Peters on reactions and claims about Francis’s off-the-cuff contraception remark

From the canonist Ed Peter’s fine blog In The Light Of The Law.  He doesn’t have a combox over there and doesn’t mind if we use his stuff here. DO, however, go over there to his place regularly.  Emphases are from Peters, comments mine:

Misunderstanding the (alleged) ‘Congo contraception’ case

Even by the standards of his reign, the presser Pope Francis conducted on his return flight from Mexico has provoked an unusual number of questions.  [No kidding.  You should see my inbox, too!] I wish to address only one of those here.

Preliminarily, I note that the burden is not on the negative to prove that something did not occur, it is on the affirmative to prove that the alleged something did occur. [I sent a question to someone in the Press Office and I received no response.] That said, though, it now seems all but certain that the ‘permission’ or ‘approval’ which Francis has claimed his predecessor Pope Paul VI gave for Congo nuns facing rape to use contraception simply does not exist. See e.g. Fr. Zuhlsdorf or John Allen*.

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 to be considered in deciding whether contraception may also be used to prevent pregnancy in some cases of possible birth defects. That claim would take Pope Francis’ contraception remarks into a very different area. No longer are we musing about a point of Church history (as interesting as that might be), now we are dealing with Church moral teaching. The stakes become dramatically higher.

[NB] So here’s my point: not only does the Congo nuns permission seem NOT to exist, but, even if it does exist in some form, it could NOT, [!] I suggest, by its own terms, be used by Francis (or anyone else committed to thinking with the Church) to call into question the Church’s settled teaching that “each and every marital act [quilibet matrimonii usus] must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life” (Humanae vitae 11) and that therefore “excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after conjugal intercourse [coniugale commercium], is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means” (Humanae vitae 14).

Obviously the Congo nuns case (or the Balkan nuns story in the 1990s, to take another variation of the myth) was not about martial acts, it was about religious women facing criminal acts of violent sexual intercourse; the Congo question was not about possible birth defects, it was about stopping rapists’ sperm from reaching ova that perchance had been ovulated. [IMPORTANT…emphasis mine] Between women facing rape and wives worried about birth defects there simply is no parallel relevant to the moral question of contraception. One can like that fact or hate it, but one cannot change it or ignore it.  Moreover, Church teaching on the immorality of contracepted marital acts is, I believe, taught infallibly; [Yes.] but, even if I were wrong about that technical claim, there is no question about what that teaching is, namely, that contracepting acts of marital intercourse, whether doing so as an end in itself or as means to some other end, is objectively immoral.

A discussion could be had, I think, on whether non-marital sexual intercourse is subject to the same moral requirements as that to which marital intercourse is held. [Ummmm….] Humanae vitae does not, as far as I can see, address that question. But, as to whether a permission allegedly given to nuns to take contraceptive measures in the face of rape establishes a precedent for spouses wanting to contracept their sexual relations out of fear of possible birth defects, the conclusion seems inescapable: there is no parallel between the two cases, and so there is no precedent set.

*A note on Allen’s article cited above: As I feared he did earlier, Allen is once again arguing that papal non-action is papal action. [We knew that would happen, right?]

After claiming that then-Cdl. Montini was “close to the currents that shaped [the journal] Studi Cattolici” and that it “was assumed” that Montini approved of an article defending contraception by Congolese nuns, an assumption that Allen says “appeared to be confirmed later” when as pope Montini later promoted one of its authors, Allen tops off this journalistic house of cards with a zinger: “The Vatican [sic] never repudiated the 1961 position [taken by theologians, not by Montini], so the takeaway was that it remained a legitimate option. To Italians — and remember, Francis’ ancestry is Italian … that meant Paul VI approved.”

Good grief. I say it again, good grief.  [I’ll call good grief… and I’ll raise another good grief.]

