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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.

 

 

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Even the dimmest wit in the Society of Jesus can make his thoughts plainly understood. So it must be that Pope Francis knew what he was saying when he broke with 2,000 years of sacred Tradition and magisterial teaching this week when he alluded to Paul VI permitting nuns being raped in Africa to use contraception to avoid pregnancy, and used that as the moral grounds on which to permit the use of contraception in the midst of the Zika virus outbreak. In his own words, as reported by the Associated Press:

Abortion is an evil in and of itself, but it is not a religious evil at its root, no? It’s a human evil. On the other hand, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil. In certain cases, as in this one (Zika), such as the one I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear.

So, avoiding pregnancy amidst the Zika outbreak is not an absolute evil? Enter proportionalism.

To be clear, he linked the use of contraceptives then to the situation he is addressing now.

Before proceeding with the moral nightmare this introduces, it is best to consider some infectious disease epidemiology and how Francis’ proportionalism betrays not only his duty to uphold all that his predecessors have taught, but also betrays a stunning ignorance of infectious diseases compounded by hemispheric blinders.

It has been reported that only 4% of Brazil’s current microcephaly cases are attributable to Zika. 17 out of 404 as of last week. And for that a Pope is willing to flush Humanae Vitae. Pia de Solenni did a masterful job at outlining the epidemiology of this outbreak, and the reader is advised to get it all here.

With Zika affecting the hemisphere from which this pope comes, and with which he has exclusively focussed his priestly life, Francis is missing some more pressing global numbers in maternal infectious disease and resulting rates of infant mobidity and mortality. There is so much more fertile ground for justifying contraception. Consider HIV/AIDS and some statistics from WHO.

Globally there are 36.9 million people living with HIV/AIDS. Of these, 2.6 million are children who contracted the virus from their mothers in utero, or through breastfeeding. Without any treatment, roughly 30-40% of pregnancies result in vertical transmission (mother to child) of HIV. With antiretroviral monotherapy, these rates can be cut in half. With combination antiretroviral therapy, the rates are cut to 2%.

So consider if 10 million women with HIV all get pregnant, and if they all have access to combination antiretroviral therapy, there would still be 200,000 babies born with HIV. Is the new teaching from the First Class Chair of Peter aboard the papal plane sufficiently broad to suggest a duty by HIV positive women to not reproduce?

Then there is the even broader health concern of global malaria. Roughly 50% of the world’s population are exposed to malaria, especially in Africa. According to WHO:

Malaria infection during pregnancy is a significant public health problem with substantial risks for the pregnant woman, her fetus, and the newborn child. Malaria-associated maternal illness and low birth weight is mostly the result of Plasmodium falciparum infection and occurs predominantly in Africa.

And in the WHO 2015 Fact Sheet on malaria:

According to the latest estimates from WHO, there were 214 million new cases of malaria worldwide in 2015 (range 149–303 million). The African Region accounted for most global cases of malaria (88%), followed by the South-East Asia Region (10%) and the Eastern Mediterranean Region (2%).

In 2015, there were an estimated 438 000 malaria deaths (range 236 000–635 000) worldwide. Most of these deaths occurred in the African Region (90%), followed by the South-East Asia Region (7%) and the Eastern Mediterranean Region (2%)…

Children under five are particularly susceptible to malaria illness, infection and death. In 2015, malaria killed an estimated 306 000 under-fives globally, including 292 000 children in the African Region. Between 2000 and 2015, the mortality rate among children under five fell by 65% worldwide and by 71% in Africa.

In the document, WHO goes on to discuss treatment and the issues of malaria in pregnancy:

Artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) are highly effective against P. falciparum, the most prevalent and lethal malaria parasite affecting humans. Globally, the number of ACT treatment courses procured from manufacturers increased from 11 million in 2005 to 337 million in 2014. The African Region accounted for most (98%) manufacturer deliveries of ACTs in 2014.

Malaria infection during pregnancy carries substantial risks for the mother, her fetus and the newborn child. In Africa, the proportion of women who receive intermittent preventive treatment in pregnancy (IPTp) for malaria has been increasing over time, but levels remain below national targets. In 2014, an estimated 15 million of the 28 million pregnant women at risk of malaria did not receive a single dose of IPTp.

To their credit, and unlike Francis, there is no mention of preventing the transmission of life as a solution to endemic disease.

