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MANILA, Philippines, February 24, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — After years of heroically opposing a reproductive health bill in their country that now provides major government funding for contraceptives, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has done a surprising turnabout by throwing its support behind Pope Francis’ controversial off-the-cuff suggestion that there may be circumstances in which married couples can use contraception. 

Speaking about the Pope’s remarks last week onboard the papal plane where he stated that “avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil,” CBCP president Archbishop Socrates Villegas commented in a statement titled “Truth with Love and Mercy”:

He (the Pope) however usefully called attention to two important moral precepts: First, there may be circumstances that invite a re-evaluation of the judgment on artificial means of contraception; second, the prodding of conscience should always be heeded, as long as every effort is made to form conscience properly.

But Father Shenan Boquet, president of Human Life International, told LifeSiteNews that the Church’s teaching on the evil of contraception is “unchangeable.”

“As the Brazilian bishops recently affirmed in addressing the threat posed by the Zika virus, the actual Church teaching on the matter of couples using contraception is unequivocal: The use of contraceptive methods by married couples to prevent pregnancy is always morally illicit,” he said.

READ: Vatican affirms Pope was speaking about contraceptives for Zika

Pointing to the doctrinal teaching against contraception as laid down in the papal encyclicals Casti Connubii (by Pope Pius XI in 1930) and Humanae Vitae (by Pope Paul VI in 1968), Fr. Boquet said that “doctrinal truths cannot be changed by a statement made in a press release or interview.”

The following quotes from each encyclical are especially pertinent:

  • Casti Connubi 54: “But no reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good. Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.” 
  • Humanae Vitae 14: “Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.” 

Archbishop Villegas noted how the Pope raised the view during the plane interview that the “evil of contraception was not of the same magnitude as the evil of abortion,” and added, “Clearly, this was sound moral reasoning.”

But Father Boquet said the distinction is irrelevant in light of the above Church teachings against the use of contraception. 

“In light of these doctrinal teachings, it is difficult to understand the reference to the use of contraception as 'a lesser evil,' as compared with abortion. This may be the case, but it is morally irrelevant, since the same teachings that engage this question reaffirm that an evil may never be chosen that a good might come from it,” he said.

In 2012 while opposing a “reproductive health” bill (House Bill 4244) that, among other things, mandated sex education in schools and government-subsidized contraceptives under government health insurance, Archbishop Villegas, at that time, stated, “We are battling against contraception because we know it can harm your soul. Believe me. Contraception harms your soul. Contraception is corruption.”

Pro-life groups vigorously opposed the bill, which passed in December 2012, for forcing taxpayers to fund contraception and abortifacients, saying that behind the bill was a not-so-hidden population control agenda. 

In April 2014, the country’s Supreme Court upheld the reproductive health law, but struck down provisions of the bill that would have allowed minors to access contraception without parental consent, forced religious health providers to tell patients about contraceptive options, and penalized them for refusing to provide such information. The Court, however, upheld portions of the bill that mandated government-sanctioned sex-ed and fully subsidized contraceptive programs. 

Instead of outright denouncing the ruling, Archbishop Villegas praised it for strengthening parental rights and religious freedom, and encouraged his brother bishops to “move on from being an RH-law-reactionary-group to a truly Spirit empowered disciples of the Gospel of life and love.”