I can imagine not a few Italians are hitting the roof right about now over Allen’s opinion of their formal logic skills. But my question is, How many conjectures from assumptions based on silence may a journalist pile up before someone shouts Enough!? Here’s one for ya: God could have stopped this evil or that if He wanted to, but He didn’t stop it, so bingo, God is the author of evil. Talk about bad logic skills. Seriously, there are plenty of terrible things that John Allen has never written about, let alone condemned; may we assume that his silence on such matters signals his consent to them? If not, should not the same deference be accorded to a pope?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. chantgirl says:

    After Fr. Lombardi’s statement, , the silence which worries me is the lack of correction coming from Rome. For heaven’s sake, after all of the questionable comments attributed to this Pope which have gone unchallenged, if the Pope does not address this or issue a correction, it will speak volumes.

  2. Back pew sitter says:

    “A discussion could be had, I think, on whether non-marital sexual intercourse is subject to the same moral requirements as that to which marital intercourse is held.”

    I’m surprised that Dr Peters should even raise that point. I’m not aware that, once the Church has decreed that something (e.g., non-marital sex) is a sin, it has ever gone on to advise how best (or least badly) to engage in that sin. Should the Church discuss whether, if one is intent on being a thief, how much of the victim’s property might reasonably be stolen? Or if one is intent on murder, whether it is ‘more moral’ to shoot someone through the heart than to club him to death with a baseball bat?

  3. MGL says:

    Chantgirl, I don’t see how they can walk it back now. The reporter asked the Holy Father for his thoughts on the options for women at risk of contracting the Zika virus:

    “The greatest risk would be for pregnant women. There is anguish. Some authorities have proposed abortion, or else to avoid pregnancy. As regards avoiding pregnancy, on this issue, can the Church take into consideration the concept of ‘the lesser of two evils’?”

    The pope responded by ruling out abortion, calling it a “crime”, but indicated that this situation raised a potential conflict between the Fifth and Sixth Commandments, and mentioning the nuns-in-the-Congo story as a specific instance of choosing a lesser evil to prevent a greater one.

    At the end of his answer, he said, On the other hand, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil. In certain cases, as in this one, or in the one I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear.

    Since he presents both Zika and the nuns in the Congo as “clear” examples of choosing the lesser evil, it’s really hard to see how he’s not endorsing the use of artificial contraceptive methods for women facing the prospect of a risky pregnancy. Father Lombardi–who speaks for the pope–could have clarified this question away by reiterating the moral teaching of the Church or by casting doubt on the Congo story, but instead confirmed that the Holy Father was indeed speaking of such methods.

    I certainly agree that this should be cleared up, but they’ve kind of doubled down on it now.

    (The Vatican Radio Italian transcript of the Lombardi interview is here.)

  4. HeatherPA says:

    Is it a sin to cringe every time one hears Pope Francis is on an airplane with press in attendance?

  5. ThankyouB16 says:

    Fr. Z was at one time very generous in his assessment of John Allen Jr. I sense those days are behind. I, for one, never was sure if I trusted him; I do not now. And CRUX is Fishwrap lite.
    Too strong?

  6. Suudy says:

    Dr Peters says “… that contracepting acts of marital intercourse, whether doing so as an end in itself or as means to some other end, is objectively immoral.”

    How does this relate to legitimate use of oral contraceptives? I have heard from priests and even the USCCB that certain oral contraceptives are legitimate provided contraception is not the intended end. Indeed, from the USCCB:

    “Is there ever a time “contraceptives” may be used for medical reasons?

    Catholic teaching does not oppose the use of hormonal medications – such as those found in chemical contraceptives – for legitimate medical purposes, provided there is no contraceptive intent.

    But artificial hormones typically treat only the medical symptoms. They do not correct the underlying disease or condition. They also carry the same physical health risks as hormonal contraceptives.

    Thankfully, with growing advancements in understanding fertility, knowledgeable gynecologists can often prescribe non-contraceptive drugs and recommend safer and healthier treatments to correct underlying problems or eliminate discomfort”

    How does this jive with Dr Peters statement that contraception “as means to some other end” is “objectively immoral”? There seems to be some ambiguity in the terms, and if Dr Peters means “contraception” only as intending to prevent conception it makes sense. But if he means “contraception” to apply to all hormonal treatments that may have a contraceptive effect, I’m not so sure.

