Monday, February 22, 2016

The Pope Francis Conversation . . . or, Go Talk to Your Father, it's His Feast Day

Hey Guys.

Today is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. In light of current events, it seems especially important to remember what we celebrate today.

According to Pope Benedict:
This is a very ancient tradition, proven to have existed in Rome since the fourth century. On it we give thanks to God for the mission he entrusted to the Apostle Peter and his Successors.

"Cathedra" literally means the established seat of the Bishop, placed in the mother church of a diocese which for this reason is known as a "cathedral"; it is the symbol of the Bishop's authority and in particular, of his "magisterium", that is, the evangelical teaching which, as a successor of the Apostles, he is called to safeguard and to transmit to the Christian Community. . . .

The See of Rome, after St Peter's travels, thus came to be recognized as the See of the Successor of Peter, and its Bishop's "cathedra" represented the mission entrusted to him by Christ to tend his entire flock. . . .

Celebrating the "Chair" of Peter, therefore, as we are doing today, means attributing a strong spiritual significance to it and recognizing it as a privileged sign of the love of God, the eternal Good Shepherd, who wanted to gather his whole Church and lead her on the path of salvation [General Audience, Feb. 22, 2006].

I went on a retreat over the weekend, at a hotel, with the baby.

And we are quite refreshed and renewed and resolved. The husband and kids did quite well without me, thank you very much.

But, it would appear that the Catholic side of the internet needs more supervision than it was getting, because things seem to have gone a little nuts in my absence.

Before I left, I saw that Pope Francis had said some words on an airplane. (Again.)

Here's what he said, in response to a question about the use of abortion and contraception in cases where couples are concerned about the Zika virus, which can cause serious birth defects:
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. 
See the rest of the transcript here.

While I was away, those words began to cause many people to get giddy with joy/hurt and confused/full of despair. And a lot of those people, who were having those feelings, took to the internet to express them.

The mainstream media headlines were predictable in their overstatement.

Click-bait-y Catholic sites (that I won't link to) were also predictable in their preference for clicks over responsible journalism.

As I tried to sort through everything, a few posts in particular stood out to me as helpful and reasoned.

When the story was still new, Jenny at Mama Needs Coffee, made the very valid point that if you just look at the actual words of Pope Francis, there's not NECESSARILY anything to be upset about. I appreciated her take:
I’ve reread his remarks at least a dozen times now, and I can’t find the spot where he encourages Catholic spouses to oppose one another in their sexual embrace by means of contraception. I can, however, see where he alludes to NFP in the line “avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil.”
It sounds really familiar, actually. Because it’s a central message in one of Catholicism’s most essential texts on sexuality: Humanae Vitae.
So to sum things up: no, Pope Francis, in an in flight interview on a 747, did not just change the Catholic Church’s teachings on birth control (not least of which due to the simple fact that he can’t. He literally doesn’t have the power to change it.)
Read the whole thing here.

That's what I thought too, and I figured there would be a clarification and all would be well. The whole nuns in the Congo being given permission by Pope Paul VI to take contraceptives, it seemed . . . off. But, I did read this explanation by Jimmy Akin on the different moral issues involved, and it was at least comprehensible.

But then, Fr. Federico Lomdardi, who was with Pope Francis on the flight, made the following statement to Vatican Radio:
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…the possibility of taking recourse to contraception or condoms in cases of emergency or special situations. He is not saying that this possibility is accepted without discernment, indeed, he said clearly that it can be considered in cases of special urgency.
D'oh. Not exactly what we were hoping for. (I can't find an original source for this in English. It's quoted all over, but not sourced. So it's possible that this is not an accurate quote.)

But. I'd like to point out, that this is NOT necessarily the "official clarification" we seek. When there was confusion and controversy surrounding condoms after the publication of a book of interviews with Pope Benedict, Fr. Lombardi issued a prepared statement, including the following:
Thus the pope is not reforming or changing the teaching of the church, but reaffirming it by placing it in the context of the value and the dignity of human sexuality as an expression of love and responsibility.
See it all here.

Fr. Lombardi's statement in the current case with Pope Francis, didn't feel like an official clarification, it seemed like he was simply confirming that Pope Francis did in fact say those words on the plane, as he was also on the plane, rather than saying that those words were without error, or that they were consistent with Catholic teaching.

Because it seems clear enough that there are inconsistencies.

