Vatican Denies it Permitted Nuns to Use Pills
Toledo Blade, p.8
5 March 1993.
ROME (NYT) — A controversy initially stirred by Pope John Paul II’s public opposition to abortion for victims of rape in Bosnia-Herzegovina prompted the Vatican yesterday to issue a highly unusual denial that it ever permitted Catholic nuns in dangerous areas to use contraceptive pills.
The Pope enraged some women’s groups and politicians last month when he declared that the estimated 20,000 Bosniak women raped by Serbs during the conflict should avoid abortion. His words reflected Roman Catholic dogma rejecting termination of pregnancy on the grounds that transmission of life is sacred and may not be artificially thwarted.
The Pope urged that the children of rape victims be adopted, saying, “The entire community has to rally around these women so painfully violated, to help them transform an act of violence into an ct of love and welcome.”
The appeal was in a letter to the archbishop of Sarajevo, Vinko Puljic, but did not make clear why the Pope felt obliged to offer moral guidelines for the predominantly Muslim victims of a reported systematic campaign of rape by Orthodox Christian Serbian militiamen.
The initial response to the Pope’s remarks among some Italians was outrage. “This is absurd,” said Ida Magli, a defender of women’s rights. “The Pope has no pity for women.”
Such remarks prompted the Vatican to defend its position.
“This was an appeal of conscience to conscience,” said Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Pope’s principal spokesman. Without ethical principles, he said, “this conflict will degenerate into an even greater brutality.”
Mr. Navarro-Valls also repeated the Vatican’s denunciation of the policy of “ethnic cleansing,” by which Serbs are driving Bosniaks out of areas they have captured in Bosnia, and said that Pope’s comments on abortion were directed principally at those who could adopt orphans and abandoned children.
Catholic publications here have reported that several nuns became pregnant by rape in the former Yugoslavia. The Vatican this week denied that it had permitted abortions for them. But newspapers then reported that nuns in parts of Latin America and Africa in the 1960s and ’70s used contraceptive pills because they feared rape and pregnancy.
The controversy took yet another turn Wednesday when an unidentified Catholic theologian was quoted as saying that the use of contraceptives — absolutely forbidden by Catholic doctrine — was permissible by nuns “in defense against an illegitimate act of aggression.”
The theologian was said to have differentiated between such use and prevention of the transmission of life between married couples.