  7. Adam Michael says:

    “I’m not aware that, once the Church has decreed that something (e.g., non-marital sex) is a sin, it has ever gone on to advise how best (or least badly) to engage in that sin. ”

    I see you are not well-versed in classic moral theology. :-)

  8. Adam Michael says:

    “Since he presents both Zika and the nuns in the Congo as ‘clear’ examples of choosing the lesser evil, it’s really hard to see how he’s not endorsing the use of artificial contraceptive methods for women facing the prospect of a risky pregnancy. ”

    This interview combined with Sunday’s statement that the Church is opposed to all killing indicate that Pope Francis’ moral theology is different from that of the Church. He seems ill-formed on morality, thus leading him to take stances more akin to Eastern Orthodoxy than to Catholicism.

  9. Aquinas Gal says:

    Suudy, it seems to me that the statement about contraceptives being prescribed for other conditions (as sometimes happens), would fall under the principle of double effect. As long as the desired effect is not coming by means of the contraceptive effect, it would seem a legitimate application of the principle. In other words, the drug is used for some condition unrelated to fertility. The temporary loss of fertility is tolerated as a side effect; the contraceptive effect does not cause the healing of the condition. As long as all the other conditions for use of the double effect principle are in place it seems correct.

  10. Jarrod says:

    “How does this jive with Dr Peters statement that contraception “as means to some other end” is “objectively immoral”?”

    From what I’ve read on the subject, a medical treatment that renders the patient sterile (temporarily or permanently) is morally permitted (though not necessarily a good idea medically) provided that something other than sterility is the intent of the treatment. Normal marital relations remain permissible even while the effects of such a treatment persist.

    But “contraception” as such implies that the sterility is the goal of the action rather than a known but undesired effect, so that might be part of where Peters is coming from. If it is objectively wrong to do something for the purpose of sterilizing yourself, then no potential ends can justify that act. So the question hinges on whether deliberate sterilization by itself is the problem, or only when that sterility is meant to be brought to the marital act. (In other words, can a celibate person deliberately sterilize herself? My instinct is “no,” but I can’t yet back it up.)

    It’s a double effect question – in some cases, it can be permissible to do something that has an effect that mimics the result of an objective evil, but only when this bad effect is unwanted. But it’s a complicated theory, and I don’t always fully wrap my head around it. Generally:
    1. The act itself must be good or neutral – a medical treatment usually qualifies.
    2. The bad effect must not be the means to the desired end – in most of these cases, the sterility does not cause the relief of the symptoms or the cure of the disease but is instead an additional result of it. On the other hand, if you were trying to avoid a bad thing related to having more children, then sterility would be one possible means to that end, and that fact would disqualify the act as moral under double effect (assuming my instinct above is correct).
    3. The intention must be to achieve the good effect and avoid the bad – if a treatment option were available that did not result in sterility, it must be considered, perhaps preferentially. (I don’t know how much better (or by what standard to judge “better”) the option with the bad effect must be before it can be chosen over the option without it. For example, must a patient choose a $50,000 procedure that does not sterilize if a $10 pill that does sterilize adequately addresses the problem? I don’t know.)
    4. The bad effect must not be disproportionate to the good effect. I suppose an example might be that it would not be permissible to frustrate the purpose of the marital act in order to treat mild acne (one side effect of the pill that they used to promote in advertisements). Intense pain from cramps, perhaps. Cancer, most likely.

  11. jhayes says:

    Dr Peters wrote A discussion could be had, I think, on whether non-marital sexual intercourse is subject to the same moral requirements as that to which marital intercourse is held. Humanae vitae does not, as far as I can see, address that question.

    My understanding is that there are differing views on this but that it is a legitimate to take the position that Humanae Vitae addresses the use of contraception only by married couples.

    A couple of years ago, a permanent deacon, ordained about ten years earlier and who teaches marriage preparation courses in a diocese with a fairly conservative bishop, gave these answers to two hypothetical questions:

    – An unmarried woman who runs in a city park where women are sometimes raped can use non-abortifacient contraceptives continuously to avoid the possibility of pregnancy in the case of rape.

    – The parents of a teenage girl whom they feel may lack the willpower to resist advances can recommend that she use non-abortifacient contraceptives continuously to avoid the possibility of pregnancy outside of marriage. (He said the parents would want to consider whether this would make her more likely to consent).

    The first case is the same as the nuns in the Congo and Bosnia and suggests they and their superiors didn’t need any approval from the Pope to use contraceptives.

