May 14, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – The Catholic Church has faced an internal war against her teaching on contraception for decades with the Popes fighting valiantly to defend and explain why the Church promotes openness to life.
Unfortunately, on this teaching as much as many others, Pope Francis has introduced considerable ambiguity, and has even seemed to undermine the teaching in some of his informal remarks.
Today, on Episode 9 of The John-Henry Westen Show, I’m discussing the Pope Francis’ comments on contraception, and why they are such a departure from the Church’s traditional teaching on the issue.
The John-Henry Westen Show appears every Tuesday. It is a short weekly commentary on the most important news developments in the Church and culture. We are beginning with a series laying out the hard evidence for our concerns with Pope Francis.
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Transcript: Is Pope Francis trying to open the door to contraception?
One of the biggest struggles inside the Catholic Church since the 1960s was the internal war over contraception. If you know your modern Church history you’ll remember that a majority of Cardinals and bishops who Pope Paul VI asked to look into the question of contraception came back with a report suggesting that the Church change Her teaching and allow for it, for the use of the pill or condom for married couples in achieving family planning. A minority report written by Cardinal Karol Wojtyła (who was of course later to become Pope John Paul II) told Pope Paul VI that the Church’s teaching could not be changed. And we know what happened with the encyclical Humanae Vitae and the revolt in the Church that ensued. Well, it seems Pope Francis has not only reopened that debate but said the opposite on the question, but very few have even taken notice.
That is the subject of the John-Henry Westen Show today. I’m your host John-Henry Westen co-founder and editor in chief of LifeSiteNews.
Let’s begin as we always do with the Sign of the Cross.
In a March 2014 interview with Corriere della Sera, Francis said that the question of birth control must be answered not by “changing the doctrine” but by “making pastoral (ministry) take into account the situations and that which it is possible for people to do.” Speaking of Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, Pope Francis said, “Paul VI himself, at the end, recommended to confessors much mercy, and attention to concrete situations.”
During a November 2015 press conference on his return flight from Africa, Pope Francis was asked, “Is it not time for the Church to change its position on the matter? To allow the use of condoms to prevent more infections?”
In his response Pope Francis stated: “Yes, it’s one of the methods. The moral of the Church on this point is found here faced with a perplexity: the fifth or sixth commandment? Defend life, or that sexual relations are open to life?”
But this isn’t the problem. The problem is bigger… this question makes me think of one they once asked Jesus: “Tell me, teacher, is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? Is it obligatory to heal?” This question, “is doing this lawful,” … but malnutrition, the development of the person, slave labor, the lack of drinking water, these are the problems.
Let’s not talk about if one can use this type of patch or that for a small wound, the serious wound is social injustice, environmental injustice, … I think of the trafficking of arms, when these problems are no longer there, I think we can ask the question “is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” Because, if the trafficking of arms continues, wars are the biggest cause of mortality…I would say not to think about whether it’s lawful or not to heal on the Sabbath, I would say to humanity: “make justice,” and when all are cured, when there is no more injustice, we can talk about the Sabbath.
And there are recent examples as well. In April 2018, an Argentinian religious sister acclaimed for her work against the trafficking and exploitation of children said publicly that Pope Francis told her responsible parenthood requires contraceptives in some cases.
In an interview with the Argentinian radio program Crónica Anunciada, Carmelite missionary sister Martha Pelloni said Pope Francis “told me three words” about the need for responsible parenthood among poor rural women: “condoms, transitory, and reversible.”
Sr. Pelloni, who is opposed to abortion, said the Pope told her various forms of contraception could be permissible to prevent poor women from choosing abortion. She included condoms, “a diaphragm, and as a last resort, which is what we advise for rural women that we serve, because I have a foundation for the peasantry, tubal ligation.”
“If there is sex education and state responsibility to care for women in poverty, we do not need to decriminalize abortion because it will not be necessary to have an abortion,” the superior of the Carmelite Missionaries said.
The Vatican neither confirmed nor denied the Pope’s comments to Sr. Pelloni. LifeSiteNews contacted Vatican spokesman Greg Burke for comment but received no response.
But the most devastating contradiction of the Church’s teaching came in 2016 when on his February return flight from Mexico, 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.
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi on February 19th 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, “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.”
As LifeSite writer Matthew Hoffman pointed out, in what appears to be an almost perfect anticipation of the argument made by Pope Francis, Pope Paul VI taught in Humanae Vitae:
Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, … Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good,” it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (18)—in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general.
Although Pope Paul VI recognized that lesser evils might be tolerated for the sake of avoiding greater evils, he expressly condemned the notion that one could morally defend an act of contraception, which he calls “intrinsically wrong,” by claiming that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one. This appears to be the precise reasoning of Pope Francis.
The Holy Bible indicates that God hates contraception. As the encyclical Casti Connubii says, God “regards with greatest detestation this horrible crime and at times has punished it with death. As St. Augustine notes, ‘Intercourse even with one’s legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked where the conception of the offspring is prevented. Onan, the son of Juda, did this and the Lord killed him for it.’”
The rejection of God’s command to be fruitful and multiply in our current age can be seen as the heart of the attack on marriage and the family. The late Cardinal Caffarra revealed at our Rome Life Forum last year that this attack is the fulfillment of Our Lady of Fatima’s prophecy of the “final battle between Our Lord and the Reign of Satan.”
The most significant decline in the birth rate did not begin as most think in the 60s, the descent began in 1930 with the promotion of the condom. It was the precursor to the sexual revolution, which was given the definitive spark with the pill. And it was directly correlated with an unprecedented rise in divorce rates.
Humanae Vitae warned of many of the consequences of the acceptance of contraception in ways which make it look like a prophetic document today.
The encyclical warned of four resulting trends: a general lowering of moral standards throughout society; a rise in infidelity; a lessening of respect for women by men; and the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.
A general lowering of moral standards is painfully obvious today.
Pope Paul VI warned: “Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires…”
Compare that to the strength of the Catholic Church’s response when the Anglican Church at the Lambeth conference gave a very tentative and shy approval to contraception.
When the Anglicans first approved of contraception in 1930 at the Lambeth Conference, it was done with words and sentiments very similar to the justifications for second marriage (without annulment) provided in Amoris Laetitia.
At Lambeth, the Anglican leadership didn’t just plainly say contraception was now permitted. They pointed to hard cases and employed many heart-rending justifications to get to what was the first breach against openness to life in the Christian world.
“Where there is clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles,” said the Lambeth resolution.
The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary) in a life of discipline and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.