I was going to point out an interesting inconsistency (?) in the encyclical Laudato Si. But this past weekend, I was confronted with major headlines about something else Pope Francis has said. It started with a Dutch news site, which was shared in a WhatsApp group:
Pope: contraception is allowed against Zika
Going to the Internet to find out the truth of the matter, there were many more such headlines from international news sources:
BBC: Zika virus: Pope hints at relaxation of contraception ban…
CNN: Pope suggests contraception OK to slow Zika
Wall Street Journal: Pope Francis Says Contraception Can Be Acceptable in…
New York Times: Francis Says Contraception Can Be Used to Slow Zika
Los Angeles Times: Pope opens the door to contraception in averting harmful…
Washington Post: Pope Francis suggests contraception could be permissible…
The Guardian / USAToday / ABCNews: Pope suggests contraception can be condoned in Zika crisis
Fighting my own little guerrilla war on misinformation, I posted a link to the actual interview. It was conceded that the Pope had not quite said it in those words.
There was a brave attempt by an alumna of the University of Nebraska to explain that ‘avoiding pregnancy’ does not necessarily mean using contraceptives. This is true, but while writing this blogpost, I heard that Fr. Lombardi has confirmed that the Pope was indeed speaking about contraceptives. Which makes a statement like the following difficult to harmonize with Church teaching:
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.
So not only does the Pope suggest that contraception is permissible to counteract the Zika virus, but he suggests that it is clearly permitted.
Of course, questions now arise why this should be the case for Zika but not for AIDS.
I think I will wait for the dust to settle.
So, what is the inconsistency in Laudato Si? This concerns the addressees of the encyclical. In 1963, Pope John XXIII made a significant change in addressing his encyclical on world peace (Pacem in Terris) not only to his fellow-bishops and the other faithful, but to all people of good will. This precedent has been followed in some other encyclicals, such as Caritas in Veritate (but, oddly enough, not Fides et Ratio).
In Laudato Si, the circle seems to be drawn even wider. In one of the first paragraphs, Pope Francis writes,
Pope Saint John XXIII … addressed his message Pacem in Terris to the entire “Catholic world” and indeed “to all men and women of good will”. Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet.
A good will is not required; if you are a person, then Pope Francis is speaking to you, whether you are benevolent or hostile. However, further on in the document, this open address seems to be narrowed down again, in the first sentence of Chapter 2 about the Gospel of creation:
Why should this document, addressed to all people of good will, include a chapter dealing with the convictions of believers?
What happened to the villains inhabiting this planet? Do they not exist or are they no longer in view? Perhaps it is supposed that they do not read encyclicals? That would be a wrong assumption, because I have in fact read Laudato Si.
Questions, questions. Well, let me end with an assertion, again from Pope Francis, from the airplane interview that has so quickly become (in)famous. This is a good bit, in response to a question about the friendship between Pope John Paul II and Dr. Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, that threatens to get overlooked:
A man who does not know how to have a relationship of friendship with a woman – I'm not talking about misogynists, who are sick – well, he's a man who is missing something. …