Philippine Catholic Church may re-evaluate contraceptive stance after Pope Francis says 'avoiding pregnancy not absolute evil'

Health workers show the proper use of a condom during a family planning session held in an NGO clinic in Manila, Philippines.Reuters

Following Pope Francis' controversial and apparently spur-of-the-moment suggestion that there may be circumstances in which married couples can use contraception, the Philippine Catholic Church wasted little time in signifying its willingness to modify its stance on birth control.

Previously, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) was a stern opponent of the reproductive health law that provides major government funding for contraceptives, LifeSite News reported.

Things drastically changed last week when Pope Francis spoke to reporters onboard the papal plane returning to Rome from his pastoral visit to Mexico. In an off-the-cuff statement, the pope told the journalists that "avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil."

CBCP president Archbishop Socrates Villegas quickly issued a statement based on the pope's remarks.

In his statement titled "Truth with Love and Mercy," Villegas noted two important moral precepts that Pope Francis mentioned. "First, there may be circumstances that invite a re-evaluation 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," Villegas said.

However, Father Shenan Boquet, president of Human Life International, told LifeSiteNews that the Church's teaching on the evil of contraception is "unchangeable."

"As the Brazilian bishops recently affirmed in addressing the threat posed by the Zika virus, the actual Church teaching on the matter of couples using contraception is unequivocal: The use of contraceptive methods by married couples to prevent pregnancy is always morally illicit," he said.

Fr. Boquet questioned the pope's action, saying that "doctrinal truths cannot be changed by a statement made in a press release or interview," adding that doctrinal teaching against contraception is laid down in the papal encyclicals Casti Connubii (by Pope Pius XI in 1930) and Humanae Vitae (by Pope Paul VI in 1968).

Archbishop Villegas disagrees. He said the Pope's statement that the "evil of contraception was not of the same magnitude as the evil of abortion" is "clearly sound moral reasoning."

But Fr. Boquet said this distinction is irrelevant in light of the above Church teachings against the use of contraception.

"In light of these doctrinal teachings, it is difficult to understand the reference to the use of contraception as 'a lesser evil,' as compared with abortion. This may be the case, but it is morally irrelevant, since the same teachings that engage this question reaffirm that an evil may never be chosen that a good might come from it," he said.