Janet Smith explains the Catholic moral teaching at stake:
To suggest that some “emergency” or “special situation” would permit a person in conscience to use contraception does not align with Catholic moral theology. For spouses to use contraception is always wrong. How can any emergency or special situation justify what is always wrong? It is an improper use of conscience to use it to discern that it is moral to do what is intrinsically wrong in special situations. One job of the conscience is precisely to enable a person to honor moral norms in special situations. In emergencies or special situations we are not permitted, for instance, directly to kill innocent human beings even if great good could come from that death. Martyrdom is precisely a result of the refusal to do something that is morally wrong in an “emergency” or “special situation.”
Read the rest here.

And THEN Fr. Z, hallelujah, demonstrated VERY convincingly that Pope Paul VI NEVER gave permission to nuns or anyone else to use the pill:
[It] reads like a soap opera, the one hand. It reads like a vicious campaign of lies and disinformation designed to confuse the faithful and undermine the Church, on the other….

This whopper doesn’t pass the smell test. Paul VI told nuns they could use contraceptives… riiiiight.

Notice, the more you go back in time, the more “Paul VI” becomes, more vaguely, “Rome”. Dig deep enough and you will find that “Rome” turns out to be just an article published, you guessed it, in Rome, precisely by the magazine Studi Cattolici, n° 27, in the year of our Salvation 1961. Title: “Una donna domanda: come negarsi alla violenza? Morale esemplificata. Un dibattito” (A woman asks, how to subtract oneself from violence? Exemplified morals. A debate).

Yes, I can hear you yelling at the monitor. Paul VI ascended to the Throne of Peter only in 1963.

And now I want somebody to tell me, with a straight face, that St. John XXIII allowed contraception. Above all, I want them to show me where and when he did it.
Fr. Z also points out that Pope St. JPII similarly did not okay contraception for nuns at risk of rape, even though the same thing was alleged in the 1980s about him and nuns in Kosovo.

Read the rest here, if you can. Fr. Z's blog appears to have crashed from all the traffic, but keep trying. It's good.

So, thank goodness it isn't true. It isn't true that nuns in the Congo were given the birth control pill by Pope Paul VI and it isn't true that Catholic moral teaching would permit the use of the birth control by married couples concerned about birth defects. One problem solved. But we are still left with the problem of Pope Francis having said it. Which is a bummer, but not a particularly BINDING bummer. Because Pope Francis was NOT speaking ex cathedra, or "from the chair." THE chair. Today's chair.

I like how Jason Bermender summed it up:
He also says that the use of contraceptives is evil, albeit a lesser one. This is not new. It is also a principle of moral theology that one may not commit a lesser evil in order to avoid a greater evil, no matter how much worse it is, especially if a good action is a possibility. Thus, Pope Francis did not give permission to use contraceptives to avoid being pregnant with a child who might have a debilitating condition. Even if he did contradict Church teaching, he is human and makes mistakes like the rest of us. No big deal. Other popes have done worse.
Read the rest here.

I understand the having of feelings related to the things that Pope Francis said. As a person who spends some of her time defending the truth and beauty and consistency of Catholic teaching on human sexuality, and a lot of her time looking after the eight little fruits of that teaching, I understand.

I also understand wanting to take to the internet to question or vent or rage or despair. But I don't think that's a good call.

I have to agree with Micaela of California to Korea:
There are two types of people who challenge popes: humble and holy people like St Catherine of Siena and rather more rebellious people like Martin Luther. If you’re concerned with the way Pope Francis is handling things, by all means, send him a letter. Contact your parish priest, your spiritual director, or even your bishop for guidance on how to handle it.  But nailing your own personal 95 theses to a blog post is a recipe for rebellion and division, not renewal and unity. Be like St Catherine, not like Martin.
See her list of 25 things to do rather than complain about Pope Francis here.

Today is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. The man who sits in that chair deserves our respect and our patience. I want to be like St. Catherine.

Pope Francis is our Holy Father. If my dad were to say something incorrect to someone on a plane, even if it turned out to be a really big deal, and then people wrote about it in the newspaper . . . even THEN, I wouldn't take to Facebook to vent about it. I wouldn't want to air family disputes publicly. I might talk to my brothers and sisters, sure. But definitely, I'd call my dad up or send him an email. I'd explain how I was feeling and the facts as I understood them, and I'd let him know what I hoped he would do to fix the situation.

So that's what I did.

I wrote Pope Francis a letter. And since he doesn't have an email address, I wrote it on PAPER and I put it in an envelope and I addressed it and I put postage on it and tomorrow, I'm going to put it in a mailbox.

Here are some tips if you'd like to do the same.

