Philippine Bishops Back Pope's Remarks on Zika Contraception

Philippine Bishops Back Pope’s Remarks on Zika Contraception

Despite their staunch opposition to contraceptives, Philippine Roman Catholic bishops expressed their full support Saturday to Pope Francis’ remarks suggesting artificial contraception can be used by women threatened by the Zika virus.

“There may be circumstances that invite a re-evaluation of the judgment on artificial means of contraception,” [Archbishop Socrates] Villegas said, adding that once more “the pope has shown his sensitivity to complex human situations” and “allowed the world see the merciful face of the church.”

Francis’ remarks drew praise from legislators who had pushed the pro-contraceptives bill in Congress.

“I said ‘Wow!’ I immediately re-tweeted it,” said Risa Hontiveros, a former congresswoman who co-authored the widely debated legislation.

“It’s a great recognition by a pope in the modern times of a life-saving health intervention in the face of this new animal called the Zika virus,” she said. “It’s very refreshing.”

Official announcement from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:


Pope Francis is reported to have given a press conference while en route to Rome after his historical trip to Cuba and to Mexico. He was apprised of the Zika virus and the possibility that pregnant women afflicted by the disease would seek abortion.

The Holy Father was very clear and uncompromising about the evil of abortion. And we, your bishops, reiterate Church teaching: No matter that the child in the womb may be afflicted with some infirmity or deformity, it can never be moral to bring a deliberate end to human life. It is never for us to judge who should live or die!

He then proffered the view that the evil of contraception was not of the same magnitude as the evil of abortion. Clearly, this was sound moral reasoning. The evil of stealing a few pesos cannot be compared with the evil of plunder. The Pope was in no way changing church teaching on the unacceptability of artificial means of contraception.

**He however usefully called attention to two important moral precepts: First, there may be circumstances that invite a re-evaluation of the judgment on artificial means of contraception; second, the prodding of conscience should always be heeded, as long as every effort is made to form conscience properly.

These positions are not in any way new. They have always formed part of Catholic moral theology and belong to the treasury of the Church’s heritage in health-care ethics.**

Once more, the Pope has shown his sensitivity to complex human situations, allowed the world see the merciful face of the Church – the sacrament of a Merciful Lord – as he has remained the faithful steward of the message of the Gospel.

From the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, February 20, 2016

Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan
CBCP President

Does anyone know the percentage of pregnant women infected with the Zika virus?

I just found that Microcephaly effected 20 births in every 10,000 the last half of 2015.

How can the Pope and Bishops deem that ABC is ok in these conditions and not ok for specific women who have a high risk for complications in pregnancy.

How does apostasy look like? Like this.

Pax Christi

The Pope was in no way changing church teaching on the unacceptability of artificial means of contraception.


He however usefully called attention to two important moral precepts: First, there may be circumstances that invite a re-evaluation of the judgment on artificial means of contraception…

What/whose judgment?


I would think that a high risk for complications in pregnancy might very well be one of those situations of emergency or gravity that might warrant a re-evaluation of the use of contraceptives to avoid pregnancy (per the statements made by the Pope and the bishops of the Philippines), only after careful discernment of conscience, of course.

Or maybe not. The guidance would likely be for a couple to consult their priest if they are having trouble discerning if artificial contraception might be a moral choice in their particular situation.

Sea change? Maybe. Sounds like the bishops of the Philippines are making it clear that this is what the Church has always taught. I and many of my orthodox Catholic friends with very serious reasons to avoid pregnancy obviously missed that memo, but there it is in black and white from no less than a council of bishops hardly known for being raging liberals.


I don’t see how that can be true, given the fact that the Pope didn’t change the teaching of the Church (as it is expressed in, for example, the Catechism and Humanae vitae).


I don’t understand this at all. Totally confused.

Yes, me too. And now I’m 45, I can only imagine what would happen if I get pregnant now. I personally still would not use ABC, even if a Bishop/priest told me I could. I always thought Truth couldn’t change; if once evil always evil.

Hi Dan,

I am only referring to the statements of the Pope and the official statement of the bishops of the Philippines. According to their statement, this possibility of the need to re-evaluate the judgment on use of contraceptives for certain situations of emergency or particular gravity, after discernment of conscience, is nothing new.

I personally find that quite remarkable, given everything I was always taught about contraception. IBut I’m no theologian or member of the hierarchy. I would expect that we will soon start to see other bishops conferences following suit and explaining that this is what the church has actually always taught. I expect there will likely be some re-interpretations of HV, etc., to make all of this seemingly contradictory information work together somehow–you know, a development of the doctrine.

