ON BOARD THE PAPAL PLANE — While strongly rejecting abortion as a solution to the Zika virus now sweeping across Latin America and elsewhere, Pope Francis nonetheless appeared to signal an openness to birth control to prevent infection.
In remarks to reporters on his way back to Rome from Mexico, the pope cited a decision by Pope Paul VI in the early 1960s to allow Catholic nuns in the Congo to take contraceptives to avoid pregnancy due to rape.
Avoiding a pregnancy under such circumstances, Francis said, “is not an absolute evil.” However, he did not say specifically that he would approve contraception in the fight against Zika.
During an hour-long press conference aboard the papal plane, Francis also called Donald Trump’s proposal to build a massive wall along the US-Mexico border “not Christian,” said bishops who move around abusive priests should resign, reiterated the Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage, suggested the door is open to Communion for divorced/civilly remarried Catholics, and said St. John Paul II’s friendship with a married woman was nothing more than that.
On the Catholic response to the Zika virus, native to Africa and Asia but with outbreaks now prevalent in Catholic-heavy South and Central America, the pontiff clearly ruled out abortion as a solution. But he seemed to leave the door open as to whether the traditional Catholic principle of the “lesser of two evils” could apply to the use of contraception.
The Zika virus, transmitted by a mosquito, has mild symptoms in adults, but is believed to cause microcephaly in babies when a pregnant woman is infected.
“Abortion is never the lesser evil, it’s a crime,” Francis said categorically. “It’s to discard one to save another one. It’s what Mafia does; it’s a crime, an absolute evil.”
Regarding the “lesser of two evils” when it comes to contraception, Francis said that it’s a fight between the 5th Commandment (Thou shalt not kill) and the 6th Commandment (Thou shalt not commit adultery). But he avoided giving a definitive response.
“Let’s not confuse the evil of ‘simply’ avoiding a pregnancy with abortion,” Francis said. “Abortion is not a theological problem, it’s a human, medical problem … a person is murdered to save another one, in the best of cases. In others, just to have fun.”
He called abortion an “absolute evil.”
The pontiff did make an appeal for doctors to find a vaccine for the virus.