It’s not an urban legend, it’s a LIE: Paul VI did NOT give permission to nuns to use contraceptives.

paul vi tiara bw

From  Fr Z’s Blog on 20th February 2016:

The other day Pope Francis, in the infamous post-Mexico airplane presser, said:

Paolo VI – il grande! – in una situazione difficile, in Africa, ha permesso alle suore di usare gli anticoncezionali per i casi di violenza. … Paul VI – the great one! – in a difficult situation in Africa, permitted sisters to use contraceptives for cases of violenze.

I’ve heard this before. I never believed it.

Years ago on the COL Forum (which I ran) we had a discussion about this.  One of the staffers tried to dig up the old files.  In the meantime he – The Great Roman™ – sent this information.  It was not originally written in English, so I touched it up here and there… but not very much.

This 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.

The urban legend (lie) is now so common that even high-ranking churchmen cite it as if it happened.   They aren’t lying, per se.  They are passing on something that isn’t true but that they think is true… even if it really doesn’t pass the smell test.

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

You decide.

My emphases and comments.

So far, I was unable to retrieve the COL Forum thread on this urban legend about Bl. Paul VI and contraception for nuns in Africa, but I had some notes stored and then idiocies about our Holy Faith have the ability to switch on my memory neurons to combat mode like yelling Saracens would do to a Templar knight who had been fasting and praying for a good fight the whole Quattuor Tempora of Lent.

You can search any archive, google any keyword, ask any historian or moralist, all you will be served with is old articles of pro-contraception authors repeating this story either with no supporting references or with no other evidence than references to older articles saying that “Rome” had OK’d contraception for endangered nuns in Africa at some point.

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.

Back to the article. The authors were 1) Msgr. Pietro Palazzini, later a bishop and a Cardinal but back then a respected moral theologian and the Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for the Council, 2) Professor Francis Xavier Hurth, S.J., of the Pontifical Gregorian University, and 3) Msgr. Ferdinando Lambruschini of the Pontifical Lateran University (later Archbishop of Perugia).

Long and verbose story short, in that article Palazzini and Lambruschini explore a possible application of the “principle of the double effect” to the case of rape, where a legitimate end is pursued and the probable evil consequence is unintended.  [NB: Double-effect!]

Fr. Hurth attempts an elaboration of Aquinas’ concept of genus moris and genus naturae where the moral status of an act can be different depending on its spiritual and physical characteristics. In fairness, I’ll note that, back then, chemical contraception was relatively new a subject. Tonsured moralists were unlikely to be all that familiar with the science and the physiology involved and it will take 1968 to hear an authoritative pronouncement on this specific subject, the reviled Humanae Vitae. And it came from that same Paul VI who is said to have allowed contraception, if only by way of exception.

That’s all.

No, really, there is nothing else.

The opinion of three moralists on a magazine, attempting to offer, I repeat, an opinion on a complex matter, gets quoted loosely and ad nauseam by other moralists and journalists and becomes “Rome” and later “Paul VI”.

They will tell you that that article legitimized the concept of “lesser evil”. Leaving aside the fact that we can never choose evil, no matter the scale of it, the fact is that in 1957Palazzini had co-edited a widely used manual where the following is said (I quote a 1962 English edition of this manual):

“To choose the lesser of two evils is permissible [NB] if the lesser evil is not in itself a moral evil (sin), but a purely physical evil or the omission of something good or indifferent, from which in a specific case an accidental bad effect will follow, less serious, however, than that which another course would provoke” (Ludovico Bender OP, in Dictionary of Moral Theology, Ed. Roberti, Francesco, Palazzini Pietro. Transl. by H. Yannone. Westminster, MD: Newman, 1962).

Now, I am no moral theologian but contraception is in fact a moral evil in itself (see Humanae Vitae 16) and not a “purely physical evil”, much less “something good or indifferent”. Case closed.

Not many outside Italy know, however, that Cardinal Palazzini, was asked about this matter years later, and precisely in the ‘90s when another such myth was concocted, seen that the Paul VI-Congo nuns version was losing credibility.  I am talking about the John Paul II-Bosnia nuns myth.

Those of us old enough will remember, during the Balkan wars articles begun to be published about “the Pope” or “Rome” authorizing nuns in Bosnia to take the pill in war zones. Palazzini is quoted in an article on that paper sewer some call La Repubblica which seems to have taken the place once occupied by the Osservatore Romano lately (OTOH, natura abhorret vacuum). The article was published on March 5, 1993. Link HERE.

Translated title: “The pill? Forbidden also for missionary nuns at risk of rape”.

Palazzini explains that all they were trying to do was to explore the possibility of actions aimed at preventing a pregnancy after a rape and before conception, supposing that possibility existed, in ways that have nothing to do with taking the pill for weeks for fear of a potential rape. So “Rome” (read: the author of an old article) denies having ever said that contraceptives are OK in certain circumstances.

[QUAERITUR] But what was this new article about and why were they interviewing Palazzini after 30 years?

Bear with me.

