Catholic Church responds to Zika virus; contraceptives, moral discussion, rhythm method

A new, alarming virus is spreading throughout South America, forcing controversy in the Catholic community. The virus does not seem to be taking many lives, but it is impacting those of the babies of infected mothers, causing debilitating birth defects.

For the Catholic Church, this could mean pressure to make an exception to its strict ban of the use of birth control. However, the church does not seem as though it will waver in its views.

Father James E. McGahagan, Chaplain at Wilkes, reiterated that the church’s disapproval for the use of birth control is less a regulation, and more a question of morality, according to Catholicism.

“This is based on our understanding of the whole meaning of sexuality, as both a unitive love expression and a life creating act,” McGahagan explained. “You cannot separate either that unitive love aspect or that life creating aspect… interfering with the potential of creating life is the same moral problem as ignoring the unitive love expressing aspect.”

“Sexual intercourse without freedom, love or consent is totally morally wrong,” he continued. “One could say the same would be true when it comes to the question of interrupting the creation of life.”

McGahagan called the issue a matter of right and wrong, explaining that if it were simply a rule of the church it could be set aside.

He called this question of morality an issue of “natural law”, which he explained as a moral code that one should follow whether or not one is governed by religious law; he likened it to the moral question of stealing.

McGahagan also harkened back to the spread of the AIDS virus, where the same question of the morality of banning contraception was raised.

“We could not say that it was perfectly alright to violate a moral principle, even for a good reason,” he said. “You can’t do something that is morally wrong for a good reason.”

Although contraception is considered immoral under Catholic ethics, McGahagan pointed to an advanced form of the rhythm method to prevent pregnancy.

“There have been tremendous advances in natural family planning methods that are not like the old rhythm method of years ago, which was trying to predict periods of fertility,” McGahagan explained. “There are many variables and inevitably there will be a problem.”

These new advances lead to pregnancy prevention that, according to McGahagan, are as effective as any other means, without the Catholic moral dissonance and unreliability. He even went on to explain that many couples feel closer knowing each other’s cycles and that there is a certain amount of self control and sacrifice involved.

The Zika virus, which is spread by mosquitos, seems to be causing microcephaly in newborns whose mothers are infected. Microcephaly is a birth defect that is marked by a very small head, and, subsequently, a small brain, which leads to a myriad of health problems for the child. 

According to CNN, the Brazil Ministry of health has reported 404 cases of microcephaly since November, a number that is remarkably high. Women in El Salvador have been advised to avoid having children until 2018.