  12. iamlucky13 says:

    I’m glad to see Dr. Peters focusing this discussion where I think it should have been all along. The truth or fiction of the case of the nuns in the Congo is irrelevant to those of us not living out a vow of abstinence and in danger of rape. That should have been obvious.

    A giant exception to the teachings of an encyclical as thoroughly studied before promulgation as Humanae Vitae was can not be broadly assumed from an ambiguous response to a baited question in an informal interview, regardless of how heterodox you might assume Pope Francis to be. That also should have been obvious.

  13. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Backpewsitter is surprised that Dr Peters should even raise that point. He should not be surprised, it is a useful question even if it must get over the hurdle, rightly pointed out, that we are talking whether another sin is inside a sin. Still, it is questioned recognized as legit.

    My concern about the P6 allegation is, why debate a document that does not exist? No good lawyer would bother to contradict evidence that does not exist. So, I ask, does this P6 statement even exist? Francis said it did. We get to ask him to show us.

  14. Back pew sitter says:

    Dr Peters, thank you for responding to my comment. My surprise comes from recognizing the inevitable confusion, if not scandal, that would arise if after such a discussion the Church were to come to any conclusion other than that one should avoid all sinful actions.

    The sort of confusion to be avoided is evident from the ways Pope Benedict’s remarks in a published book-interview were received. When speaking about the actions of a male prostitute, he said that his use of a condom to prevent the spread of HIV could ” be a first step in the direction of moralisation, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants.” I agree with what he said – which is not that a male prostitute could or should use a condom, but that his use of a condom could be a “first step” towards acting morally and indicates an attempt (though far from satisfactory) to act responsibly. The philosophical nuance of his statement was lost by those who proclaimed “Pope Benedict says that condoms can be used to stop the spread of HIV.”

    It seems to me that the Church is no more likely to resolve that non-marital sexual intercourse is subject to different moral requirements than it is to resolve that rapists should wear condoms so that their victims don’t get pregnant. The Church isn’t in the business of regulating sin, and I was (and still am) surprised that you appear to be indicating that a fruitful discussion could be had on the question.

  15. Kathleen10 says:

    Just a note from the peanut gallery. I don’t know moral theology, but admire those who do.
    I know almost no Catholics who are well versed in even authentic Catholic teaching, who would be able to identify things of this sort, statements made by our pope, as questionable. Most Catholics I know are going to accept the media takeaway, that contraception is ok now and that is because a pope at one time said nuns in the Congo could use it so they didn’t become pregnant after a rape.
    I am asking the same question I have asked for years now about President Obama. How bad does this have to get before someone in a position of responsibility does something.
    The well-informed can ride this out without much more damage than heartburn. It could be very damaging to the uninformed. He is causing havoc.
    I am waiting to see the likely-to-be-Godawful-synod-report. If the Cardinals and Bishops don’t speak up after that, they’re hopeless. What we need is a good cacophony.

  16. Kathleen10 says:

    One more thing. I don’t believe nuns should be put in positions where it is very possible they could be raped or murdered. For heaven’s sake, to put them in that danger is unconscionable.

  17. Adam Michael says:


    I understand your point. After reading the pertinent parts of the interview, I noticed that the Pope’s comments were simply ambiguous, albeit with some big honking neon lights pointing toward error. However, Fr. Lombardi’s comments were truly problematic and left no doubt as to being erroneous. If these comments are not an accurate reflection of Pope Francis’ views, this needs to be made clear by the Supreme Pontiff, himself, or through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

    However, to build on my previous comment – nobody I know who accepts Catholic moral teachings refers to the “lesser evil” as a way to treat those things that are intrinsically evil in a positive manner, just as no authentic Catholic moralist makes blanket condemnations of all killing. Personally, it is looking more and more like we have a Pope who is in contradiction to the Faith of the Catholic Church, no matter how unofficial his statements may be.

  18. Grumpy Beggar says:

    [Dr. Peters]:
    “Talk about bad logic skills. Seriously, there are plenty of terrible things that John Allen has never written about, let alone condemned; may we assume that his silence on such matters signals his consent to them? If not, should not the same deference be accorded to a pope?”

