Papal Pronouncement on Zika and the Lesser Evil

· Morality

The following comment is related to the Roman Catholic’s Pope recent pronouncement on how Zika might be prevented. The reader will forgive the euphemistic language, as this author’s pages are defined as having content not restricted to any age group. By maintaining a certain level of dryness, ambiguity, and difficulty of language, the author hopes to be able to speak about the issue safely, that is, without attracting the interest of under-aged readers.

An article about the correct formation of conscience was written several years back by the present author. Therein, it is explained that he is in a Latin American country, and that his research material is largely limited by the predominant Roman Catholic writings available, and in which the autor, for reasons partially described elsewhere, has immersed himself. He believes that he has an obligation to be respectful of any one whom he writes about, whether he agrees with the opinions of the other person or not. No disagreement can be based on ad hominem arguments.

The article about the formation of conscience, because of a problem with the platform, cannot be edited. It would be impractical to rewrite it at this time, or to move it to the blog section of these pages. This forces the writing of the following as a completely separate piece, the purpose of which is not to argue in favour of a moral position, but to explain what the pontiff was saying.

The Argentine Pope, answering a reporter’s question, and perhaps falling into a trap, suggested that a certain “mechanical” method used in avoiding disease – and by some, this disease includes the formation of what could become a fully human life – could be the lesser evil. Now, the import of what the Pontiff said could easily be such that interested parties twisted his words. No such evidence has been found.

What we have found, is that an arm of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops – Catholic News Service – has the head of the Vatican Press Office, Federico Lombardi giving a very nuanced interpretation of the papal opinion. To quote, “He does not say this recourse can be accepted and used without any discernment, but in fact clearly said that it can be taken into consideration in cases of particular emergency.” [To find the article, paste the following into the browser, and search: in-zika-outbreak may-be-lesser-evil-pope-says.cfm

One word has been omitted to comply with the standards demanded by this web domain.]

Taking the morally conservative line, one would be tempted to limit the above quote to “He does not say this recourse can be accepted.” Even the addition of the words “it can be taken into consideration in cases of particular emergency” leaves the cautious reader wondering what the “particular emergency” might be.

Now, a comparison was made to a situation in which some nuns in the Belgian Congo had recourse to certain little tablets in order to avoid a condition not befitting their situation. It raises the question of the provenance of these tablets, which we know, as a fact, if of the right chemical make-up, may be used under certain circumstances by other “good” Catholic women, even though, normally, their use would be scandalous to the few who care about the official teaching of their religious institution.

That last line we have just written, is where we believe, that from the viewpoint of the morality that the Catholic Church supposedly teaches, and which is teaching, according to the belief of the Catholic Church, about which it cannot err; Pope Francis has apparently confused, perhaps during the necessity of answering quickly the reporter’s question, the concept of lesser evil with that of indirect cooperation in an evil act, or, unintended evil consequences of an act done to perform something beneficial.

On second thought, without intending to detract from what follows, the Pope was referring to something which, 100 years ago, was not meant to be told to the general public.  Such things were written in Latin. More on this in our conclusion.  Further, we have found that this Belgian Congo nun story seems to lack any factual basis.

The National Catholic Register says this is “an oft-cited scenario, which some believe is fictional”.

Search terms, according to criteria previously mentioned: pope-francis and contra a troubling scenario

A blog in the on-line version of The Wanderer, with input on 22 February 2016 by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, states “it now seems all but certain that the ‘permission’ or ‘approval’ which Francis has claimed his predecessor Pope Paul VI gave for Congo nuns … does not exist. … Unfortunately this myth has been invoked by the pope as if it were a fact of Church history, and, more importantly, in a way that suggests it might be a precedent … [] Because of the nature of that page, the article have disappeared by this time.

The same publication states, “An action which is objectively evil, even if a lesser evil, can never be licitly willed.”

