Saturday, February 27, 2016

Francis Does It Again!

Last week Pope Francis entered the fray (yet again) with a statement suggesting that contraceptives might be used to prevent the spread of the Zika virus or to avoid a pregnancy that might be endangered by the mother’s suffering from the virus.  When asked if contraception might, in this case, be “the lesser of two evils” the Pope first drew the line on abortion, which he declared to be “an absolute evil,” even comparing the saving of the life of the mother over the child to “the way the Mafia acts.”  (A bit strong, but point taken.)  The Pope went on then to say that avoiding a pregnancy, on the other hand, is not an absolute evil, implying there might be some room here to use contraceptives both to avoid spread of the disease and to justify contraception where the virus is a threat to mother and potential child.  
Pope Francis then went on to cite the story that Pope Paul VI had agreed that nuns in the then Belgian Congo might take a drug that suppresses ovulation to avoid pregnancy consequent on rape.  The Congo, then a Belgian colony struggling for Independence in a particularly vile war, was torn by brutal warfare in the first half of the 60’s.  The Church—because of its ties to the Belgian colonizers, was a special target of the rebels and there were numerous martyrdoms of clergy, religious and Catholic laity by the Simba forces.  Religious women were particularly victimized by rape.  A fictionalized account of the violence of the time—and a stinging indictment of American involvement in what would become a most savage war—is the novel The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.  Again, this book is fiction but Ms. Kingsolver did a superb job in providing the historical setting for the novel and explaining the socio-political-economic status of the Congo on the outbreak of the war as well as what was at stake for the United States politically. 
Well, back to Pope Francis.  The Krazies are screaming heresy and are up in arms over Francis’ failure to condemn contraception in any and all cases.  The hive is swarming with angry wasps.  Even Michael Voris—who is usually somewhat trepid about a direct attack on the Pope—finds this a bridge too far.    One Loon wrote on her website “How long can the see of bishops let this go on for before they pull the plug on this shit show?”  I am not sure what “the see of bishops” refers to, but it sounds like Pope Francis might have a Simba Rebellion of his own. 
The Krazies are arguing that the claim that Paul VI authorized the nuns to take an ovulation suppressing drug to avoid pregnancy is urban legend and not true.  I don’t know what Pope Paul VI said at the time and despite my efforts at research I can’t come up with a reliable source to tell me.  But I am old enough to remember that it was reported at the time (and so it is no “urban legend”) that the Pope had authorized the nuns to take steps to avoid pregnancy.  He may have been misquoted—I don’t know—but it is, as I say, no urban legend. 

At the end of the day, the Holy Father is saying nothing different than the vast majority of parish priests would tell their parishioners.  Pope Benedict is a noted theologian.  Pope John Paul II was a philosopher.  Pope Francis is a pastor who can cut through the over-intellectualized crap for common sense solutions.  Sometimes, like the Scribes and the Pharisees in the Gospels, we take a very simple thing and build it up into a burden, heavy on others’ shoulders, and make no effort to help bear the weight.  But as Pope Francis consistently reminds us: Compassionless Christianity is no Christianity at all. 


  1. The problem as I see it is not this .01% exception, but the headlines in the press. Most do not mention "ZIKA" or "rare exception" they say something like "Pope OK's Birth Control." Yes, we all know headline writers are liars and deceptive and at best pressed for length, but the people pushing this have an agenda.

    As an aside, I am really getting tired of 'gotcha' Q&A sessions from journalists looking to get the Pope to contradict Catholic teachings and/or create a controversy. These people have an agenda, too, and it's to embarrass the Catholic Church, the Holy Father, and the Faithful.

    The Pope should declare all conversations in his chambers and in the airplane to be 'off the record' and if he says something they want to have follow-up on later, they can discuss it in-depth rather than off the cuff and he can put it on the record. This isn't the 1960's with 15 minutes of nightly news and a newspaper reporting stuff a few days later. It's the world of social media and tweets and the Vatican doesn't seem to understand this.

  2. Did you ever hear of Monday Vatican ?

    He talks about what I/we discussed, namely how the Pope has to be more careful.

    I think the problem is this guy could say pretty much anything in Argentina and nobody paid any attention. Now, he hiccups and the press wants to say it was a hiccup in favor of this or that.

  3. Well, I certainly think the Pope should choose his words carefully, but I don't have any issue with what he has said on this or other occasions. I certainly can distinguish between conversation and magisterium and I think it has put a very good face on the papacy--and on the Church--that the Pope speaks so bluntly. My priest friends always distinguish between what is said in the pulpit, in the classroom, in the confessional, and in someone's living room. It really isn't complicated. And these days, whether it is "official teaching" or informal conversation, the faithful (at best, unfortunately) take the Holy Father's words as advisory but in the end make their own decisions. For better or for worse, the days of the Pope, or the Bishop, or the local priest telling people what to do or how to think are over. We just need to make peace with that.