His address is:
His Holiness Pope Francis
Apostolic Palace
00120 Vatican City

The proper salutation for a Catholic writing to the pope is: Your Holiness, or: Most Holy Father,

The proper closing for a Catholic writing to the pope is: I have the honor to profess myself with the most profound respect, your Holiness' most obedient and humble servant, or: I am, Your Holiness, most respectfully yours in Christ,

The postage from the US to Vatican City is $1.20 or three forever stamps.

Perhaps if a few of us write to him, respectfully, lovingly, like sheep addressing their shepherd if sheep could write letters, then perhaps we will get a more official clarification. And wouldn't that be especially cool in this Year of Mercy, from the guy in the Chair of St. Peter?

For more ideas on living the Year of Mercy, see

The Year of Mercy Family Challenge

For another quick and easy activity for today's Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, see

The Chair of St Peter



  1. It's also not true that doctors still have to take the Hippocratic Oath. That flew out the window long ago.

    1. Really? Because I started medical school in 1998 and I took the Hippocratic Oath and my husband who started medical school in 2011 also had to take the oath when he started. It was part of a ceremony at the beginning of school and then we recited it again the day of our hooding ceremony the day before graduation.

  2. I also think that the Pope is quite capable of clarifying his statements if he believes he needs to do so. So far that has not happened, to my knowledge. He is well aware of Church teaching and most likely does not need to be lectured/questioned on the subject. But everyone is allowed to express their opinion of his statement and I like the idea of a carefully worded letter.

  3. "There are two types of people who challenge popes: humble and holy people like St Catherine of Siena and rather more rebellious people like Martin Luther. If you’re concerned with the way Pope Francis is handling things, by all means, send him a letter. Contact your parish priest, your spiritual director, or even your bishop for guidance on how to handle it. But nailing your own personal 95 theses to a blog post is a recipe for rebellion and division, not renewal and unity. Be like St Catherine, not like Martin."- Love this.

    1. yes. This may be the most intelligent thing I've read on the matter. Going now to read her whole post.

  4. You win all the things. All of them! Don't go on retreat, we new you. (Or do go on retreat, we need you to be renewed by the Spirit.)

    I've been feeling betrayed, a bit. But I have been thinking about ME. And I don't think the 24 hour news cycle is helping. So I'm going to pray, and write my own letter.

  5. I appreciate this round up of all the various articles/clarifications/facts. To go back to the point about the nuns in the Congo - although it apparently is not true - what Pope Francis said was, they were permitted to use "contraceptives." All the people who interpreted that as "the pill" really took a few leaps from the words he used to decide "the pill" is what he meant. Condoms and some other contraceptives are not abortifacients in the way that the pill is, so there is a distinction to be made there. And that distinction is important because the problem with non-abortifacient contraceptives is they interfere with the unifying aspect of the conjugal act, but as someone in Jenny's comment box said so succinctly: "There is no unifying aspect of rape. It is not a conjugal act. It is pure violence. Thus contraception as a defense to this violence is not an evil." My point, in this inordinately long comment, is this: even IF it were true that Pope Paul VI allowed the nuns to use "contraceptives," the context of mass rape makes it SO VERY DIFFERENT from should be happening between married couples that I don't think we all need to freak out that he just said it's okay for everyone (even people living with the threat of Zika virus) to use contraceptives.

    Happy Monday. :)

  6. I love this! Thank you. When I first heard about what happened and the "clarification" I was...confused. And upset. Especially as someone who has a very real risk of health problems both for myself and my children when I am pregnant. Have the efforts and sacrifices I've made to be obedient to church teachings been for nothing? It was very disheartening.

    But, I want to be like St. Catherine too. So thank you for this level headed post. I feel better now, and I think I may also write a letter :)

  7. Thank you for this! So much! My head has been spinning but I've been avoiding saying much because: respect for the Pope. This is all so helpful.

    My parents have called me Staci-Letter (after an old SNL sketch) since I was a kid, because I never hesitate to write to businesses or people about my concerns. This is fantastic idea, and I appreciate the help with the intro/closing.

  8. I do take it to FB, not to bash the Holy Father but for the sake of clarifying what people are more likely to read about what the Church teaches in a newspaper than in a catechism or encyclical. These marginal Catholics are the ones who will sustain damage. I think it is also helpful for Protestants to know that faithful, serious Catholics do not believe infallibility extends to every utterance which comes from the mouth of the latest pope. How we talk about it is important, but for the love of all that is holy (literally!) we must talk about what's already out there. And, we must pray and sacrifice for the Holy Father -- always, but now with special petition and purpose.

  9. Thank you Kendra. This is the ideal response to the situation. Investigate, wait, dig deep, defend Church, argue on ISSUES not people, clarify, explain. To me any hot button topic is an opportunity for evangelizion and a challenge to know our faith but always with charity. Bloggers were born for such a time as this.

