Yes, The Pope Said Something Scandalous

So the pope held another interview on a plane. And, unfortunately, he said something scandalous. This is going to be a bit long, but I think it’s needed to make the following points:

  • Yes, what he said is actually scandalous.
  • No, seriously, it is actually scandalous.
  • Just ignoring it is a disservice to souls.

Here’s the question and answer from the interview in its entirety:

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.

There are a few statements here that beggar belief:

  1. “On the ‘lesser evil,’ avoiding pregnancy, we are speaking in terms of the conflict between the fifth and sixth commandment.”
  2. “Don’t confuse the evil of avoiding pregnancy by itself, with abortion.”
  3. “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.”

Are the fifth and sixth commandments in conflict?

No. God does not contradict Himself.

Maybe saying that they are was a translation error?

It’s theoretically possible… but this is not the first time he’s said that these two commandments are in conflict. So it’s highly unlikely that this is a translation error.

Is avoiding pregnancy evil?

Avoiding pregnancy in and of itself is not evil. There are evil ways to go about avoiding pregnancy, but avoiding pregnancy is not evil. Celibates avoid pregnancy all the time.

Since Pope Francis in his answer always refers to ‘avoiding pregnancy’ as evil, and avoiding pregnancy isn’t actually evil, the most obvious interpretation is that when he says ‘avoiding pregnancy’ he is referring to contraception. After all, the reporter is asking him about contraception. It stands to reason that he’s talking about it with his answer.

But when he said “avoiding pregnancy” didn’t he really mean Natural Family Planning?

I don’t see how that’s possible. NFP isn’t evil. In Pope Francis’ answer, “avoiding pregnancy” is. And he referred to it as evil more than once.

OK… but like he said, Paul VI said contraception was morally OK in certain, limited cases.

It’s currently unclear as to whether or not Paul VI actually said that. But whether or not he did doesn’t matter, because the Church has perennially taught that contracepting is never, ever licit. From Humanæ Vitæ, §14:

Similarly excluded is every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible.

When Paul VI here says “Similarly excluded”, he’s referring to earlier in §14, where he says “absolutely excluded”. One of the footnotes to this section cites the Catechism of the Council of Trent, Pius XI’s encyclical Casti Connubii, and John XXIII’s encyclical Mater et Magistra. This is a perennial teaching of the Church.

Citing this passage of Humanæ Vitæ, the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls the use of contraceptives with the intention to frustrate fertility intrinsically evil (§2370).

Paul VI

But the pope didn’t actually SAY that contracepting is OK!

Not in those words. He used a euphemism, “avoiding pregnancy”, and said that this euphemism is OK in certain rare cases.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s allowing for an exception to the Church’s complete and utter ban on contracepting.


So yes, the pope actually did say something scandalous. Saying as much tends to draw some interesting reactions. I’d like to go over some of the reactions I’ve seen online.


I feel the same way!

So shouldn’t we give him the benefit of the doubt? Perhaps not talk about it so people aren’t further scandalized?

In this situation, giving the benefit of the doubt consists of not automatically referring to Pope Francis as an obstinate and pertinacious heretic. Sure, what he said was material heresy, but unless and until a bishop calls on him to clarify and he doubles down, we can only call what he said a heresy, not the man a heretic.

We do need to discuss this, however. The scandal is already out there; the false information about the Church’s teaching has been spread. It behooves us to take this opportunity to instruct the ignorant (a spiritual work of mercy).

He’s from Latin America so he thinks differently.

The cultural differences between Europe, the US, and Latin America don’t extend to the perennial teaching of the Church. Also, that’s racist.

He has already denounced abortion multiple times.

That’s great! Yet the problem is not what the pope has said about abortion, but what he just said about contracepting.

The pope didn’t change the truth of the faith or make an infallible, ex cathedra statement.

Thank God! I am grateful for that. But making such a statement to the global press is harmful to souls in other ways.

Pope Benedict said the exact same thing.

Um, no. He did not.

People love him!

It’s true! People do love him. And when they see him saying something erroneous and harmful to souls, they should correct him out of love for him and concern for souls.

Are you more Catholic than the pope?

I don’t know, am I?

Why don’t you just join the SSPX already?

Aside from the fact that it’s a society of priests, and I’m a layperson, this question implies that the SSPX has left the Catholic Church. It has not.

Why don’t you just go sedevacantist?

Because even though he’s saying some incredibly harmful things, he’s still the pope.

You can’t trust mainstream journalists.

Perhaps not. But he gave a video interview, and nobody has found a problem with the transcripts that I know of. We don’t have to worry about journalistic bias here: we have Pope Francis’ unfiltered words to go off of.

The Holy Spirit speaks through him.

The pope is the Vicar of Christ. He is not an oracle through which the Holy Spirit speaks directly.

The pope did no such thing as approve chemical contraception against pregnancy with the risk of Zika.

No, he just hinted that it might be one of the cases in which exceptions could be made, despite the fact that exceptions cannot be made.

“He does not say this recourse can be accepted and used without any discernment, but in fact clearly said that it can be taken into consideration in cases of particular emergency,”

OK… you just demonstrated my point to be true, Fr. Lombardi. You didn’t dispute or retract anything the pope said. And perennial Catholic teaching is that it cannot be taken into consideration.

As bad as this statement of the pope is, it’s not the end of the world, or of the Church. A pope who says something heretical cannot destroy the Church. He can mislead souls, who in following error might merit hell, but the Church itself will last until the end of time. It’s up to us to work toward our salvation with fear and trembling, and to take as many souls with us as possible.