Search terms: vatican affirms pope was speaking about contra for zika

Finally, a Tim Townsend wrote on February 19, 2016, ‘Aline Kalbian, a professor of religion at Florida State University … [stated] … “I didn’t find any evidence of Paul VI saying anything about Congo and nuns,” … Pope Francis probably got his history wrong when talking about … Zika … Pope Paul VI never mentioned the Belgian Congo ….’

Search terms: pope francis got his history wrong when talking about contra and zika

When forming one’s conscience, there is no point in which a person, wanting to do evil, can justify a deed by not deciding to commit oneself to doing everything which was planned a priori.

Shall the safe-cracker assuage his conscience by leaving part of the booty, when all of it could have been carted off?

Shall a person looking for a plea bargain think himself less a stool-pigeon for managing to protect at least one person?

Was a Nazi who let some Jews leave the German Reich after despoiling him suddenly become less of a racist?

We dare not apply similar question to more violent crimes, the point should be clear.

The nuns in the Belgian Congo could take those tablets, because taking the tablets was (and still officially is) only prohibited in what is sometimes defined as selfish love. These tablets may, however, be used to rectify bodily disfunction.

That said, this writer has some doubts that Pope Paul VI was totally correct in his analysis, supposing he actually did make some comment on this.  As the previously-cited Tim Townsend suggested on the page already mentioned, maybe Francis found something in the Vatican Archives about this. If he did, and if it was correctly referenced, then one could be strongly tempted towards the slippery slope fallacy! Why allow nuns a leeway, when it seems that women on American campuses claim to be in comparable danger.  From there, we go to all women.

Of course, the principle, in a way, might be compared to what we have mentioned in our article on formation of conscience, where it discusses whether it might be licit to administer a strong alcoholic beverage in the absence of an anesthetic in order to perform an operation, even though it is foreseen that the patient will get drunk. The principle here is that as long as the state of drunkenness is not desired, it is irrelevant to the legitimate use of the spirit.

However, this act of imbibing is not about a lesser evil – it is about unintended effects of a necessary act. Were there no need for some sedative, then it would only be morally wrong to become intoxicated.

What the Pope has people believing, were they to make the analysis, is that what “may” be used, which is by definition of the Catholic Church, intrinsically evil, is to bring about an “intended” result. Morality is being stood on its head. Those who say that the ends do not justify the means would seem to have suddenly to have said just the opposite.

Another conservative opinion, and justifying the dispensation issued for the nuns, can be found on the site of the Catholic News Agency,  to find the article, copy the following text into the search engine: what-did-pope-francis-actually-say 47196 

Carefully phrased comments on this article are most welcome.  The care that should be exercised is such as used in the original King James Bible, or the Douay – Rheims.  When this author first read about a certain situation which was understand as a most grievous wrong, he could not understand the euphemism, and the reaction was, “What’s the problem?”  The link to the lesser evil was made in reference to Genesis 19: 5-8.  A similar situation is found in Judges 19: 22-25. These reference should shock a lot of liberal-thinking people, if understood for all its ramifications.  The lesser evil, as understood in these primitive societies, is understood by civilized people as a crime against womanhood. These biblical quotations, in fact, are much too explicit for some people, and are part of the reason that the Bible was kept from the general public in earlier times.  When the versions were not in the vernacular, only the educated could read these controversial parts, and since the vast majority who would read those texts were either clergy, or candidates to this state, they would have learned, or would be learning, the context of the passages under consideration.  It may be excessive to state –  and we feel very uncomfortable with the analogy – that allowing such texts to be read, would have been considered a species of casting pearls before swine.  A more appropriate image might be that of putting in the way of swine that which was meant to be given to another.  Correcting the imagery a bit more, these texts should not be like the crumbs that fall from the master’s table that are taken up by animals in the vicinity. [Matthew, 15:27]. Our metaphor may be a bit mixed, but our intention is to keep it biblical.

© February 20-23, 2016. – Paul Karl Moeller

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