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Nightmare at 35,000 Feet*

Francis opens the Door to Contraception

by Christopher A. Ferrara
February 22, 2016

The formidable Antonio Socci has written a new book on the crisis in the Church, La Profezia Finale [The Final Prophecy], whose first part considers the alarming confluence of Marian prophecies pointing to our day as a time of unprecedented apostasy among the Catholic hierarchy and lay faithful. The second part consists of a long open letter to the Pope constituting a scathing indictment of his pontificate thus far, documenting what the book’s description calls “the risk of apostasy… the situation of confusion and bewilderment which the pontificate of Pope Bergoglio has created in the Church.”

Another Off-the-Cuff Disaster

The risk of apostasy and the situation of confusion and bewilderment that follow in this Pope’s wake have just reached new heights.  The moment came during yet another in-flight press conference, on the return from Mexico to Rome, wherein Francis yet again felt free to toss off his personal opinions on the most fundamental questions of morality, settled long ago by the Church’s infallible Magisterium.  Here I focus on just one of the bombs Francis dropped this time: his view on contraception.

Having spent the last three years militating for a change in the Church’s infallibly maintained Eucharistic discipline regarding public adulterers who claim to have “remarried” without a valid annulment, Francis this time turned his Gatling gun on the Church’s infallible teaching against the intrinsic evil of contraception.  Here he was responding to one of the many set-ups he happily invites by subjecting himself to questions from cunning reporters: Can women at risk of contracting the Zika virus employ contraception to avoid pregnancy and the risk of the birth defect of microcephaly (abnormally small head) according to “the concept of the lesser of two evils?”

First of all, the infallible Magisterium absolutely rejects any “lesser of two evils” analysis of moral questions, as one may never do evil on the pretext of achieving a greater good.  Natural morality alone dictates that the end never justifies the means, and that both the ends and means of an action must be moral.  Francis, however, stepped right into the trap, condemning abortion while opening wide the door to contraception:

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 of 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… [A]voiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil. In certain cases, as in this one [the Zika virus], as in that one [pointing backwards over his shoulder] that I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear

This statement, if it were accepted as valid teaching, would mean the collapse of the Church’s entire infallibly defined and maintained moral edifice, beginning with her teaching on contraception and toppling all the rest of her moral teachings like so many dominos.  Let me explain:

First, to quote the popular blog of Father John Zuhlsdorf, the story of Paul VI permitting nuns in the Congo to use contraception to “defend” themselves against a supposed imminent threat of rape is not merely “an urban legend, it’s a LIE: Paul VI did NOT give permission to nuns to use contraceptives.” “Father Z” cites a detailed explanation of the origin of this canard, which you can read here.  In my next column, Part II of this two-part series, I will write about the implications of a Pope casually citing an historical fabrication to support a contradiction of the Church’s infallible teaching on the moral impermissibility of contraception.

On the other hand, there is a disputed opinion, held by some reputable moral theologians but rejected by others, that in the limited case of rape a woman may reject violent insemination as a form of physical assault by preventing entry of semen into the uterus, but not afterwards (as with the Pill or an IUD) because conception is then possible and the assault has already occurred. According to this opinion, under the principle of “double effect” the intended effect is to repel a physical assault while the unintended effect is that there will be no conception. Thus violation of the moral prohibition against contraception is not directly intended but is only the unavoidable consequence of a legitimate form of self-defense. 

The hypothetical case of rape, however, hardly supports the use of contraception to avoid conception on account of possible birth defects following consensual sexual relations — a blatantly immoral eugenic practice Francis has apparently just condoned, as Father Lombardi now confirms (see below). The Zika scenario does not alter the “intrinsically evil” character of contraception, whose use for the directly intended avoidance of pregnancy as such may not be deemed licit under any circumstances. As with any intrinsically evil act, even if subjective culpability might be diminished in certain extreme cases, the evil remains and can never be morally justified.

Quite alarmingly, Francis here seems to reject the Church’s infallible teaching that contraception is intrinsically evil. While he describes abortion as “an absolute evil,” he describes contraception explicitly as “not an absolute evil.” There is serious confusion here between the concepts “absolute” and “intrinsic,” as if Francis thinks that something that is not “absolutely” evil can sometimes be allowed. Here Francis apparently fails to recognize that both abortion and contraception belong in the same category of intrinsic evils and thus neither admits of “exceptions” to its immorality. This is true even though abortion, being murder, is the more serious offense, although contraception also constitutes murder when its effects are abortifacient — a fact Francis ignores.