There had been stories of women raped in Bosnia (nihil sub sole novi).  Fr. Bergamaschi, a Franciscan friar, had accused St. John Paul II of hypocrisy because the Great Pole had reaffirmed the constant teaching of the Church on contraception to the point of exhorting raped women to keep their babies but, according to Bergamaschi, had also authorized nuns to take the pill.  So journalists began to ask questions. [Agere sequitur esse.]

With the typically half-horrified and half-snarky tone, the reporterette of La Repubblica has to write that the Vatican is in fact unwavering in its position on contraceptives, even in the case of rape. The inhumanity! She quotes the then vice-director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Fr. Piero Pennacchini. His words:

“The Holy See never issued texts authorizing women religious to make use of contraceptives, even if they run the risk of being raped”. “I know of no official document by the Holy See on this”.

Disappointed, the journalist evokes Fr. Efrem Tresoldi, a missionary who says that he doesn’t know the extent of the phenomenon. “Surely” there is “talk” of contraceptives among missionaries. “Certainly” some nuns have been told to make use of contraceptives, says Tresoldi.  So, there are disloyal confessors or superiors of religious orders who tell nuns to act contrary to the doctrine of the Church.

OK Father, and what else is new?  [Not much.]

Above all, since when disloyal members of religious orders are “the Pope”, or “Rome”? [When it fits.]

Unsatisfied, the reporterette turns to a missionary nun (she couldn’t find one from Bosnia so she asks one who had been in Africa for 12 years. Says the missionary nun: “Personally I have never heard of contraceptive pills”, “but there has been certainly the risk of (sexual) violence for many of us who lived though the great African upheavals. I don’t know if other sisters have been advised to take precautions”.

Back to Tresoldi, we are told that, of course, there is no official pronouncement, but that’s because John Paul II and his merciless minions are hypocrites who tell nuns to take the pill in secret even while they tell lay women to accept their fate and keep the baby.

That’s when the Repubblica hack turns to Card. Palazzini hoping to save the day with the lies of 30 years ago.

A few months after this article and others of the same kind, in July 1993 the Jesuit magazine Civiltà Cattolica (surprise!) [NOT] published what to this day remains the “doctrinal” foundation to the John Paul II- Bosnia nuns version of the myth: G. Perico, Stupro, Aborto e Anticoncezionali, volume III, Quaderno 3433, 3 luglio 1993.

Search all you want, this stream of the myth always goes back to this article.  [It sounds almost like the way all myths about Pius XII and the Jews go back to one source, a play in 1963, and that source was cobbled up by the KGB in a campaign of disinformation.]

No need to summarize it. Go read it if you want. I did.

He harkens back to the 1961 article and moves from there. [Surprise.] As happened with the Palazzini, Hurth and Lambruschini article, and even more given the firepower of the media of 30 years later, Perico’s piece sparkled lively discussions among moral theologians on the subject of contraception. Fine. But that’s not the point. That point is that they have nothing, not one thing they can come up with to support the notion that Paul VI or John Paul II ever allowed contraception, when the facts, the known and easily accessible, official, constant and binding pronouncements of the Church show the exact contrary.

Discussions are NOT the teaching of the Church.

Off-the cuff-remarks are NOT the teaching of the Church.

This is why on my bended knees I beg you all, Fathers, check your facts and, in John Wayne’s immortal words:

“Talk low, talk slow, and don’t talk too much”.


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9 Responses to It’s not an urban legend, it’s a LIE: Paul VI did NOT give permission to nuns to use contraceptives.

  1. toadspittle says:

    ”’all you will be served with is old articles of pro-contraception authors repeating this story either with no supporting references or with no other evidence than references to older articles “
    This is a happy and curious coincidence, because, just yesterday, I came across DELETED

    [Moderator: Anyone wishing to know what atheists think can go to an atheist site. THIS IS A CATHOLIC BLOG .]

    Maybe the woman is taking nonsense. I don’t know. Maybe someone on CP&S does.


  2. toadspittle says:

    “They aren’t lying, per se. They are passing on something that isn’t true but that they think is true… even if it really doesn’t pass the smell test.”
    Well, and succinctly put, Father Z.
    I find those words apply to an extraordinary number of topics.


  3. Robert says:

    The Proof of the New Testament? Strange question after 2000 years of continuous proof with miracles, seers and prophecies.
    The woman doesn’t seem to believe in the supernatural, which is a very foolish mistake.
    Homer Achilles dream talking to Patroclus ghost in the Iliad, Odysseus in the Odyssey, Aeschylus the ghost of Darius. Shakespeare of course in Macbeth, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Richard III.
    George Washington vision. In the Old Testament Saul talking to Samuel’s ghost. Plato’s Phaedo.
    Pilates wife. St Joseph dream. St Don Bosco, The Royal family with sceances etc..
    The issue isn’t the supernatural its whether you are dealing with the demonic (who lie) or heavenly sources.
    With Post 1960 Vatican who knows what to believe?


  4. toadspittle says:

    “Homer Achilles dream talking to Patroclus ghost in the Iliad, Odysseus in the Odyssey, Aeschylus the ghost of Darius. Shakespeare of course in Macbeth, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Richard III.”
    But these are all notable fiction, Roger.
    ….Or don’t you realise that?
    Nor am I asking for proof of the New Testament. Just if there is any independent, corroborating, evidence.
    Maybe there is. I’d just like to know.