    Touché .


    ThankyouB16: “. . . Fishwrap lite.” * LOL *


    It’s very opportune for the protagonists who wish to perpetuate the myth about Congo nuns and the nuns in Bosnia being granted (imaginary) papal permission to use “contraception” to prevent “becoming pregnant after rape” (as the Palazzini statemment so conveniently put it) to have the argument remain more or less out in the abstract – where no one is allowed to take too close a look at it.

    Once the perspective of practicality is applied , we begin to discover just how impractical the entire concept is. “Oral contraceptive” is a misnomer. Most of what are referred to as “oral contraceptives” do not prevent conception at all. Both the Pill and the Morning After Pill – regardless of what you may have heard are actually abortifacients – they cause abortions after conception. ‘The Shot” -hormonal injection can also cause an early abortion when conception does occur.

    Check around that linked website One More Soul and use their search engine to discover the medical and scientific truth about all of these contraceptives and improperly-called contraceptives (which have an abortive efect). Be sure to check out all the Ethical Concerns and Medical Side-Effects they list for each method.

    Medical Side effects alone show that the benefits do not outweight the risk factors. . . at least the risk factors which are known at this time. Some of the technology is so new that they still haven’t even determined the risk factors. . . yet they’re making this stuff available to women.

    One gleans from this reliable source that the barrier method would appear to be least likely to cause abortion. I find it painful to even attempt to picture the idea of a rapist being requested to wear a condom while committing the heinous act – I wonder if all those self appointed moral theologian geniuses ever tried picturing this ? It would seem not – if they were willing to promote and perpetuate a lie.

    That would still leave the diaphram , which , when used, can cause a trunkful of side effects. BTW, to take Kathleen10’s sentiment one step further: Does anyone else ever wonder whether rapists might find nuns who were using contraceptives to be a more appealing target – since they would be less likely to become pregnant ?

    Way to go you self-appointed moral theologian Einsteins: For your reward we’re going to let you stay in your swimming pool a little longer . . .well, just long enough so we can hit the flush handle and bid you “bon voyage.”

  19. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    That’s fine. Weird questions (raised by people who know what’s what) can clarify points, and sometimes they can sharpen the precision with which more urgent questions are answered. That’s all I’m really saying. Best, edp.

  20. Andrew says:


    The words “as in this one” (in certain cases as in this one) are falsely attributed to the Pope by the translator: the Pope spoke in Italian and he didn’t say “as in this one”. It helps to know the actual sources for who said what.

  21. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Kathleen10, historically a lot of nuns, sisters, consecrated virgins, and just plain Christian women have gotten raped and murdered. This is why convents tend to have walls, among other reasons.

    All Christians have signed up to get martyred.

  22. JabbaPapa says:

    When Pope Benedict XVI made some roughly similar comments some years ago, the same debate took place, and it led to the same point : that this is a complex matter of pastoral guidance concerning individual cases, and that Humanae Vitae is not completely clear about this sort of fringe situation — because it authorises therapeutic means for the cure of diseases even if they might prevent pregnancies, and because in cases such as these the therapeutic means in question is habitually used as a contraceptive.

    The Magisterium appears to be in no haste to clarify this question, instead referring to the ordinary Authority of case-by-case individual pastoral guidance and casuistics.

    The only Catholics in the older debate that I saw to think otherwise were some liberal Catholics who were keen to interpret the words of Pope Benedict XVI as authorising condom use, and some of the more extremist traditionalists who said the same thing for their own purposes of Pope-bashing and “nu-Church”-bashing.

    Really though — all that Pope Francis has said, and Fr Lombardi afterwards, is predicated on the ordinary Authority of case-by-case individual pastoral guidance and casuistics for helping Catholics to discern an appropriate moral behaviour.

    These are difficult questions in view of the lack of complete clarity of Humanae Vitae regarding prevention of pregnancy as a consequence of an intention of disease prevention and the protection of life ; what is NOT difficult however is that the ordinary meaning of “pregnancy avoidance” in the Catholic moral theology is the practice of sexual abstinence.

