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Monday, February 22, 2016

Contraception: not just the Belgian Congo

There's been much in the Catholic news about the Pope's remark that it would be ok to use contraception to prevent Zika-infected pregnancies and his reference to the Belgian Congo. Here's a bit on this from Crux ...

[...] Speaking about birth control in the context of the Zika pandemic, Francis cited his predecessor, Pope Paul VI. Here’s what he said, translated from Italian:

* Paul VI — the great! — in a difficult situation, in Africa, permitted sisters to use birth control for cases of violence. It’s necessary not to confuse the evil of avoiding pregnancy, by itself, with abortion … avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil, and in certain cases, as in that I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear. *

The reference is to Congo in the late 1950s and early 60s, where Catholic nuns faced widespread sexual violence and the question was whether birth control could be used to avoid pregnancy after rape.

Francis said Paul VI “permitted” birth control in that context, which, to Anglo-Saxon ears, implies a formal juridical act. The line sparked a frenzy of fruitless Internet searches, as people went looking for a Vatican edict or decree that just doesn’t exist.

Here’s what happened: In December 1961, the influential Italian journal Studi Cattolici (“Catholic Studies”) published an issue in which three Catholic moral theologians agreed that in the Congo case, contraception could be justified

The future Paul VI, at that stage, was still the Archbishop of Milan, and close to the currents that shaped Studi Cattolici. It was assumed the conclusions reflected his thinking. That appeared to be confirmed later when Paul VI made one of the authors, Pietro Palazzini, a cardinal.

Paul became pope in 1963, and never issued any edict writing that position into law. Thus, when pressed about it some years later, a Vatican spokesman could accurately say, “I am not aware of official documents from the Holy See in this regard.”

Still, the Vatican never repudiated the 1961 position, so the takeaway was that it remained a legitimate option. To Italians — and remember, Francis’ ancestry is Italian, and he’s very wired into the country’s ecclesiastical scene — that meant Paul VI approved.

Interestingly, this was not the only time something like this happened. Apparently a similar example took place in Bosnia in the 90s ...

Vatican acts overBosnian rapes: Birth control ban eased for women at risk

THE VATICAN has responded to mass rapes in Bosnia by reviving a decision that women in danger of rape may use contraceptives, even though its ban on contraception in normal circumstances remains.

The ban on abortion remains absolute, although the Roman Catholic bishops of England and Wales have decided that the so-called morning-after pill may also be used by rape victims in certain circumstances.

An article in the Jesuit magazine Civillta Catolica, which is approved before publication by the Vatican, argues that contraception is a legitimate form of self-defence for a rape victim. The author, Fr Giacomo Perico, says that rape is an act of violence, to which the rules applying to an act within marriage cannot apply .....

It's all kind of interesting in a historical and academic way, but these crabwise efforts to justify even the slimmest exceptions to the church's doctrine on contraception only show how incoherent the whole doctrine is.


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