How do you solve a problem like Pope Francis?

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Did Pope Francis just say that it is ok to use artificial contraception in some cases?

This is the question that is being asked all over the world at the moment. As usual following the off-the-cuff answers given during his airplane interviews, Pope Francis has left a wake of questions and confusion. One begs the question of whether he should be doing this style of interview at all? I often wish he would just take a sedative on his plane trips and have a nice long sleep rather than unleashing the hounds of misinterpretation and misunderstanding.

Let’s gloss over the fact that he just told Donald Trump he was not a Christian, and instead focus on the recent comments concerning the Zika virus. Did he say it was ok to use condoms to avoid a pregnancy in these circumstances?

The first thing to do is to ignore any shock headlines and look up the exact transcript of what was said:

Paloma García Ovejero, Cadena COPE (Spain): “Holy Father, for several weeks there’s been a lot of concern in many Latin American countries but also in Europe regarding the Zika virus. The greatest risk would be for pregnant women. There is anguish. Some authorities have proposed abortion, or else to avoiding pregnancy. As regards avoiding pregnancy, on this issue, can the Church take into consideration the concept of “the lesser of two evils?””

Pope Francis: Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to throw someone out in order to save another. That’s what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil. On the ‘lesser evil,’ avoiding pregnancy, we are speaking in terms of the conflict between the fifth and sixth commandment. Paul VI, a great man, in a difficult situation in Africa, permitted nuns to use contraceptives in cases of rape.

Don’t confuse the evil of avoiding pregnancy by itself, with abortion. Abortion is not a theological problem, it is a human problem, it is a medical problem. You kill one person to save another, in the best case scenario. Or to live comfortably, no?  It’s against the Hippocratic oaths doctors must take. It is an evil in and of itself, but it is not a religious evil in the beginning, no, it’s a human evil. Then obviously, as with every human evil, each killing is condemned.

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. I would also urge doctors to do their utmost to find vaccines against these two mosquitoes that carry this disease. This needs to be worked on.”

As we know, the Popes words can often be taken out of context and twisted by the media. And that is exactly what happened following this recent plane interview. But then, on 19th Feb 2016 Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi affirmed that the Holy Father was indeed speaking of “condoms and contraceptives” when on the flight back from Mexico, Pope Francis said couples could rightly “avoid pregnancy” in the wake of the Zika virus scare.

Fr. Lombardi told Vatican Radio today, “The contraceptive or condom, in particular cases of emergency or gravity, could be the object of discernment in a serious case of conscience. This is what the Pope said.”

Vatican Radio have issued a sound recording and full transcript of Lombardi’s comments, so there is really no doubt whatsoever that he did actually say that. I suppose there is always the possibility that Lombardi twisted the words of Pope Francis – but I doubt it. There would have been some correction issued by the vatican already if that was the case.

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So what do we do now?

For those of us who have struggled with and committed to church teachings on sex and marriage this comes as a major blow. Does the Pope really have no idea how hard it can be sometimes? Does he have no idea about the rewards and benefits to the marriage of remaining in line with the church on this issue? Does he think that bending the rules regarding artificial contraception is being ‘merciful’ in some way?

I don’t know. I just don’t know with him I’m afraid. I’m as confused as you are. This is not the first time this canny old Jesuit has left a wake of upset and confusion in his path, and I don’t think for a moment it will be the last.

I remember a few years back when Benedict came to the UK and I stood on the side of the road literally jumping up and down, cheering as loud as I could as he drove into his papal residence in Wimbledon. Benedict was my hero – my Father. I trusted him. I can’t say I would be doing that if Francis came to visit. I just don’t feel that way about Francis. I feel extremely let down and rather embarrassed if I am totally honest.

But one thing is even worse than that. Francis leaves me with a funny mixed feeling of hopelessness and suspicion which stinks of political motivation. Following everything that has occurred so far in his papacy I am left  with two thoughts:

Either he has absolutely no idea of what he is doing, or he knows exactly what he is doing. I don’t know which is worse…