Were time to permit, one could detail all of the tropical diseases, among others, and the effects on fetuses and neonates. 1/3 of the world’s population is infected with TB. Cholera strikes millions, etc…

Is the prevention of life itself in a disease outbreak with 4% infant morbidity really the best Pope Francis can do? Where is his exhortation for governments to come to grips with the fact that all of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring hysteria about DDT has been disproven by science over the past 50 years? Where is the exhortation to curb the mosquito populations spreading so many horrendous diseases? Where is the voice of a pope to his environmentalist friends to meet him half way and abandon their anti-human life agenda?

For all of his stated love of the poor, Francis has invited International Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes to a blood meal on the very poor whose dignity he portends to uphold. By invoking Paul VI and the Congo episode with artificial contraception, he ignored NFP and the volumes written by his predecessors.

To permit artificial contraception for Zika is to have sold the family farm, to permit it for all developing nations where endemic disease is present.

Public health doesn’t involve nonexistence. Public health concerns itself with preventing and curing disease. It is clear that the Holy Father doesn’t grasp this essential truth that I learned in training as a medical microbiologist. Public Health officers cannot morally and ethically resort to killing patients or preventing human reproduction as a legitimate means of addressing crises.

The same holds true for popes.

Francis should stick to matters concerning his Holy Office, and in all humility allow himself to be guided by the unchanging wisdom of 2,000 years of magisterial teaching.

He. Is. Peter.

He should start behaving as such.

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News comes today from the Religion News Service that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, whose oversight of Priests for Life’s finances was welcomed by Father Pavone several months ago, has turned sour, leading Cardinal Dolan to express the same exasperation as several of Father Pavone’s previous bishops. From RNS:

NEW YORK (RNS) In the latest clash between the Catholic hierarchy and one of the church’s leading anti-abortion crusaders, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan accused the Rev. Frank Pavone of continuing to stonewall on financial reforms, and Dolan said he is cutting ties with his group, Priests for Life.

In a Nov. 20 letter to other U.S. bishops, Dolan said he did not know if the Vatican would now step in to take action against the New York-based priest, who for years has angered various bishops by rejecting oversight of the organization by church authorities and for refusing to sort out his group’s troubled finances.

“My requests of Father Pavone were clear and simple: one, that Priests for Life undergo a forensic audit; two, that a new, independent board be established to provide oversight and accountability,” Dolan wrote in the letter, which was first reported by Catholic World News.

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“Although Father Pavone initially assured me of his support, he did not cooperate. Frequent requests that he do so went unheeded. I finally asked him to comply by October 1st. He did not,” Dolan wrote.

Dolan, who had been asked by the Vatican to help Pavone restructure Priests for Life, said in the letter that he has informed Rome that “I am unable to fulfill their mandate, and want nothing further to do with the organization.”

The cardinal said he had “no idea” what the Vatican intends to do now.

In a statement emailed to Religion News Service on Monday (Dec. 15), the Staten Island-based Priests for Life rebuffed Dolan’s criticisms, contending that the group has had “clean” audits for 15 years and saying the dispute is, in fact, “about control.”

That last statement from PFL is regrettable, and one that I fear may signal a return to the smear campaign deployed against Bishop Zurek by several of Father Pavone’s supporters a few years ago. Is it really all about control? So far the bishop’s complaints have never progressed beyond the issue of accounting and accountability, so the charge about control really comes off as a smokescreen tactic to many faithful Catholics who are every bit as pro-life as the staff at PFL.

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In the last go-round on this issue, several supporters of Father Pavone mercilessly smeared Bishop Zurek as wanting to ruin Father Pavone, to wreck his ministry, of being a pawn of Satan. As many are not Catholic, it was easy to chalk much of that invective up to ignorance of the very nature of a bishop and his sacred office, of the respect and obedience due him from every Catholic, but especially from priests who register sacred vows of respect and obedience at their ordinations. What was appalling was the silence from PFL in the face of this merciless pillorying of Bishop Zurek.

At the time, Bishop Zurek indicated the nature of the problem, as retold by RNS:

In 2011, Zurek denounced Pavone’s “incorrigible defiance of my legitimate authority as his bishop” and suspended his ministry. It then emerged that Priests for Life had been badly mismanaged, running an unsustainable $1.4 million deficit and failing to make key tax filings or allow proper financial oversight and safeguards.

Pavone moved back to New York, saying he had the Vatican’s support and that he would not be cowed by any bishop. Then earlier this year, he and Zurek said they reached a settlement in their standoff and the problems seemed on their way to a resolution.

But that apparently wasn’t the case, and Pavone’s fate now seems to rest with Rome.

