The Zika virus epidemic has received a lot of press in the last few weeks, and for good reason. The virus has the ability to infect pregnant women and cause serious birth defects to the child. With no immediate solution in sight, governments in regions where the virus is prevalent have actually encouraged women to avoid pregnancy for the time being.
Some of these regions also happen to be heavily Catholic, a religion that discourages contraception. This creates a difficult moral conflict situation: if pregnancy needs to be avoided due to the virus, but your religion forbids preventing pregnancy in the first place, the only remaining solution would be to avoid sex entirely. Considering that a treatment for the virus may be years away, this isn’t very realistic, especially for married Catholic couples.
Confirming his reputation as a reform-minded figurehead, Pope Francis addressed the issue by allowing Catholics the use of condoms to prevent the virus. This is almost unprecedented, with one other notable exception made by Pope Paul VI in the 1960’s to address the rape of nuns in the Congo. It shows that when extraordinary circumstances present themselves, the Catholic Church is willing to bend regulations.
This allowance has reignited the debate regarding the use of condoms in regions where AIDS is still a major issue. To date, the church has not approved their use in this circumstance. It remains to be seen if this will change, but for the time being, the Pope’s decision in regards to infection by the Zika virus has been celebrated by the majority of Catholics in the affected regions.