  10. It was a rough week as a Catholic on the internet last week. I prefer to read what he said in his entirety, keeping in mind he doesn't speak English natively, it could be a translation, and that the media tends to mis-represent him to their advantage. Makes me want to live underground...come Lord Jesus!

  11. I always appreciate your thoughts on this stuff! And your timing with the letter advice is pretty great. I just got an email announcement today about Loyola Press's release of this book:! The kids are setting a good example for the rest of us. :)

  12. Great round up of links. I have to disagree with Micaela though that there are only two types of people who challenge popes (although maybe it's rather Martin Luther-ish of me to stick the word "only" in there... though it is implied). I have seen a wide variety of responses that fall in the middle. It is possible to express public sentiments over public statements with humility... and it can be especially important in such a time of confusion. You've done it here. You haven't challenged the pope personally, but you HAVE challenged his assertions by the very fact that you posted contradictory information. That could certainly be considered a challenge. Maybe the issue is more a matter of charity instead of content?

    1. Thanks Melody. I certainly was aware of the irony of writing anything at all. But yes, you make an important point. Charity and intention matter. :)

  13. Dear Kendra, thank you very much for clearing this up and linking helpful sites to read more about this. I too thought the nuns taking contraceptives for rape was a strange thing, since I thought I had understood that any woman who had been raped would not be advised to take the med, whether or not she was a religious. I would like to think that perhaps God will use this example of Pope Francis speaking in error to firmly remind those of us who love him, that he is in fact human, and not God.
    Have a wonderful day!

  14. I know you're hesitant to post links, but would you be willing to (linklessly) share opinions or sources you think did not handle this well? I realize it's a little complicated, so I'm not asking you to badmouth anyone specifically. I'm still very new to all this, and trying to find the sources I think are reliable, and those that aren't. Thanks!

    1. If you email me, I'd be happy to share my opinion with you personally. :)

    2. Think of things like you were researching a paper for college. If the source you have doesn't quote original source material, relies on hearsay or unspecified/undocumented information or does not do a good job of looking at the material objectively (as opposed to go on gut reactions and emotion) than it's probably not a great source for figuring out the facts. It might be worth a read to see how people are reacting personally, but might not be the best source for objective discernment.

      And remember that God gives each of us the ability to know Truth - using research, logic and understanding cultural/language/etc. differences, taking time to think on a subject rather than give in knee-jerk reactions, etc. can take a bit of time, but they aren't abilities given to chosen few on the internet ;)

  15. When I heard this my thought process was, well, it is permissible to treat a condition like say, endometriosis, with birth control, as long as the goal isn't birth control itself, but another medical condition, with the side effect being contraception. In the same way, perhaps he was saying that condoms uses to prevent a man spreading Zika to a woman (a method now known) might be permissible, as long as the purpose is to prevent disease transmission, not to prevent pregnancy. But now reading his remarks that doesn't quite fit either.

    1. And of course there's the false notion that the pill actually "treats," as in "works is towards healing" endometriosis. Which it does not.

  16. I am glad that you came across Jason Berbender!! I didn't know you read/were familiar with his website. It is really great. His Wife Pamela (years ago after daily Mass when I had 2 toddlers and a baby) was an immense blessing to my family. Through her I met her wonderful Mother and was introduced to Little Blessings Catholic Playgroup where we lived in Little Rock, Arkansas. A wonderful time in my life!!! Great job Kendra, you found a good one. Plus, doesn't he study with the Bible Institute??? Glad you had a nice retreat, I bet it was super wonderful!

  17. I am still wondering why the Pope has not chosen to clarify his remarks. Perhaps he does not see that he is so many of you have said. I wonder why everyone is so up in arms that they need to start a respectful letter writing campaign to tell him just how wrong he was....maybe all of you are in the wrong. I do not see a problem with trying to prevent a health crises, such as Zika

    1. Contraception isn't a solution to the Zika crisis, as the pope pointed out.

    2. No but barrier methods could help to prevent the spread. Preventing pregnancy prevents potential birth defects, at least until science research has a chance to formulate a cure, treatment or a way to eliminate the virus.

    3. Abstinence also prevents pregnancy.

    4. Barrier methods are quite a bit less reliable than nfp, but they give more of an impression that pregnancy can't happen. If anything, they could exacerbate the problem.

    5. The Pope might actually be confused as to how Zika is spread as well (he's a chemist, not an epidemiologist) - it's starting to spread sexually, but is still primarily a mosquito-born infection. So except in these still rare sexually transmitted cases a barrier method while having sex would not slow the spread of the disease because most of the virus is not spread that way. Also the use of non-barrier methods of contraception would have absolutely no effect on lessening the spread of the virus.

