Did Pope Paul 6 allow emergency use of oral contraceptives for nuns in the Congo who were in great danger of rape while most if not all oral contraceptives are abortafasints?
While this is a popular rumor, there is no record of Pope Paul VI ever saying this. Even when he visited the Congo the subject is not recorded as ever being addressed. The popular rumor started because 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. Pope Saint John XXIII never condemned it and Pope Paul VI later made one of its authors a Cardinal and thus began a rumor that the two Popes agreed with its findings. Of course, it is also equally valid to presume that Paul VI didn’t let one little disagreement prevent him from recognizing someone’s abilities in many other areas.
However, the Church does permit contraceptives in cases of sexual assault:
- …A female who has been raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault. If, after appropriate testing, there is no evidence that conception has occurred already, she may be treated with medications that would prevent ovulation, sperm capacitation, or fertilization. It is not permissible, however, to initiate or to recommend treatments that have as their purpose or direct effect the removal, destruction, or interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum.
And whether birth control pills can act as abortificients is a matter of debate. The American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists questioned the matter in a 1999 research article. I’ll leave this particular matter to be debated by the appropriate doctors and scientists.
The bottom line is that the Pope Paul VI never officially said any such thing about birth control and nuns in the Congo, however there are certain Catholic moral principals that could be argued would make contraceptives (non-abortificients) OK to take when there is an “ever present” threat of rape but the Church has made no official pronouncements.