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Dear Father Angel,

I was reading the words spoken by the Holy Father during the press conference held on the return flight from Mexico. Among the many questions, one particularly struck me about the suggestion by some authorities for populations living where the Zika virus is present. 

I copy the answers, as I find them on the Vaticaninsider website:

“Abortion is not a ‘lesser evil’. It is a crime. It is wiping out one. That is what the mafia does. Regarding the ‘lesser evil’, preventing pregnancy, the matter is in terms of a conflict between the 5th and 6th Commandments. The great Paul VI allowed nuns to use contraception because of a difficult situation in Africa. It is important not to confuse preventing pregnancy with abortion. Abortion is not a theological issue: it is a human issue; it is a medical issue. One person is killed in order to save another, in the best-case scenario. It is against the Hippocratic Oath; it is a human evil like all killing. On the other hand, preventing pregnancy is not an absolute evil, and in certain cases, such as the one I mentioned of Bl. Paul VI; that is clear”.

Everything is regular as far as abortion is concerned. But what about contraception? There is talk of a probable conflict between the fifth commandment, ordered to protect our health and our life, and the sixth, concerning purity and the use of sexuality open to procreation in this specific case. Is the pope perhaps hinting, at least so I seem, that in some cases contraception is licit? Speaking of “lesser evil”, does he mean to support the possibility of using contraceptive methods to protect people’s life and health? But isn’t the sixth commandment a negative moral precept, without ifs and buts? I would also like to quote an expression, dear to you, which tells us quite the opposite, by John Paul II: [tr.] “Contraception has to be judged as objectively so profoundly illicit that it can never, for any reason, be justified.

To think or say the opposite equals to believe that in human life there can be situations where it is licit not to recognize God as God” (17.9.1983).


Dear Father Angel,

I read with great interest the statements made by the Pope at the press conference during his return trip from Mexico. However, I was struck by the fact that the Pontiff affirmed that contraception is not an absolute evil compared to abortion, also citing the example by Paul VI, who had allowed nuns to use contraceptives to avoid the effects of violence perpetrated against them in Africa. I understand that these are extreme situations, but with a disruptive effect on the media, since that gives the impression of heterodoxy by the Pope. Could you kindly give me an answer concerning the issue of pastoral action while safeguarding morals (contraception is an intrinsically disordered and unnatural act) and protecting life and saving souls? I thank you and entrust you to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I wish you a holy time of Lent.


The priest’s answer

Dear Andrea,

I am replying directly to you because you were the first of the various visitors who wrote about the words of Pope Francis.

1. A misunderstanding must be dispelled.

Truly, the Church condemns contraception, but it implies: conjugal contraception.

In this sense, the quotation from the teachings of John Paul II, that a visitor copied from my answers, is exact and punctual: [tr.] “Contraception has to be judged objectively so profoundly illicit that it can never, for any reason, be justified.

To think or say the opposite equals to believe that in human life there can be situations in which it is licit not to recognize God as God” (17.9.1983).

And we can also add another quote by the same Pope: [tr.] “In the conjugal act, the artificial separation of the unitive and procreative meanings is illicit because both belong to the intimate truth of the conjugal act: they work together and in a certain sense through each other.

Therefore, the conjugal act ceases to be an act of love when deprived of its inner truth, that is artificially deprived of its procreative capacity” (22.8.1984).

2. The exercise of sexuality outside marriage can be never called a true act of love, of self-giving.

Those acts are intrinsically contrary to the divine plan for sexuality. They are sinful acts.

3. Using the words of Saint John Paul II: while within marriage, acts are devoid of love when performed with contraceptive means, what must we say of acts performed outside marriage?

4. Now, outside of marriage, those acts are already irresponsible and gravely sinful, then contraception can limit the damage.

5. In this sense, Benedict XVI said in the book published by Peter Seevald “Light of the World“: [tr.] “There may be specific justified cases, for example when a prostitute uses a prophylactic, and that can be the first step towards a moralization, a first act of responsibility to re-develop awareness of the fact that not everything is permitted and that none can do whatever wanted” (p. 170-171).

6. That reference by Pope Francis respecting Paul VI is not accurate. Paul VI did not speak of those facts.

Moral theologians talked about that, and even before the pontificate of Paul VI, after the violence against the nuns that was committed in Congo in 1961 during the pontificate of John XXIII.

The thought of theologians was summarized at the time by the Jesuit A. Van Kol, a teacher at the Gregorian University, who writes in the first volume of his Theologia moralis: “A woman who runs the risk of being raped may licitly use pessaries or hormonal pills to avoid conception” (A. Van Kol, Theologia moralis, I, p. 446). In Latin: “Mulieri quae in periculo est ne stupretur, pessarium vel pills hormonales adhibere licet ad concectionem praecavendam”.

7. In an answer published on this site, I myself wrote on 2007, April 3rd:

‘3. Outside the context of marriage, sexual acts are already flawed from the outset.

For this reason, the Church does not speak of contraception outside marriage.

However, this does not mean that contraception outside marriage is lawful. Because the act itself is immoral. You rightly write: “In other words, if a man has carnal relations with a prostitute or in any case with a woman who is not his wife, that is already illicit; in my opinion, the use of the condom makes such acts neither more illicit nor its non-use make those acts less illicit, legitimate or in any case morally less serious”.

I would even go a little further and say that while the use of the contraceptive does not make such an act good (away from that!); however, it does not aggravate the act with another sin, that of an extramarital procreation. The act, already serious and deadly by itself, would assume greater gravity because it exposes to a completely irresponsible procreation. And I would also say that, if a person takes a contraceptive in the certain imminence of being raped, violence which she also resists internally, then she is not violating God’s law.

The use of the contraceptive aims to limit the damage of a simply impious gesture.

.4. The teaching of Saint Alphonsus also applies to our case; after having said that inter duobus malis nullum est eligendum, between two evils one can choose neither, affirms that it is licit to persuade for a lesser evil if the other is already determined to commit a greater one (Licitum esse minus malum suadere, si alter iam determinatus fuerit ad maius exequendum). The reason is that the one using persuasion does not want evil, but good, that is, the deliberation of a less serious evil.

.5. Moreover, we must remember, …, that the intrinsic object is the first criterion that determines the morality of an act. But that object, as John Paul II already recalled, should not be simply intended in a biological and material sense, but in the perspective of the acting person.

To know the intrinsic object of a given action and its moral qualification is “necessary to place oneself in the perspective of the acting person. … that object is the proximate end of a deliberate decision which determines the act of willing on the part of the acting person” (Veritatis splendor 78).

In other words: for a sexual act capable of being ordered to God’s law, openness to life does not suffice yet; it is also necessary to examine whether the acting person is married, whether within or out of wedlock’.

8. Therefore, using the words of Pope Francis: voluntary abortion is an absolute evil. It is never permissible.

It is always the deliberate killing of an innocent and defenseless human being.

9. On the other hand, contraception is not an absolute evil: or rather, so it is within a marriage, but not outside of marriage.

The reason is that, outside of marriage, it may save what can be saved and makes the act, already intrinsically sinful on its own, unburdened by another evil: irresponsible procreation.

10. Therefore the words of Pope Francis are not wrong.

Furthermore, in reference to the Zika virus, the Pope said that to avoid pregnancy is permissible. Now, he did not use the word ‘contraception’.

Pregnancy can be avoided with chastity and by natural methods too, that is, recurring to infertile rhythms.

I wish you every good and I bless you.

Father Angelo

2016, February 24th|A priest replies – Moral theology – Sexual and matrimonial morality