In the wake of Pope Francis’ proposing contraception as a means of preventing microcephaly in the Zika virus epidemic, much is being made of his linking the modern day dilemma to the plight of nuns being raped in the Congo more than 55 years ago, and Pope Paul VI allegedly permitting the nuns to take contraceptives to prevent pregnancy. Of course, Francis missed some whopper pandemics ongoing globally as he held out contraceptives to the hispanics in his backyard, a matter I blogged on extensively over the weekend.
Canon lawyer Ed Peters addresses the high probability that Paul VI never issued such permission. His article is worth the read.
Assuming that Paul VI, or any other pope/bishop gave such permission in the 1960’s, we are in possession of hard medical data, and subsequent teaching from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) that would prevent any Pope from ever issuing such permission again.
To be clear, Humanae Vitae in 1968 put into succinct expression the constant 2,000 year teaching of the Church. It may be argued that this teaching applies to married couples and the marriage act that is frustrated and perverted by artificial contraception, and not to victims of rape who do not have an obligation to allow for the possibility of the transmission of life by the rapist. Only a monster would maintain that the Congo nuns needed to let nature take its course. So in the 1960’s when the pill was new, it seemed pretty obvious that its use in this circumstance would not be morally problematic.
That was then.
In the more than half-century since, we have learned quite a bit about the pill’s mechanisms of action. Different pills have different mechanisms. Broadly speaking, not all ovulation is prevented by the pill, and the uterine lining is thinned, making it generally inhospitable for a new embryo seeking implantation upon arrival from the Fallopian tube.
That spells abortion.
Progestin-only contraceptives increase by up to six-fold the incidence of ectopic pregnancy which is almost always lethal for the baby, and often lethal for the mother in the third world environs where Zika and other mosquito-transmitted endemic diseases lurk.
Then, there is the 2009 Dolle, et al. study on the effects of contraceptives on the rates of the most deadly form of breast cancer, Triple Negative breast cancer. In the study the age of first use of the pill was analyzed with stunning results on the rates of premenopausal Triple Negative breast cancer before the age of 45.
If a woman started the pill above the age of 22, her risk factor increased 250%
If a woman started the pill between ages 18-22, her risk factor increased 270%
If a woman started the pill below age 18, her risk factor increased 540%
So today we know that the pill causes breast cancer, ectopic pregnancy, and even the product inserts claim it may act as an abortifacient. It may well have induced cancer in all of those nulliparous women who as such are at increased risk of breast cancer. Add to that the 1974 CDF document, Declaration on Procured Abortion, and the following statement from paragraph 13:
“From a moral point of view this is certain: even if a doubt existed concerning whether the fruit of conception is already a human person, it is objectively a grave sin to dare to risk murder.”
Perhaps Paul VI permitted nuns to use oral contraceptives, which in no way for women religious is an offense against the marital act, as rape is a violent criminal act. But in light of what is now known, such a decision could never be made today for consecrated women being targeted for rape. It especially could never be made for married women in regions of endemic disease, not without eviscerating the 2,000 year teaching contained within Humanae Vitae.
True, your humble blogger is a medical microbiologist and not a moral theologian. But he was extensively educated in ethics and moral theology in undergraduate seminary studies and graduate seminary studies. The moral principles are clear. The epidemiology literature even moreso. The Church has various scientific pontifical commissions for advising the Holy Father and the Curia. It would be a good idea if Francis picked up the phone and had a few consultations with his commission members.
The Congo episode has been overtaken by the truth of God’s creation as revealed by science. That doesn’t increase tensions. Rather, it harmonizes medical science and the principles of moral theology on this matter.
Francis spoke very badly on this issue. While I share his concern for the poor, it is the poor who will suffer the most when International Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes International swoop down on these women, with Francis’ words on their lips. He needs to come up to speed on issues he finds distasteful or distracting from his primary agenda. But the plight of the poor at the hands of these international parasites is just as pressing as hunger and all the rest.