. At one time, the question was not so settled. (Though, for our part, we note also that Casti connubii, another one of Papa Ratti’s prophetic encyclicals, was published in 1930, and it expressed a dim view on contraceptives.)
Edward Pentin has a very lengthy piece at the National Catholic Register analyzing the Holy Father’s statements, including interviews with Fr. Robert Gahl and Prof. Melissa Moschella, two philosophers who argue that the Holy Father’s statements were in line with traditional Church teaching on contraception, properly understood.