Second, one may never commit a “lesser evil” — meaning a sin — in order to avoid a “greater evil.” The published transcript places quotation marks around Francis’ use of the phrase “lesser evil,” but as one can see from the video Francis indicated no such skepticism when he adopted a reporter’s terminology — “male minore” in Italian. He clearly accepts the false notion that the deliberate commission of the “lesser evil” of contraception could be justified to avoid a Zika infection because it could cause a birth defect.

This is simply the error of consequentialism or proportionalism, specifically condemned by John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor (cf. paragraph 75). Consequentialism purports to judge an evil act to be moral if its overall consequences are good. In this case, the evil of contraception is deemed morally justified because of the “good” consequence that a woman infected by the Zika virus will not bear a child with microcephaly.  On the basis of that moral logic, which Francis has just endorsed, contraception could be used for all manner of eugenic purposes in order to avoid any sort of serious birth defect.

Third, Francis’ contention that the Zika virus scenario involves “the conflict between the fifth and sixth commandment” is an outrageous blunder indicating, at best, a profound ignorance of God’s law and at worst an intention to subvert it. There can never be any true “conflict” between God’s commandments. Obeying one commandment never entails disobeying another.

In any case, it is positively absurd for Francis to suggest that the commandment Thou Shalt Not Kill would be violated unless a woman infected by the Zika virus avoided conception by using contraception in violation of the commandment Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery. The virus itself causes only a brief, flu-like illness, whereas incurring the risk of bearing a child with a birth defect does not constitute murder.  Besides, a woman infected with the virus can simply avoid sexual relations until the virus has been purged from her body — in about two or three weeks.

Father Lombardi Confirms the Error!

Desperate as always to defend the indefensible and cover up the constant embarrassment of this pontificate, the “mainstream” Catholic press immediately went into high gear in attempting to explain away the obvious import of the Pope’s remarks.  This example of verbal sleight-of-hand is typical. But the usual efforts at damage control were undone by Vatican press spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, who later told the press that Francis knew exactly what he meant, and that what he meant was this:

The Pope distinguished clearly between the radicality of the evil of abortion which eliminates a human life with the possibility of recourse to contraception or condoms, in cases of emergency or special situations, in which one does not eliminate a human life but avoids a pregnancy.  Now it is not that he is saying that this recourse can be used and accepted without discernment, but rather he said clearly that it can be taken into consideration in particular cases of emergency. 

The example of Paul VI and the authorization of use of the Pill for those religious who were under a serious risk of violence on the part of rebels in the Congo… shows that this was not a normal situation in which this was taken into account…. So the contraceptive or condom, in cases of particular gravity or emergency, can be the object of a serious discernment of conscience. This is what the Pope said.

What an absolute disaster this verbally reckless Pope has caused.  His remarks open the door to use of contraception in any situation deemed “grave” or an “emergency” or even a “special situation,” meaning any situation in which an unwanted pregnancy would cause serious hardship, or perceived hardship, for the mother, such as birth defect or any condition that would make pregnancy risky.  And the explicit condonation of use of the Pill with “discernment,” even though it is often abortifacient in its effects, opens the back door to abortion itself, which Francis purported to bar at the front door.

The teaching of Humanae Vitae, reflecting the constant teaching of the Church, is thus effectively overthrown by an “exception” to what is an intrinsic evil that can never admit of exceptions. (Again, however, the hypothetical scenario of rape does not involve any directly intended commission of the intrinsically evil act but only a form of self-defense.)And if there can be an exception to the intrinsic evil of contraception, why not also the intrinsic evil of sodomy, or the evils of fornication and adultery? And what then becomes of any moral prohibition in the Church’s teaching if even intrinsic evils are said to admit of exceptions that permit them?

Of course, Francis has erred gravely and no one must follow his erroneous opinion, which carries no weight whatsoever despite what Father Lombardi says. But that will not stop the Pope’s error from eroding the already disastrously eroded adherence of the lay faithful to the Church’s teaching on marriage and procreation.

We know that Sister Lucia warned Cardinal Caffarra that “the final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family.” Did she know as well that the forces the faithful would have to oppose in this final conflict would include a wayward Pope?  No doubt the integral Third Secret holds the answer.

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* It seems another blogger beat me into print with this title, but as I had already thought of it on my own, I employ it here (updating the altitude to reflect modern aircraft).