      And as others have pointed out, if the virus does become primarily spread thru sex or bodily fluids the absolute best way to halt the spread of the disease would be abstinence while infected or in infected areas because of the failure rate of barrier methods.

    6. Zika is not a health crisis. It's been around for 70 years!!! What is a crisis is that they started a vaccine campaign that targeted women in Brazil. That campaign started 9 months before the first baby born with microcephaly. The BEST protection in this case is to refuse the vaccine (I want to say it is the DTaP, but I could be wrong). "Finding" another vaccine to counter Zika is only adding fuel to the fire. I think it is such a shame that huge numbers of women are preventing conception (those who were hoping to start a family) all because of this misinformation.

    7. Zika is not a health crisis. It's been around for 70 years!!! What is a crisis is that they started a vaccine campaign that targeted women in Brazil. That campaign started 9 months before the first baby born with microcephaly. The BEST protection in this case is to refuse the vaccine (I want to say it is the DTaP, but I could be wrong). "Finding" another vaccine to counter Zika is only adding fuel to the fire. I think it is such a shame that huge numbers of women are preventing conception (those who were hoping to start a family) all because of this misinformation.

  18. Thanks for this, Kendra, especially for the specific instructions on how to write the pope and how to do so with the proper terms of respect. That's really helpful. I might have gotten around to looking up that information myself, but having it right here and so simply laid out makes it much more likely that I will actually get around to it.

  19. Respect!! Let's offer mercy, act like the Catholic (universal) church, and thank god for the promise of the Holy Spirit who will not let the gates of hell prevail.

  20. This is all so crazy to me! It makes me think back to 2013 when Pope Francis said that the Church has to stop being obsessed with abortion, birth control and gay marriage. He's so right. There are such, such bigger issues to deal with. Poverty, mass incarceration, racism, war. the Catholic Church can be such a force for good when it comes to social justice. I wish people could focus more on that. Let's be like Dorothy Day and Father McGlynn!

    1. I could not agree more. Why aren't people more concerned with the people already born and suffering? There is plenty people could do if they just focus on the important things instead of who said what and what did he really mean! Very petty ....listen to Pope Francis ....he makes a lot of sense!

    2. It's always both-and. It has to be. We have to be concerned with both the corporal AND the spiritual works of mercy. We have to love people body and soul. We have to want what is best for them in all things. Dorothy Day would back me up here.

  21. Thank you for the great article, for researching this topic, and for the pope's address!

    Over at EWTN's Called to Comunion on the 23rd someone asked about the pope's comments. From about 3 mins in that recording to about 7mins in they explained the comment about Paul VI and the nuns. Their explanation makes sense, but contradicts what you found out.

    I wanted to follow up with the folks at Called to Communion but since you know more details about your research I thought I would message you instead. I would send them a link to your article so it may be more beneficial if you were to message them directly. To save you lookup time, their email address is ctc at ewtn dot com.

    Thanks again!


  22. In all of this grief, I've learned that sometimes, in our effort to search for or maintain truth, we forget about the suffering and pain of the people we're fighting for. So I'll keep on, but try not lose sight of that aspect.

    And I am sorry for taking Pope Benedict XVI for granted.

    Lastly, thank you for your help and knowledge in writing that letter. Although I would most likely address him as Papa Francis and sign it: Love always, Your spiritual daughter, Michelle

  23. I waited to comment but I wanted to thank you for your perspective. It is very easy to get discouraged. When most Catholics are catechized by the secular news, it is no wonder why we are worried when things like this come out. I was happy to write my letter and post it as I felt like I was doing some tangible good...even though it will probably never be read. Thanks for the post, Kendra (and for not avoiding the hard stuff). :-)

  24. I'm sorry, I know this is a really old thread post, but I'm really bothered by the statement that contraception is ALWAYS wrong. Doesn't the principle of double effect apply to use of barrier methods to prevent disease transmission? So, why wouldn't a zika-infected husband be permitted to wear a condom to protect his wife and unborn child from Zika? (Assuming she is already pregnant)?


  25. Anabelle HazardFebruary 22, 2016 at 9:14 AM

    Thank you Kendra. This is the ideal response to the situation. Investigate, wait, dig deep, defend Church, argue on ISSUES not people, clarify, explain. To me any hot button topic is an opportunity for evangelizion and a challenge to know our faith but always with charity. Bloggers were born for such a time as this.
    Jennifer Dominquez


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