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Nightmare at 35,000 Feet – Part II

The Implications of a Papal Tall Tale

by Christopher A. Ferrara
February 23, 2016

In my previous column on this subject, I discussed how Pope Francis, in another of his freewheeling, offhand commentaries to the press at the back of the airplane, condoned the use of contraception — both condoms and pills — to avoid conception during the so-called Zika crisis. In other words, he condoned contraception for eugenic motives: to prevent conception on account of a birth defect that the virus might cause (microcephaly). In support of this astonishing suggestion, Francis cited the tale of how Paul VI supposedly “permitted nuns [in the Congo] to use contraceptives in cases of rape.”

Even if the story were true, it would be irrelevant, as the Zika scenario does not involve rape but rather consensual sexual relations from which women infected by the virus are free to abstain until the virus, which causes a minor flu-like illness in adults, is purged from their system in a couple of weeks. 

At any rate, I also noted that the desperate attempts of “normalist” commentators to explain away the Pope’s mammoth moral error were confounded when Father Lombardi, the Vatican press spokesman, later confirmed that Francis had indeed meant precisely to condone “the possibility of recourse to contraception or condoms, in cases of emergency or special situations.” And Lombardi, too, repeated the tale of the nuns in the Congo, citing “[t]he 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…”

Except that it never happened. The tale is just that — a historical fantasy that fulfilled the wishful thinking of liberal Jesuits in the 70s, of which Francis was one.  Father John Zuhlsdorf, who certainly cannot be accused of “radical traditionalist” sympathies, has published another writer’s exposé of this fraud on his blog site, available here.  The gist of the fraud is this: an article published in a Catholic theological journal in Rome in 1961, wherein a trio of moral theologians speculate about possible recourse to contraception in cases of rape — again, not the issue anyway — somehow morphed into “Rome” giving permission for such use, which then morphed again into “Paul VI” giving permission — even though the original article appeared two years before he assumed the papacy!

As “Father Z” observes: “The urban legend (lie) is now so common that even high-ranking churchmen cite it as if it happened. They aren’t lying, per se.  They are passing on something that isn’t true but that they think is true… even if it really doesn’t pass the smell test.”  And so it was with Francis on the airplane: he repeated a tall tale that had no basis in fact, believing it to be true (as one must presume).

But consider the implications of this epochal blunder:

  • Francis, the Vicar of Christ, proposed a departure from the Church’s infallible teaching on contraception based on a historical falsehood about his own predecessor that he never bothered to investigate.
  • While the story always sounded fishy to Catholics who know the teaching of the Church on this question, and has now quickly been exposed as a fake, Francis, the Vicar of Christ, suavely assured the whole Catholic world, indeed the world at large, that a lie he should have known was a lie was true.  
  • Francis, the Vicar of Christ, citing a phony story about Paul VI and nuns in the Congo facing rape, has condoned the use of contraception by women in no danger of rape merely in order to avoid a possible birth defect. 
  • Even Edward Pentin, attempting to explain this mess, was forced to state: “use of artificial contraceptives in such a scenario [the “Zika crisis”] would be contrary to the Church's moral teaching…”
  • Father Lombardi has now confirmed that Francis did indeed condone precisely the use of contraceptives in such a scenario.
  • Therefore, Francis, the Vicar of Christ, has unquestionably endorsed a violation of the Church’s infallible moral teaching, and he is clearly refusing to back down from his error, but on the contrary has confirmed it through his spokesman.
  • Countless millions of souls will now be misled on a matter pertaining to mortal sin and thus salvation.

So what do we do with this information?  Well, we as members of the laity can only do so much.  We can expose and protest the Pope’s error, as I am doing here. And of course we can refuse to accept it as Church teaching, no matter what Father Lombardi or Francis’ other apologists might say. 

But the time has come to state an obvious question publicly to members of the hierarchy, especially the cardinals: As successors of the Apostles and Princes of the Church, when are you going to honor your sacred vow to defend the Faith against the ongoing disaster of this pontificate?  When will you find the courage to do as Saint Paul did when Peter erred concerning the Church’s approach to the Gentiles, jeopardizing her very mission of converting the whole world: “I resisted him to the face, because he stood condemned. (Gal. 2:11)”

Meanwhile, this latest scandal confirms what well-informed Catholics have always known: the Pope is not infallible in matters of faith and morals when he departs from the constant teaching of the Church — all the more so when he cavalierly cites an irrelevant historical fabrication in doing so.