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Vatican affirms Pope was speaking about contraceptives for Zika

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ROME, February 19, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi has affirmed that the Holy Father was indeed speaking of “condoms and contraceptives” when on the flight back from Mexico, Pope Francis said couples could rightly “avoid pregnancy” in the wake of the Zika virus scare.

Fr. Lombardi told Vatican Radio today, “The contraceptive or condom, in particular cases of emergency or gravity, could be the object of discernment in a serious case of conscience. This is what the Pope said.”

According to Lombardi, the pope spoke of “the possibility of taking recourse to contraception or condoms in cases of emergency or special situations. He is not saying that this possibility is accepted without discernment, indeed, he said clearly that it can be considered in cases of special urgency.”

Lombardi reiterated the example that Pope Francis made of Pope Paul VI’s supposed “authorization of the use of the pill for the religious who were at very serious risk” of rape.  This, said Lombardi, “makes us understand that it is not that it was a normal situation in which this was taken into account.”

Vatican spokesman: “The contraceptive or condom, in particular cases of emergency or gravity, could be the object of discernment in a serious case of conscience. This is what the Pope said.”

On the plane Thursday, the pope was asked by one reporter whether the Church can “take into consideration the concept of ‘the lesser of two evils?’” when it comes to the question of preventing pregnancy to avoid transmission of the virus.

The pope opened his answer by categorically condemning abortion as a solution to the Zika virus, but on the question of avoiding pregnancy, he added: “We are speaking in terms of the conflict between the fifth and sixth commandment.”

"The great Paul VI in a difficult situation in Africa permitted sisters to use contraception for cases of rape,” he told reporters.

"Avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil," the pope added. "In certain cases, as in this one, such as the one I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear.”

The pope’s answer, in particular the apparent parallel he drew between the case of the nuns’ use of contraception and the case of the Zika virus, has widely led to the interpretation that the pope was approving the use of contraception in some cases.

(Find a full transcript of the pope’s remarks on the plane here.)

In his famous 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI reiterated the Church’s long-standing and definitive teaching that artificial contraception is "intrinsically wrong," namely that it is always and in every instance evil, because it contradicts the procreative purpose of sex. 

Some moral theologians have said that non-abortifacient contraceptives could be used in cases of rape as a means of self-defense against an aggressor. This distinction would not apply in the case of voluntary intercourse between couples concerned about Zika.

In addition to referencing the Congo nuns, Lombardi pointed today to Pope Benedict XVI’s comments on condoms in his 2010 book-length interview The Light of the World. Therein, Lombardi said, Benedict “spoke about the use of condoms in the case of risk of contagion by AIDS.”

In the book, Pope Benedict told journalist Peter Seewald that in some cases, such as that of a male prostitute, the use of a condom “can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.” Pope Benedict followed the comments by saying that the Church “does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.”

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith corrected mainstream media misinterpretations of those statements that falsely presented them as justifying contraception.  In its statement, the CDF said, “A number of erroneous interpretations have emerged” that have “caused confusion concerning the position of the Catholic Church regarding certain questions of sexual morality.”

“The idea that anyone could deduce from the words of Benedict XVI that it is somehow legitimate, in certain situations, to use condoms to avoid an unwanted pregnancy is completely arbitrary and is in no way justified either by his words or in his thought,” the statement added.

The CDF statement also dismissed the suggestion that the use of a condom by HIV-infected prostitutes could constitute a “lesser evil.” This interpretation, it says, is erroneous since, “An action which is objectively evil, even if a lesser evil, can never be licitly willed.”

The CDF summarized the intention of the pope’s comments: “The Church teaches that prostitution is immoral and should be shunned. However, those involved in prostitution who are HIV positive and who seek to diminish the risk of contagion by the use of a condom may be taking the first step in respecting the life of another – even if the evil of prostitution remains in all its gravity.”

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