In the Pope’s disastrous plane interview last week, this q and a occurred:
Paloma García Ovejero, Cadena COPE (Spain): Holy Father, for several weeks there’s been a lot of concern in many Latin American countries but also in Europe regarding the Zika virus. The greatest risk would be for pregnant women. There is anguish. Some authorities have proposed abortion, or else to avoiding pregnancy. As regards avoiding pregnancy, on this issue, can the Church take into consideration the concept of “the lesser of two evils?”
Pope Francis: Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to throw someone out in order to save another. That’s what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil. On the ‘lesser evil,’ avoiding pregnancy, we are speaking in terms of the conflict between the fifth and sixth commandment. Paul VI, a great man, in a difficult situation in Africa, permitted nuns to use contraceptives in cases of rape.
Don’t confuse the evil of avoiding pregnancy by itself, with abortion. Abortion is not a theological problem, it is a human problem, it is a medical problem. You kill one person to save another, in the best case scenario. Or to live comfortably, no? It’s against the Hippocratic oaths doctors must take. It is an evil in and of itself, but it is not a religious evil in the beginning, no, it’s a human evil. Then obviously, as with every human evil, each killing is condemned.
On the other hand, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil. In certain cases, as in this one, or in the one I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear. I would also urge doctors to do their utmost to find vaccines against these two mosquitoes that carry this disease. This needs to be worked on.
Leaving aside for the moment the havoc the Pope wreaked as to the teaching of the Church against artificial contraception, Francis, in defense of his reasoning, invoked the alleged example of Pope Paul VI. One of the main problems of the current papacy is that Pope Francis believes a lot of things that simply are not true. It is false that Pope Paul VI permitted nuns in the Congo in 1964 during the Simba rebellion to use contraceptives in order to avoid pregnancy due to rape. Oakes Spaulding at Mahound’s Paradise has done yeoman work in driving a stake through this hoary myth:
We can trace the thought experiment back to a 1961 paper by three “Jesuit theologians.” In the heady days of the 1960’s this paper would be cited again and again by Catholic dissidents wishing to push the limits on contraception until Paul VI would quash their efforts with Humanae Vitae. It will be useful to quote in full a 1964 AP story on the paper and subsequent controversy:
A leading Roman Catholic moral theologian here says there may be a relaxation of the Church’s strict ban on contraception because of the rape of nuns in the Belgian Congo four years ago.
Very Rev. E.F. Sheridan, rector of suburban Willowsdale’s Regis College, foresees probable justification for the use of oral contraceptives by persons threatened with rape but doubts whether abortion or pills for married women will ever been condoned.
He was commenting on an article by a United Church minister in a recent issue of the United Church Observer.
Dr. Ernest Marshall Howse of Toronto suggested in The Observer article that three jesuit theologians, studying the violation of the nuns, recognized that artificial contraception is morally permissible under certain circumstances. He said the group presented a considered judgment–on which the Vatican has so far made no comment–that nuns in danger of rape may properly use contraceptive pills and also can “eliminate all traces and consequences” of all aggression.
The findings of the study were published in the Roman Catholic Theological review Studi Cattolici of November-December, 1961.
According to Msgr. Pietro Palazzini, a cleric highly regarded for his moral theology studies, “a woman can resist sexual aggression with all her forces.”
“She can slightly mutilate her face in order to make herself unattractive; she can also eliminate all traces and consequence of the aggression including the fecundant element abusively laid in her womb.”
Msgr. Lambuschini, another member of the study team, said: “We conclude that the use of pills which suspend temporarily a woman’s fertility, can be considered morally legitimate.”
Dr. Howse asked; “How long before what is moral in their (the nuns?) situation becomes moral in other situations for other women who, for legitimate reasons, do not want children?”
Father Sheridan said in an interview: “When three theologians of such high reputation as these men say this, any Catholic can, in safe conscience, follow the advice in the circumstances exactly implied, until contradicted by the Holy See.”
In other words, it could be understood that nuns can safely use contraceptives to prevent the possible outcome of rape. Father Sheridan added that he understood the Jesuits’ findings to justify contraception for violated women other than nuns.
