Vatican plays down papal talk on birth control and virus

The Vatican has dampened claims Pope Francis has signalled a significant relaxation of the Church’s ban on contraception as a response to the Zika virus outbreak.

In a press conference aboard the papal flight to Rome from Mexico, Francis was asked if the grave nature of the virus – which is linked to serious birth defects – might make abortion a “lesser evil” for a mother faced with the choice of having a malformed child.

The Pope firmly rejected the use of abortion, saying it is not a “lesser evil”, but is “a crime” and an “absolute evil”.

But he said that avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil.

Francis said: “The great Paul VI in a difficult situation in Africa permitted sisters to use contraception for cases of violence.”

“Do not confuse the evil of avoiding pregnancy in and of itself with abortion,” he added.

“Avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil,” the Pope said.

“In certain cases, like in that which I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear.”

The Pope did not indicate if the faithful who want to avoid pregnancies amid a Zika epidemic would have the Church’s explicit blessing to do so.

But Francis urged the medical and scientific communities to do everything possible to find out more about the mosquito-transmitted Zika virus.

Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi, SJ, said the Pontiff had been talking about the possibility of having recourse to birth control only in “emergency cases”.

“That does not mean that this recourse is accepted and can be used without discernment,” Fr Lombardi told Vatican Radio.

But he noted it could be “the object of discernment in a serious case of conscience”.

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith member Msgr Octavio Ruiz Arenas said: “”You don’t change doctrine with off-the-cuff remarks.”

Msgr Ruiz Arena said Humanae Vitae is the only teaching that counts on the subject.

The World Health Organisation said last week that the link between the Zika virus and microcephaly could take four to six months to prove.

Latin American bishops have urged believers to either abstain from sex if there is a risk of infection or use natural family planning to avoid a risky pregnancy.


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