  5. johnhenrycn says:

    Hi, Taod: Yes, there is incontrovertible evidence that Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Rome, etc. all existed in New Testament times. There is incontrovertible evidence that Herod, Pilate and Caesar Augustus lived in New Testament times. There is incontrovertible evidence that the Apostles lived in New Testament times. Most bible scholars, including those of atheistic bent, accept that Jesus lived in New Testament times. You will have to ask better questions of Robert. And stop calling him Roger. I never mangle your name, do I?


  6. toadspittle says:

    I’m truly sorry, JH, but I’ll have to take you seriously, just this once.
    Naturally, I accept all the details, that you delineate above as clear fact. But, given them, how is it also possible to independently verify the New Testament accounts of Christ’s doings? Is it all in some sort of literary bubble?
    I note you don’t tackle that. Which may be significant in itself.

    I must add, that it is following CP&S, as a humble disciple, that has stimulated my interest in these matters that some folk likely consider “esoteric.”
    And I much appreciate that.


  7. Robert says:

    Toad “..But these are all notable fiction,..” Actually your wrong.
    The New Testament?
    I simply refer to St Paul and the Old Testament. St Paul’s was a learned Pharisee His knowledge of Our Lord comes from studying the Prophecy’s and traditions of the Old Testament.
    The Gospels especially St John immediately refer back to the Ancient Prophecy’s. You know this of course because the Missal links the Old Testament with the Gospels . The Church emphatically reveals the Christ and Our Lady (the Church) to Created Man Adam and Eve.
    There is this confusion over the New Testament as to proving God which is Not true. What the Bible does is reveal the True God.
    Even Dawkins admits Man has always believed in God (he calls it the god gene) . Naturalism and its adherents are paranoid about Man and His innate Belief in God!

    Genes contribute to religious inclination | New Scientist…/dn7147-genes-contribute-to-religious-in…
    16 Mar 2005 – Genes may help determine how religious a person is, suggests a new study of US twins. And the effects of a religious upbringing may fade with …

    What Twins Reveal About The Science Of Faith | Popular ……/what-twins-reveal-about-god-ge...
    8 Aug 2013 – Studies of twins suggest that faith is influenced by genes. … The study of religion and belief in God is the one that always comes to mind, and …

    Science is just one gene away from defeating religion … › Opinion › Evolution
    22 Feb 2009 – Colin Blakemore: The idea that human rationality is a gift from God is often used as a justification for scientific inquiry.


  8. johnhenrycn says:

    Toad asks at 07:27 (Yay! I’ve got it right for once!) “… how is it also possible to independently verify the New Testament accounts of Christ’s doings?”

    Christ lived 2000 years ago. He was a minor personage in human history at the time. Now, please don’t quibble with me when I ask how is it possible to “independently verify” the “doings” of King Arthur and Robin Hood and other legendary figures from times gone by, whose claims to existence are even less secure (but not completely insecure) to those of Jesus? Are you saying that none of them ever existed? Are you saying – if they did – that none of their alleged “doings” ever happened? Are you saying that until we can “independently verify” them and their “doings” that they and their “doings” are utter fiction?

    If Christ lived – and you have accepted that he did as “clear fact” – why do you have a problem with his “doings” in the New Testament, or that his “doings” actually happened? Did He deliver sermons? Do you deny that? Did He forgive sins? Do you deny that? Was He crucified? Do you deny that?

    …oh, I get it…you need independent verification of miracles! Slap me up the side of the head! I admit my inability to explain miracles or to give you independent verification of them, which in your book means that they never happened, much like – because it can’t be proved – King Arthur ever had a round table or that Robin Hood ever owned a long bow.

    “But oh!”, you say: King Arthur may have existed and had a round table. Robin Hood may have existed and owned a long bow. “But no!”, you say: Jesus existed, but He never did anything, or certainly nothing that cannot be explained.

    God bless.


  9. toadspittle says:

    Fie, JH!
    When did I ever suggest Christ never did anything? For all I know, every word of the New Testament (even when the accounts are somewhat at odds with one another over small, apparently insignificant, details) may be true. On the other hand – without any additional sources at all – how can we be sure it’s not a “construct?”
    I don’t know. Nor do think it is possible to know – unless something exceptional turns up during a “dig” or whatever.
    Better, safer, and wiser, to withhold judgement for the time being, it seems to me.
    Because, let’s not get “carried away,” here. Single-source stories can land you in a nasty mess. …As I learned during the Atlanta Olympics.
    Nevertheless, we must soldier on, as Jesus recommends, “…turning the other cheek,” and “…loving our neighbour as ourselves,” and “…Forgiving them that know nor what they do, ” (that’s exactly everyone, I reckon )
    Unbeatable advice,….
    [following eight words inappropriate – deleted by a moderator]

    Even when the neighbour (sorry, neighbor) is our very own, beloved, Gin.

    (This won’t do at all. Toad is getting more “preachy,” and pompous – by the day. Silly old twit. We don’t need that. Nor does he.)


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