"Seriously, did you not read the whole thing?" ** Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square, Aug. 5, 2014. Credit: Lauren Cater/CNA. **Also not a real quote

“Seriously, did you not read the whole thing?” * Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square, Aug. 5, 2014. Credit: Lauren Cater/CNA. *not a real quote

You may have heard that Pope Francis gave an in-flight interview this morning, covering everything from shotgun weddings to how much he would love to go China to the questionable Christianity of a certain Donald J. Trump.

But everyone’s freaking out about two sentences, claiming that the Pope has upended longstanding Church teaching on contraception during his off-the-cuff plane-ride remarks, which is impossible since A) magisterial teachings aren’t issued from aerial interviews  and B) Pope Francis did not actually propose that people start popping the Pill at will, despite the number of people ready to shout it from the rooftops that the ban on contraception is lifted, Hallelu…(it’s Lent, I can’t finish that word).

So let’s take some deep breaths and break down Pope Francis’ exact words, shall we?


The Holy Father was responding to a question from Spanish journalist Paloma García Ovejero, Cadena COPE, about the Zika virus and whether or not at-risk Catholics could morally avoid pregnancy. Here are the exact words of the question (emphasis added):

Ovejero: 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 avoiding pregnancy.  As regards avoiding pregnancy, on this issue, can the Church take into consideration the concept of “the lesser of two evils?”

Did you see those bolded words? Those are going to be key in the answer Francis gives.

Below is a screenshot of the exact, full transcript of Pope Francis’ answer to the question, with pertinent sentences highlighted (and big, obnoxious red arrows pointing to them, because I have Paint and I know how to use it).

Contraception Pope Francis 4

(Before we move on, let’s acknowledge that most of the Holy Father’s response deals with the evil of abortion, as that has been the rallying cry of so many after news of the virus spread. Cool? Cool.)

1.) Let’s take a look at the first highlighted sentence. This is the only sentence in which the Holy Father uses the word “contraceptives,” referring to a case in the early 1960s in which the Vatican granted a dispensation to religious sisters living in the Belgian Congo who were in grave danger of rape to use oral contraceptives.


The logic behind the decision was that while birth control is normally immoral because it attempts to separate the unitive and procreative aspects of the sexual act, the nuns were trying to resist the act altogether. Because rape is an act of violent aggression rather than a freely chosen act, the contraception was part of a legitimate attempt at self-defense.

Normally, if a married couple faces a serious reason to avoid pregnancy, the Church teaches that they may do so through Natural Family Planning, a process that involves identifying a woman’s fertile periods and abstaining from sexual activity during those times. Which leads me to the second highlighted sentence…

2.) In the second sentence, if we look at Pope Francis’ words, he says “avoiding pregnancy” is not always an evil, such as in the case of the targeted nuns, or in the case of the Zika virus. He does NOT say that both cases require contraception. The Pope is simply reiterating the Church teaching that avoiding pregnancy is not always an evil in and of itself. As to the means of avoiding pregnancy, whenever a freely chosen sexual act is involved (married couples in Zika-threatened areas), the moral modus operandi for avoiding pregnancy is through Natural Family Planning.

In the case of the sisters, they were not participating in a freely chosen sexual act, and so were granted the contraception dispensation as a weapon of self-defense.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, we can go back to debating the merits of walls and the authenticity of Trump’s Christianity. You know, the important stuff.