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Filipino bishops back Pope Francis' contraceptive comments

But abstinence from sex to avoid Zika virus would be better, one prelate says

Joe Torres and Mark Saludes, Manila

Joe Torres and Mark Saludes, Manila

Published: February 22, 2016 10:04 AM GMT

Updated: February 22, 2016 10:05 AM GMT

Filipino bishops back Pope Francis' contraceptive comments

The church's stance against the use of artificial contraception remains in place despite recent comments by Pope Francis on containing the Zika virus, the Philippine bishops said recently. (Photo by Mark Saludes)

Pope Francis was not changing the church's teaching on the unacceptability of artificial means of contraception when he said using contraceptives could be a "lesser evil" to stop the spread of the Zika virus, according to the Philippine Catholic bishops.

"Once more, the pope has shown his sensitivity to complex human situations, allowed the world to see the merciful face of the church," said Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the Philippine bishops' conference.
 
Pope Francis has remained "the faithful steward of the message of the Gospel," Archbishop Villegas said in a Feb. 21 statement.
 
The prelate described it as "sound reasoning" when Pope Francis said the evil of contraception is not of the same magnitude as the evil of abortion.  
 
"Abortion is not a lesser evil — it's a crime," Pope Francis said in a news conference on his way back to Rome after a six-day visit to Cuba and Mexico on Feb. 17. He described abortion as the deliberate taking of an innocent human life. "It's an absolute evil," said the pontiff.
 
The concept of a "lesser evil" may apply to artificial birth control, however, he said, pointing to Blessed Paul VI's consent in the early 1960s for women religious in the then-Belgian Congo to take the pill when rape was being used as a weapon of war.
 
Archbishop Villegas said the pontiff usually called attention to two important moral precepts. 
 
"First, that there may be circumstances that invite a reevaluation 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," said Archbishop Villegas.
 
These positions are not in any way new, adding that these were always part of Catholic moral theology and belong to the treasury of the church's heritage in health care ethics.
 
"The pope was in no way changing church teaching on the unacceptability of artificial means of contraception," said Archbishop Villegas. 
 
Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos told ucanews.com that people should "carefully understand" that the pope was not promoting the use of contraception. 
 
"We cannot misunderstand what he said and justify abortion or the use of contraceptives to promote pre-marital sex and fulfill our desires," said Alminaza.
 
"The use of contraceptives maybe a 'lesser evil' to avoid pregnancy but it should not be used to stop pregnancy," he said.
 
"The choice of abstaining from sex [to prevent the spreak of Zika virus] would be a better choice than using contraceptives," Bishop Alminaza added.
 
Bishop Roberto Mallari of San Jose in Nueva Ecija province warned that the pope's statement should not be used "as an excuse to perform sex without love."
 
"If a man and a woman are ready to perform sex as a sign of love and union, they are actually ready to face all the possible consequences of their act with or without the Zika virus," Bishop Mallari said.
 

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