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So what will it be now? Will the narrative be that Cardinal Dolan really isn’t all that pro-life? That gay-loving prelate who welcomed a gay contingent into the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York! On a few occasions when I have thought Cardinal Dolan erred badly, I wrote about it. But I didn’t smear him. I didn’t impugn his motives. I didn’t encourage a rebellion against him. I encouraged him to look to the examples of his predecessors in office. And all of that raises what is really at issue here.

What does it mean to be a faithful son of the Church?

At its core it means fidelity to the Magisterium and to one’s bishop. This fidelity is required of laity as well as clerics and finds its scriptural roots in 1 Thessalonians 5: 11-13

Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, as indeed you do. We ask you, brothers, to respect those who are laboring among you and who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you,and to show esteem for them with special love on account of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.

In this chapter, PFL needs to strike a new tone. They need to put the “Priest” back in Priests for Life. How Catholic or priestly is it to set one’s supporters against a string of bishops? That new tone begins with respect and obedience towards one’s bishop. If the accounting is all in order, then we should get to that point. It would then become abundantly clear if “control” is at issue. That said, Bishop Zurek’s assertion three years ago bears mention again.

As Father Pavone’s Bishop, Patrick Zurek bears moral responsibility for the stewardship of PFL’s finances if there is mismanagement by one of his priests of the $10 Million annual budget, and Bishop Zurek will answer to God for whether or not he exercised his sacred office with prudence and diligence.

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What is certain from the published record is that there has been a fractious relationship between Father Pavone and several of his bishops through the years. Equally objective are the horrendous characterizations of these bishops by many of Father Pavone’s supporters. Also equally certain is the fact that no amount of anti-abortion crusading and success can justify these grotesque allegations against the bishops. Even if Bishop Zurek were a bishop who ranked pro-life ministry at the bottom of his list of priorities, this much is also certain:

Every priest serves at the pleasure of his bishop, and his bishop owes him no explanation for changing that priest’s assignment.

Who knows what other news might be in the wings? Regardless, this time around, PFL needs to change tack and get off the smear campaign. It’s a losing strategy with faithful Catholics who ask the simple question:

What would Padre Pio do?

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John Vianney, Good and Holy Priest
O holy Priest of Ars, you lived in an age of much upheaval, in a time when men turned their backs on God. Your bishop told of a parish to which he wished to send you where there was no love. He assigned you to Ars and said that you would be the Priest who would enable the people to know the love of God. Not only did you draw these people back to God, but your saintly reputation soon spread and many people were converted to a life of holiness. You said that a good Priest, a Priest after Christ’s own heart is the greatest treasure that God can give a parish. Give us such Priests!

O great St. John Vianney, once again we are living in day of upheaval. There is much evil in the word. Obtain for Cardinal Dolan the grace to persevere in his faith and never to despair. May he walk with the Lord and trust in Him all the days of his life. Obtain through your heavenly intercession, for Cardinal Dolan the grace of modeling his life after that of Jesus Christ, that his people will know the love of God. More than ever the people need him to be able to bring the world to Christ.
Pray for Cardinal Dolan and all Priests, O great Priest of Ars.

Novena Prayer: O holy Priest of Ars, St. John Marie Vianney, you loved God and served Him faithfully as His Priest. Now you see God face to face in heaven. You never despaired but persevered in your faith until you died. Remember now the dangers, fears and anxieties that surround Cardinal Dolan and intercede for him in all his needs and troubles especially console him in his most difficult moments, grant him serenity in the midst of crisis, and protect him from evil. O St. John Vianney, I have confidence in your intercession.
Pray for Cardinal Dolan in a special way during this novena.

Amen.

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Timothy Cardinal Dolan is my archbishop, an as such he is entitled to my respect and obedience. There have only been a couple of times where I have publicly disagreed with him and written of it. It is not bishop-bashing, but rather the strongly worded disagreement of a faithful and respectful son of the Church. As such, critique must always be balanced by prayer for the Cardinal’s intentions. This novena is that prayer. Please join each night after 8PM EST as we pray for Cardinal Dolan’s intentions. We begin…

St. John Vianney, Lover of Penance and Mortification O holy Priest of Ars, you led a life of detachment from worldly pleasures. Your meals consisted of a boiled potato each day; you slept a few hours each night. But you did all of this so that you would be able to serve God to the best of your ability. Your life was portrayed by the saying: We complain when we suffer. We have much more reason to complain when we do not suffer, since nothing likens us to our Lord as the bearing of His cross.