“But I don’t think there is any possibility of defending use of contraceptives of the oral type by married couples,” he said.
He added: “When the theologians speak of preventing any consequence of rape I am quite certain that they would never justify abortion but refer to attempts to expel the spermatozoa before conception. These attempts are licit under the circumstances described, as long as there is no danger of abortion.
There are a few important things to note here. First of all, the story of the Belgian nuns is treated not as fact but as a philosophical jumping off point for a particular argument–that contraception would be licit under certain circumstances. As it was creepily put, the Jesuit theologians were merely “studying the violation of the nuns.”
Its’s also interesting to see the manner in which in 1964 the envelope on changing the traditional Catholic teachings on contraception was aggressively being pushed: “When three theologians of such high reputation as these men say this, any Catholic can, in safe conscience, follow the advice in the circumstances exactly implied, until contradicted by the Holy See.” This sort of thing would eventually lead to Humanae Vitae.
Finally, observe the strong denial that such reasoning could ever lead to married couples taking contraceptives. That was just proven false by the current Pope.
Let’s return to Professor Kalbian. Though she added fuel to the rumor fire with her recent book, she seems now to have somewhat recanted:
Aline Kalbian, a professor of religion at Florida State University and author of Sex, Violence & Justice: Contraception and the Catholic Church also looked into the Belgian nun story and came up empty.
“I didn’t find any evidence of Paul VI saying anything about Congo and nuns,” Kalbian said. “And John XXIII didn’t say anything either.”
Kalbian also pointed out that the Pill had just been approved for public use in the US in 1960, and that it wasn’t widely available in much of the world during the Congo crisis. She said the debate was likely a typical hypothetical premise that theologians bat around as part of their work.
“This was a bunch of theologians debating the possibility [of providing nuns with contraception],” she said. “And all of it was happening under John XVIII, so it’s weird [Francis] invoked Pope Paul VI.”
In fairness, we’ll quote the last part of her statement:
“It’s possible the pope has accessed Vatican archives and knows something about Paul VI and the Belgian Congo that we don’t,” Kalbian said.
Yes, possible. Pope Francis just made a very controversial claim about his predecessor, a claim that would be slanderous if false. Where’s the evidence?
Kalbian’s historical analysis brings us to the final piece of the puzzle. A number of European nuns were raped in the Belgian Congo in 1960 during the violent turbulence of de-colonialization, though leftists have long dismissed this as anti-African propaganda. It is these rapes that were “studied” by the Jesuits. There was another eruption of violence during the so-called “Simba Rebellion” of 1964 that also tragically included attacks against Catholic nuns. If the story as reported by, say, Francis is true, and the period in question was during the pontificate of Paul VI, who became Pope in June of 1963, then the women religious would have had to have “gone on The Pill” at about this time.
That’s at least logically possible, of course. But consider also that The Pill was either unavailable or illegal in most Western countries during this period. It didn’t become available in Belgium until 1965, and contraceptive literature was essentially illegal in that country until the end of the decade. Though, women used it in growing numbers in the countries where it could be obtained, there was still much controversy about its safety and side-effects, among other things.
Was The Pill available at all in the Belgian Congo is, say 1964-65, let alone obtainable by Catholic nuns? Did their bishops smuggle it in?
It’s time to stand back and consider just how absurd and even obscene this whole bogus story is:
“Sisters, we’re about to send you into/back into a war zone. There’s a very good chance that you’ll be attacked by rebels. These rebels are quite bloodthirsty and violent. It’s very possible/probable that you’ll be raped. If on the off-chance you’re raped and not killed, then a really bad thing might happen–you might become with child. We can’t really provide extra guards or anything to prevent any of this. But what we can do is give you some medicine which we’ve obtained on the black market. Don’t worry, you might think it’s morally wrong, but a 1961 academic paper contradicts that. Also, whether or not there might be any side-effects or other health dangers, consider how awful it would be, not to be raped per se, but to have a baby as a result of that. Here, Sisters, have some contraceptives.”
The crisis in the Church continues.