But when Cephas was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. – Galatians 2:11
It’s been almost a week since the Holy Father’s now-infamous comments about how contraception might be permissible for eugenic purposes (ie., to prevent pregnancies at risk of birth defects due to the alleged effects of the Zika virus on a developing fetus.)
In my initial analysis of the pope’s comments, I made clear that there was no other possible interpretation. He wasn’t talking about NFP or a general program of abstinence. He was referring to artificial methods of birth control. And he justified this completely un-Catholic opinion by referencing what is almost certainly a completely made up story about Pope Paul VI doing something not really very similar in the 1960s.
I said in my original post that barring some very explicit clarification and correction from Pope Francis, we have now witnessed a sitting pope publicly contradicting infallible teaching. It should also be pointed out that this goes deeper — the Holy Father not only opposed the teaching of his predecessors, but the natural law itself, upon which this teaching is based.
Well, thankfully, a clarification was issued, and it certainly did make things more clear:
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi has affirmed that the Holy Father was indeed speaking of “condoms and contraceptives” when on the flight back from Mexico, Pope Francis said couples could rightly “avoid pregnancy” in the wake of the Zika virus scare.
Fr. Lombardi told Vatican Radio today, “The contraceptive or condom, in particular cases of emergency or gravity, could be the object of discernment in a serious case of conscience. This is what the Pope said.”
According to Lombardi, the pope spoke of “the possibility of taking recourse to contraception or condoms in cases of emergency or special situations. He is not saying that this possibility is accepted without discernment, indeed, he said clearly that it can be considered in cases of special urgency.”
Lombardi reiterated the example that Pope Francis made of Pope Paul VI’s supposed “authorization of the use of the pill for the religious who were at very serious risk” of rape. This, said Lombardi, “makes us understand that it is not that it was a normal situation in which this was taken into account.”
So to sum up: yes, he really did say what you think he said. But it’s apparently okay, because hey: he’s the pope!
I also told you that Catholic apologists would attempt to spin this as perfectly fine. I told you that when they did this, they would be lying to you. This isn’t, of course, just a white lie, like the parent who tells his children that things are fine in a moment of danger or financial crisis in order to assuage fears over circumstances outside the child’s control.
No, saying that things are fine in this circumstance is, in my opinion, a malicious lie, because it is one that will do irreparable damage to souls. Case in point: the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has now backed Francis’ statement:
CBCP President Archbishop Socrates Villegas said the Pontiff’s statement is not changing church teaching on the unacceptability of artificial means of contraception.
“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 said.
The Lingayen-Dagupan prelate added, “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.”
Villegas noted that these positions are not in any way new, saying: “They have always formed part of Catholic moral theology and belong to the treasury of the Church’s heritage in health-care ethics.”
“They have always formed a part of Catholic moral theology…”
We have always been at war with Eastasia.
Lies. Damned lies. Contraception is an intrinsic evil. Intrinsic evils are not able to be made anything other than evil — they cannot be mitigated by circumstance. (I’ve reached out to some very competent moral theologians to ask for help in explaining precisely why this thinking is wrong. I hope to be able to share that with you in a future post.)
Meanwhile, the spin continues. Church Militant has suddenly found it profitable to admit that we’ve had bad popes in the past, and that not everything a pope says is infallible or above reproach. Unfortunately, they’re wielding the “he didn’t say anything ex cathedra” defense in an attempt to convince everyone waking up in the Matrix that there’s nothing to see here. Fr. Z took a similar approach, saying that the fact that this wasn’t an authoritative statement renders it “meaningless.” Jimmy Aikin, of course, issued yet another list of things “to know and share”, in which he stated that “On the subject of contraception, [the pope] did not answer one way or another. Instead, he recounted a reported incident from the 1960s…”
Meanwhile, a Google search for “pope Francis Zika contraception” turns up nearly 4 million results, and many of those on the first few pages (beyond which not many searchers are likely to look) have headlines like this:
This is the upshot. This is always the upshot. We need to put the idea to death that just because a papal statement is not infallible it is meaningless.
Once a theological understanding of the distinctions between levels of Magisterial authority become the only way to determine whether or not the pope should be listened to, you’ve lost 99% of the world, and 90% or more of Catholics. The indefectible integrity of the deposit of faith is certainly objectively important. But on a subjective level, the only Magisterium that really matters in terms of what people believe and how this changes their behavior is, “The pope said X, so X is what Catholics believe.”
Get this through your heads, Catholic apologists. Your dissimulation on this issue is nauseating, and we’re way past playing footsie with the truth, or writing posts full of mental reservation. We just had the bishops of one of the most Catholic (by percentage of population) nations on earth give essentially a blanket opening to their faithful using contraception because of something the pope said on a plane.
I’ve been arguing since 2013 that a pope can do a lot of damage without changing a single iota of doctrine. Francis proves this with alarming frequency. Why are all Catholics of goodwill not on the same page? Why are so few of us lucid in our understanding that this is a pontificate which our Christian duty requires us to resist?
We must still respect the office of the papacy. We must still, barring any juridical evidence to the contrary, accept that Francis is the pope. But we have now entered a moment in history where our bishops must take action on this. We need something definitive from them about Francis. It is imperative to the salvation of souls that they tell the faithful not to follow Francis into his contradiction of Church teaching.
Pope Honorius I was posthumously anathematized by the Third Council of Constantinople, and arguably for less than Francis is doing now. Honorius was condemned more for failing to act than for the deliberate promotion of heresy. Because of his failure, the council declared:
“We anathematize Honorius, who did not seek to purify this apostolic Church with the teaching of apostolic tradition, but by a profane betrayal permitted its stainless faith be surrendered.”
In later comments made to the bishops of Spain, Pope Leo II explained further, saying that Honorius was one
who did not, as became the apostolic authority, quench the flame of heretical doctrine as it sprang up, but quickened it by his negligence.
Making excuses for Francis is no longer going to suffice. Looking for semantic loopholes that can be twisted into quasi-orthodox interpretations is disingenuous. Saying simply that we need to pray for Francis isn’t good enough. Waiting to see if God sends a meteor isn’t a solution. The benefit of the doubt can only be given when there is doubt. If there has ever been a time when episcopal spine was needed, this is it.
We have not always been at war with Eastasia. We have not always believed the things Francis says we believe.
Please, bishops. Do not leave us alone while the wolf in sheep’s clothing devours the flock. Please, do your duty and defend the faith, and the faithful. If you were waiting for the right moment to emulate Saint Paul in Galatians 2:11, this is it.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.