O great St. John Vianney, in these days when we are surrounded by so many comforts and pleasures, it can be so difficult for us to do penance for our sins and live a life of detachment. I resolve to offer some sacrifice today for the expiation of Cardinal Dolan’s sins and the sins of all mankind. Assist Father in accepting the cross God chooses to send him. May he embrace the life of sacrifice to which Priests are called. May he willingly offer his whole life to God! Obtain for Cardinal Dolan the grace to imitate the life of Christ by the bearing of His cross.

Novena Prayer: O holy Priest of Ars, St. John Marie Vianney, you loved God and served Him faithfully as His Priest. Now you see God face to face in heaven. You never despaired but persevered in your faith until you died. Remember now the dangers, fears and anxieties that surround Cardinal Dolan and intercede for him in all his needs and troubles especially console him in his most difficult moments, grant him serenity in the midst of crisis, and protect him from evil. O St. John Vianney, I have confidence in your intercession.
Pray for Cardinal Dolan in a special way during this novena

Amen.

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Timothy Cardinal Dolan is my archbishop, an as such he is entitled to my respect and obedience. There have only been a couple of times where I have publicly disagreed with him and written of it. It is not bishop-bashing, but rather the strongly worded disagreement of a faithful and respectful son of the Church. As such, critique must always be balanced by prayer for the Cardinal’s intentions. This novena is that prayer. Please join each night after 8PM EST as we pray for Cardinal Dolan’s intentions. We begin…

O holy Priest of Ars, your life was filled with humility. You wore an old cassock. You ate meager meals. You realized that before the throne of God, you were one of His creatures made to glorify God and praise Him in all things. You said that the first virtue is humility; the second, humility; and the third, humility. You counseled people to remain humble, remain simple and the more one is so, the more good he will do. Your simplicity of soul and your uncluttered way of life led you to sanctity.

O humble St. John Vianney, when Cardinal Dolan forgets he is totally dependent on God for everything, intercede for him with Almighty God, to allow him to see that without His Creator nothing is possible and that he must rely on God for everything. He is his Creator, who keeps him in existence at every moment. Obtain for Cardinal Dolan the grace of humility. May his life exemplify your humility and simplicity, a life uncluttered, a life totally dependent on God.

Novena Prayer: O holy Priest of Ars, St. John Marie Vianney, you loved God and served Him faithfully as His Priest. Now you see God face to face in heaven. You never despaired but persevered in your faith until you died. Remember now the dangers, fears and anxieties that surround Cardinal Dolan and intercede for him in all his needs and troubles especially console him in his most difficult moments, grant him serenity in the midst of crisis, and protect him from evil. O St. John Vianney, I have confidence in your intercession.
Pray for Cardinal Dolan in a special way during this novena.

Amen.

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CARDINAL DOLAN PRAYS DURING MASS EARLIER THIS YEAR

Timothy Cardinal Dolan is my archbishop, an as such he is entitled to my respect and obedience. There have only been a couple of times where I have publicly disagreed with him and written of it. It is not bishop-bashing, but rather the strongly worded disagreement of a faithful and respectful son of the Church. As such, critique must always be balanced by prayer for the Cardinal’s intentions. This novena is that prayer. Please join each night after 8PM EST as we pray for Cardinal Dolan’s intentions. We begin…

St. John Vianney, Model of Purity O holy Priest of Ars, your life was a model of purity. Your life of chastity was a source of edification to all. You said that when a soul is pure all the court of heaven looks upon it with great joy. Today we are experiencing a great disregard for the virtue of purity; it is looked upon with ridicule by worldly standards.

O great St. John Vianney, more than ever before, we need your prayers and help in avoiding sins of impurity. I ask you to help Cardinal Dolan to keep pure in mind and in body and give good example in his speech, conduct and in his faith. Obtain for him the strength necessary to combat temptations against the virtue of purity, which could lead him away from God. Unite your prayers with those of Mary Immaculate to implore God that Cardinal Dolan be pure in mind and heart and preserve him from those sins which are so displeasing to God.

Novena Prayer: O holy Priest of Ars, St. John Marie Vianney, you loved God and served Him faithfully as His Priest. Now you see God face to face in heaven. You never despaired but persevered in your faith until you died. Remember now the dangers, fears and anxieties that surround Cardinal Dolan and intercede for him in all his needs and troubles especially console him in his most difficult moments, grant him serenity in the midst of crisis, and protect him from evil. O St. John Vianney, I have confidence in your intercession.
Pray for Cardinal Dolan in a special way during this novena.

Amen.

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