    I think one important point here being missed by most is that in the normal matrimonial relationship, sexual intercourse is described by the Catechism as something that married couples are encouraged towards. I think the orthodox interpretation of the Pope’s words on the plane is that the purpose of protection against disease could in some cases justify encouraging abstinence instead of the normal sexual relationship of spouses.

  23. Imrahil says:

    As for “infallible”,

    that really is a question of its own which, in my view, would raise an entirely separate discussion. What is certain is that it is not extraordinary infallible magisterium (vulgo “dogma) nor, as maleness of priesthood is, “magisterially approved infallible ordinary magisterium”; arguing out in theological discussion whether it meets the criteria of infallible ordinary magisterium is, by the nature of things, a difficult matter. Bishops have indeed repeatedly taught on the matter and, until a couple of decades ago, never taught otherwise; the Pope has taught the teaching (Casti connubii) and repeated it (Humanae vitae); but then one might need to take into account that in the latter, a natural opportunity to teach infallibly would have arisen and was not used.

    In any case, though, it is a teaching that has been firmly and repeatedly taught by the Church, and whose opponents even fail to bring any conclusive argument (other than “people don’t do it” and “I don’t want to do it”, but that isn’t argument).

    – Dr Peter is quite right especially on the fact that an allowance of contraceptives for unmarried, continent people in a serious, concrete fear of rape (which remains a defensible opinion, in my view, whether or not subscribed to by the Pope) is obviously no precedent in any way for a supposed allowance of contraceptives for married, marriage-exercising people on, let’s face it as it is, plain old eugenic grounds.

  24. george says:

    “A discussion could be had, I think, on whether non-marital sexual intercourse is subject to the same moral requirements as that to which marital intercourse is held.”

    Does this mean that when unmarried couples fornicate, they do not incur additional mortal sin by using contraception?

  25. Cornelius says:

    Iam, but such an exception is not being assumed, it’s found in the plain meaning of the Pope’s words and then later confirmed by Fr Lombardi. Even for a Pope who is sloppy in his phrasing, this is a sort of watershed moment for this papacy, I think. A sitting Pope has just contradicted settled Church teaching – where do we go from here? Where can we go? This MUST be walked back.

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  27. KateD says:

    Why is abstinence not a part of this discussion…and NFP?

    The Pope should issue a ‘mea culpa’ and quit musing outside of private settings with trusted friends. He was so obviously wrong that how he addresses it will make a strong statement about his character.

  28. KateD says:


    For unmarried persons who use “the pill,” two sins have been committed: fornication and murder. Birth control pills, Plan B, IUDs and basically all forms of birth control except for barrier methods allow conception but prevent the little growing human being to implant, which causes the intended death of the child.

    Barrier methods are inadequate for prevention of sexually transmitted disease, even when used correctly.

    Abstinence is the surest way to prevent pregnancy, prevent contracting a sexually transmitted disease and keep in line with Heaven.

  29. MGL says:


    You are correct. The Italian transcript reads:

    Invece, evitare la gravidanza non è un male assoluto, e in certi casi, come in quello che ho menzionato del Beato Paolo VI, era chiaro.

    I don’t know Italian, but Google translates thus:

    Instead, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil, and in certain cases, such as the one I mentioned of Blessed Pope Paul VI, was clear.

    While this softens the blow, it does not remove it altogether. We still have the pope endorsing a form of proportionalism in one case, with the clear implication that it can likewise be applied to other, very different situations. (If this was not his intention, why bring up the Congo example in the first place?) Add to this Fr Lombardi’s clarification that the pope was indeed speaking of “the possibility of a recourse to contraception or condoms in cases of emergency or in special situations, which does not involve the suppression of a human life, but avoiding a pregnancy,” and the basic problem remains.

    Interestingly, the Italian transcript of Father Lombardi’s interview that I linked above seems to have disappeared from the Vatican Radio website!

  30. Luvadoxi says:

    I’ve been wondering something for a long time, Father, and I can’t figure it out. What does “whether as an end or as a means” mean in Humanae Vitae? It seems important but I just can’t understand its meaning. Thank you for considering my question.

  31. Fr. Vincent Fitzpatrick says:

    Suudy: The word you wanted is “jibe,” not “jive.”

    When it comes to the Pope’s moral theology, the word is “jive.”