It will be very interesting to see what, if anything, the Pope says about the possibility of re-evaluating the judgment on artificial contraception in particularly grave situations in the upcoming apostolic exhortation.

One of my best girlfriends just had #9 under very dire circumstances in her life. She and I have been laughing the past couple of days, “Boy, were we ever bamboozled!” Not really, of course, and neither she nor I would trade a single one of our kids for anything, even though we have both had some very grave health situations that may very well have (apparently, according to the in the Philippines, anyway) indicated the need for us to re-evaluate the use of artificial contraception in our lives. We just had no idea that’s what the Church always taught, but I suspect Catholics of the world are about ready to be enlightened on the subject.


I know what you mean. Fortunately, the Catechism still says what it says and I seem to be able to understand that:

2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self- observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, “every action which, whether 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” is intrinsically evil…

It’s kind of hard to work around the “intrinsically evil” part…


Archbishop Villegas said:

“There may be circumstances that invite a re-evaluation of the judgment on artificial means of contraception,” Villegas said, adding that once more “the pope has shown his sensitivity to complex human situations” and “allowed the world see the merciful face of the church.”

There is a lack of clarity. What circumstances would apply? Pope Francis didn’t explicitly say contraception would be allowed in the case of Zika. There are questions regarding his comments.

Who wrote the Catechism…and when?

Perhaps they/he/she were supposed to and should have added nuance to these words according to teaching, but did not.


It was first published based on a French text in 1992. The official Latin text came in 1994. The second edition was published in 1998. It was not written by one person but was published under the authority of Pope John Paul II, who called it a sure norm of the Catholic faith.

As for nuance…well…sometimes there just isn’t any.


As for nuance…well…sometimes there just isn’t any.


But remember, the Church is a political entity, and as such the search for nuance is as necessary as breathing.

I just hope this gets straightened out before folks living 10,000 miles from the Zika virus use this as a long-awaited excuse for contraception. The Throne of Judgement knows no nuances!


That’s very recent.
What about before then, when Pope Paul 6 was the Catholic authority? What and how was it written then?

There had to have been someone or a group of people to think out the wording of this 1992 Catechism and actually write it/type it out.
So then…Pope John Paul 2 would have approved the precise wording before it…went to press, as it were?


Certainly, the Pope read it first. The actual drafting of the text was a collaborative effort, with a central drafting committee with nine drafts being submitted to bishops and others throughout the world. Pope John Paul II said:

In 1986 I entrusted a commission of 12 Cardinals and Bishops, chaired by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, with the task of preparing a draft of the catechism requested by the Synod Fathers. An editorial committee of seven diocesan Bishops, experts in theology and catechesis, assisted the commission in its work.

The commission, charged with giving directives and with overseeing the course of the work attentively followed all the stages in editing the nine subsequent drafts. The editorial committee, for its part, assumed responsibility for writing the text, making the emendations requested by the commission and examining the observations of numerous theologians, exegetes and catechists, and above all, of the Bishops of the whole world, in order to improve the text. The committee was a place of fruitful and enriching exchanges of opinion to ensure the unity and homogeneity of the text.

The project was the object of extensive consultation among all Catholic Bishops, their Episcopal Conferences or Synods, and of theological and catechetical institutes. As a whole, it received a broadly favourable acceptance on the part of the Episcopate. It can be said that this catechism is the result of the collaboration of the whole Episcopate of the Catholic Church, who generously accepted my invitation to share responsibility for an enterprise which directly concerns the life of the Church.

The quotation I provided earlier, from the Catechism itself, quotes (there are quotation marks in the quotation) from Paul VI’s *Humanae vitae *(1968). So, the Catechism pretty much just picked up where he left off…and Paul VI, in turn, depended on the teaching of prior popes such as Pius XI and Pius XII.

It seems to me that the proper “interpretive lens” of what Pope Francis said on the plane is Humanae vitae, written by the “great man”, as Pope Francis called him, Paul VI.


Ah, so…pope Francis would have found some origin of having an “interpretive lens” in Humanae Vitae?


This is actually classic Catholic moral theology being applied…the rule of “double effect”. It is always wrong to do evil so that good may follow.

However, an action would be permitted, even if one of the outcomes is evil (barrier to the life giving act) under the rule of double effect if the following 4 conditions are met:

  1. The action in itself must be good, or at least indifferent
  2. The good effect must result immediately and directly form the action placed, not from the evil effect.
  3. Only the good effect must be intended
  4. There must be a proportionately grave reason for placing the act.

I personally believe rule #1 is broken in the case of contraception/Zika. However, I’m not a moral theologian and would be interested if someone more educated than me could explain how rule #1 is satisfied and therefore the act is moral.

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