In the News 2016

‘Francis fine with the pill’

The Pope recently electrified the world with quite a mouthful, stunning even Vatican reporters, saying artificial contraception is actually acceptable — as this is a totally better alternative to abortion — to address the devastating effects of disease known as “Zika” which still has no known cure.

Vatican officials, however, moved quickly to obfuscate the position more than clearly enunciated by the Pope for a relaxation of the longstanding ban on contraception in response to the Zika threat, thus effectively dousing ice cold water on the hopes of pro-choice advocates for some sort of moratorium on the issue and hopelessly confusing millions of Catholic faithful who rely on positive signals from Rome for guidance.

“Francis says contraception can be used to slow Zika,” was the headline used by the respected New York Times when the story first broke.

But this was curtly brushed off by Monsignor Octavio Ruiz Arenas, a member of the Vatican department that guides Church teaching, who said the papal opinion should not be interpreted literally since Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical entitled “Humanae Vitae” which bans the pill still stands.

“You don’t change doctrine with off the cuff remarks,” Ruiz was quoted in wire stories as saying, which the pro-choice lobby Catholics for Choice predicted would result in thousands of women stricken with the virus dying in illegal abortions.

Francis’ declaration had saddened thousands of ultra-conservative and narrow-minded Catholics here in the Philippines who stubbornly frown on planned birth control as anathema to their archaic beliefs, even if this results in the birth of thousands of deformed and brain-damaged babies brought about by the mysterious Zika virus.

The Pope said he agreed with the notion that contraceptives may be employed in such crisis situation, to help prevent the spread of the disease which is now reportedly raging in South America, despite the Church’s longstanding ban on virtually all forms of birth control.

As noted in a recent CNN story, Catholic catechism has long preached that apart from natural birth control, anything that renders procreation impossible is “intrinsically evil.”

The Pope, during some light-hearted bantering with Vatican reporters on the flight home from his five-day pastoral visit to Mexico last month, was apparently painted into a corner after someone posed the question: What is the lesser of the two evils, contraception or abortion (paraphrased)?

Such teachings have complicated the lives of pregnant Catholic women the world over, especially in several heavily-populated countries in South America where the Zika – described as an “incurable and often devastating neurological birth defect” — is prevalent and where abortion is being resorted to by expectant mothers for practical reasons.

“Abortion isn’t a lesser evil. It’s an absolute evil,” Pope Francis insisted. “On the other hand, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil.”

However, it has surfaced that such papal consent to artificial birth control is not at all a novel idea. During the turbulent civil unrest in the early ‘60s in the Belgian Congo, Pope Paul VI reportedly gave his consent to the nuns who were assigned there to use the anti-ovulation drug called “anovulant” because he didn’t want anyone being impregnated due to rape which was prevalent during the country’s political turmoil.

Ironically, it was Paul VI himself who issued a few years later in 1968 the highly-divisive encyclical entitled “Humanae Vitae” concretizing the Church’s uncompromising stand against birth control that was embraced by rich countries but disdained by billions in the Third World.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global health emergency over the Zika outbreak. In Brazil, which is believed to be hardest hit, expectant mothers are panicking after learning from local experts that it may be the cause of microcephaly or abnormally small heads and brains in babies which would result in retarded mental and physical development.

Pope Francis, incidentally, hails from Argentina which is the second-biggest country in the continent after Brazil.

Compounding the health scare is the fact that people infected with the virus do not display any significant symptoms, so there is no way to accurately determine the actual number of whose who’re Zika carriers. And worst of all, there is still no vaccine or known cure to address the disease.


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