  32. Fr. Vincent Fitzpatrick says:


    “I’ve been wondering something for a long time, Father, and I can’t figure it out. What does “whether as an end or as a means” mean in Humanae Vitae? It seems important but I just can’t understand its meaning. Thank you for considering my question.”

    If a couple simply do not want another baby, then that’s their “end.” I.e., the immediate effect of contracepting, not getting pregnant, is the “end” they seek.

    If a couple wouldn’t mind having another baby, but have been told that another pregnancy would kill or harm the mother, then they might use contraception, avoiding pregnancy, but it is the life or health of the mother that is their true “end.” The effect of contracepting, non-pregnancy, has become a “means.”

    The Pope is saying that contracepting, whether non-pregnancy is itself the desired “good,” or because non-pregnancy will achieve some other “good,” is always illicit.

    Note that what is being described is NOT a case where swallowing The Pill might DIRECTLY cause some therapeutic effect.

  33. Jarrod says:

    “What does “whether as an end or as a means” mean in Humanae Vitae?”

    Paragraph 14 says: “Similarly excluded [as lawful] is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.”

    It means that taking action specifically intended to prevent procreation (aside from the exception in paragraph 16, “recourse to infertile periods”) is prohibited regardless of whether you simply want to prevent birth or you want to prevent birth in order to support some other end, even an otherwise good end. Left unaddressed by that sentence are actions that have the same consequences but lack the specific intention of achieving those consequences.
    It is not permitted to plan to use an immoral result to achieve a moral end. One way to test a proposal is to imagine whether you would achieve your desired ends if the bad effect of your means didn’t happen. If you can’t get the good end without the evil result, then you would be using an evil means and cannot proceed.
    That being said, it’s probably fine to plan good things for the future that you foresee given the fact that your choice will bring about an incidental and undesired evil. For instance, you could say “This cancer treatment will sterilize me, but with no more kids coming I’ll be able to give more alms.” You could not say “With a smaller family I could give more alms, so I will get a vasectomy to make sure that happens.” The result is the same (more alms, fewer children), but in the latter case it comes from using an evil means while in the former it comes from simply trying to make the best of a bad situation.

  34. The Cobbler says:

    Suburbanbanshee, “This is why convents tend to have walls, among other reasons.” I see what you did there!

  35. The Cobbler says:

    Re. the other debate topic: I was always under the impression, given the way the intrinsic immorality of contraception is rooted in the nature of man’s powers as we know from natural law, that it’s easier to make a case from reason alone that contraception is immoral even in fornication than to make a case from reason alone that fornication is immoral in the first place…

  36. JabbaPapa says:

    Luvadoxi — “Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.”

    The more important words are “specifically intended” ; in other words, the sentence condemns actions undertaken with the specific intention of preventing procreation, whether this prevention should be the goal itself of those actions or if that prevention of procreation is a means to some other purpose — like professional reasons, for example, if someone should believe that pregnancy and/or motherhood would hurt her career or etc.

    Actions undertaken to save lives OTOH have an intention that is not specifically ordered towards the prevention of procreation, even if that should be an unavoidable consequence of the actions.

  37. WYMiriam says:

    1. The lesser of two evils is still evil.

    2. While I can sympathize with nuns who are at high risk for being raped (which may or may not result in pregnancy), it seems weird to hear a news announcer say that some nuns “use contraception because they fear being raped.” Since when did contraception ever prevent a rape? If they fear being raped, isn’t a good weapon more likely to prevent the rape than contraception is?

    Either the rest of the world is batty, or I am.

  38. Luvadoxi says:

    Thank you Jarrod and Fr. Vincent for the good explanations. This explains why giving pain medicine to, for example, a terminal cancer patient, if it results in the patient’s death, can be licit, since you are not trying to kill the patient but to end his pain–right? I’m wondering about the case with the Santorum family–the early birth of their child to save the mother’s life–what do Catholic moral theologians say about that? That confuses me. I still confuse means and ends, and my head hurts every time I try to think these things through, kind of like trying to figure out whether I will miss Mass or be early when we “spring forward” or “fall back”!

  39. Imrahil says:

    Dear KateD,

    while what you say is true for IUD, people who use the “standard” anti-baby-pill are not guilty of murder.

