Did Pope Francis say that couples could use contraceptives to avoid pregnancy because of Zika?
No. In an interview on February 18th (full text here), Pope Francis was asked the following question:
Holy Father, for several weeks there’s been a lot of concern in many Latin American countries but also in Europe regarding the Zika virus. The greatest risk would be for pregnant women. There is anguish. Some authorities have proposed abortion, or else to avoiding pregnancy. As regards avoiding pregnancy, on this issue, can the Church take into consideration the concept of “the lesser of two evils?”
Pope Francis responded:
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.
While there has been widespread reporting of this as permission for Catholics to use contraceptives, this is simply not the case. The Pope mentions three things the Church already teaches:
- The Church allows the use of non-abortive contraceptives in cases of rape.
- It is not immoral for married couples to prevent pregnancy. Preventing pregnancy within marriage "is not an absolute evil." Note that no where in this is contraceptive use condoned for consensual sex.
- Abortion is always wrong.
Catholics also do not believe the Pope can change social teachings by making short remarks to reporters, so in terms of the official teachings of the Church, this doesn't matter. For married couples, the only acceptable ways to avoid pregnancy are through abstinence, breastfeeding, and natural family planning.