Date
22 July 2017
Pope Francis talks to reporters on the papal plane. He ruled out abortion as a response to the Zika outbreak but said there's a papal precedence for the use of contraceptives in exceptional cases. Photo: Reuters
Pope Francis talks to reporters on the papal plane. He ruled out abortion as a response to the Zika outbreak but said there's a papal precedence for the use of contraceptives in exceptional cases. Photo: Reuters

Pope softens contraception stance amid Zika outbreak

Pope Francis has signaled a possible softening of the ban on contraception by the Roman Catholic Church to deal with the Zika virus.

However, Francis categorically ruled out abortion, which he compared to a Mafia killing, in dealing with the outbreak, Reuters reports.

The health crisis is putting pressure on the Church, particularly in Latin America, where abortion is being debated more openly.

Many scientists believe Zika, a mosquito-borne disease sweeping through the Americas, may be a risk factor for microcephaly in newborns — a condition in which babies are born with abnormally small heads.

In a freewheeling news conference on the papal plane on his return from a visit to Mexico, the pope was asked if contraception would fall into the category of the lesser of two evils and how he felt about some authorities advising pregnant women with Zika to have abortions.

He categorically ruled out that abortion would ever be permitted for pregnant women with Zika who fear that they may give birth to a child with microcephaley.

“Abortion is not a lesser evil. It is a crime. It is killing one person to save another. It is what the Mafia does,” Francis said, speaking passionately against the practice.

“It is a crime. It is an absolute evil.”

The 1.2 billion-strong Church teaches that abortion is a crime because life begins at the moment of conception.

It teaches that contraception is wrong because nothing should block the possible transmission of life.

But Francis said one of his predecessors, Pope Paul VI, had issued an exceptional dispensation allowing nuns in Africa to use the birth control pill because they risked being raped during a conflict there.

He said Paul, who reigned from 1963 to 1978, had responded to “a difficult situation in Africa”, suggesting that a papal precedent existed.

Francis did not say exactly when his predecessor made the exception, but it was believed to be in the 1960s in what was then the Belgian Congo. Little is known of the episode, which was not publicised at the time.

Francis said that unlike abortion, “avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil” and added that “in certain cases”, such as the precedent set by Paul VI regarding the nuns in Africa, using contraception might be the “lesser evil”.

“I would also like to exhort doctors to do everything to find vaccines against the mosquitoes that bear this illness. We have to work on that,” he said.

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CG/RA

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