    Whether contracepting in an extramarital relationship adds to the sin or perhaps even lessens it (if they are not-married for a reason, etc.) may be an interesting discussion, if somewhat academic (which for me is not a reproach), because it’s sin anyway and has got to be confessed anyway.

  40. Jarrod says:


    I won’t judge here a real-world situation like the Santorums’, since I don’t know nearly enough of the details. In the abstract, if the choice were between a situation in which one person would likely live and the other would have a chance to live and one in which both people would likely die, the first choice would be defensible. It may even be permitted to pursue a course in which one person will almost certainly die, provided that death is not the means to effect the cure. In accordance with my proposed test above, in such a case the treatment is expected to cause the death but, if by some miracle the death were prevented, the effect of the treatment on the disease would be unchanged. (See, for example, Fr. Tad’s explanation of dealing with ectopic pregnancy here: )

    The course of action for the terminal patient you described could be permitted IF all is as you described and the purpose of the treatment was strictly to alleviate pain and not to kill. If it turns out that a dangerous dose becomes necessary to manage the pain, then (as far as I understand) death could be regarded as an acceptable risk provided that there is only a chance of death. But if the dose is so high that you could only reasonably regard it as lethal, you could be standing into danger. Of course, if the goal is to relieve the pain by ending all sensation (that is, by killing the patient), that is completely prohibited.

    The problem I have is that despite this intellectual understanding, I’m never sure of my own motives. When I am inclined toward an option that might be permitted under double effect, I’m never confident whether my inclination is innocent or driven by an underlying desire to sacrifice what is right for the sake of expediency. This is why, for the most part, I hesitate to judge a real-world situation – I can’t even judge myself much of the time.

  41. Luvadoxi says:

    JabbaPapa–that concept of not “specifically ordered” really helps. And Jarrod–thank you for your circumspection–I hesitated to mention names in the real-life case but decided it would clarify the issue if I mentioned it. You’re right, we don’t know the specifics of that case. I had thought of the saving the life you can idea–because you’re not intending the death; it’s an acceptable risk. I wonder if it would be more difficult earlier in pregnancy to make that argument. ? These are such difficult questions, but they do come up in real life, and I’ve found it hard to get answers since my conversation to Catholicism 12 years ago. Everyone is so afraid of the slippery slope and of condoning sin that I can’t get to what the Church is really trying to teach. Trying to get my brain to think things over is sometimes like herding cats, especially when you throw in fear of hell and eternal damnation! Thank you all for your very helpful and well-reasoned comments, and for taking the time to help me understand.

  42. Luvadoxi says:

    About my own motives–it’s kind of interesting, at least as far as the end of life questions; I think when it comes right down to it–like the example of giving pain killers–I think I would know where the line is, even if I have lots of emotional reasons to, God forgive me, want the person to move on. The line is there, if the doctor, say, can reason it out and do the right thing. Hope that makes sense!

  43. KateD says:


    From webMD:

    Hormonal contraceptives (the pill, the patch, and the vaginal ring) all contain a small amount of man-made estrogen and progestin hormones. These hormones work to inhibit the body’s natural cyclical hormones to prevent pregnancy. Pregnancy is prevented by a combination of factors. The hormonal contraceptive usually stops the body from ovulating. Hormonal contraceptives also change the cervical mucus to make it difficult for the sperm to go through the cervix and find an egg. Hormonal contraceptives can also prevent pregnancy by changing the lining of the womb so it’s unlikely the fertilized egg will be implanted.

    From :

    The Birth Control Pill is the most popular and widely used method of hormonal contraception. It involves taking a month-long series of pills—three weeks of pills containing hormones, and one without. This allows the woman to have a menstrual period. The Pill contains two synthetic hormones, progestin and ethinyl estradiol and has three mechanisms: 1) it prevents ovulation, 2) thickens the cervical mucus, which makes it harder for sperm to enter the uterus and 3) affects the endometrium or lining of the womb to make it more hostile to implantation. This means the tiny developing baby (embryo) cannot attach to the uterine lining and dies, which is a very early abortion. Even so, they define this as “preventing pregnancy.”

    Causing someone (even a newly conceived child) to die…because you want them dead….is murder :(

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