Lost amidst of the furor over Pope Francis's remarks about Donald Trump's wall-building mania was a comment he made about the battle against the Zika virus and the horrible birth defects associated with it.
"Do not confuse the evil of avoiding pregnancy in and of itself with abortion....Avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil.... In certain cases, ...it was clear."
Whoa. Francis is saying it is possible for people (at least a pope) to make moral decisions when church law come into conflict. In which case, people of good will (ok, a pope) get to decide which rule ensures the greater good, or avoids the greater evil.
This should not be a bombshell coming from a Christian pastor. Jesus taught the same thing many times -- in the face of those who objected to his healing and to his disciples' "reaping " grain on the Sabbath. He taught that healing the sick and nourishing the famished body take precedence over law. It should be easy then for Christians to understand that merely following a religious rule will not ensure their morality or their salvation. Yet the Catholic Church has subverted this teaching in the case of contraception and abortion, insistindg that no good (whether saving a mother's life or keeping a family out of poverty) could absolve a person from using those methods. This has led the Church into some absurd and tragic situations. A woman in Ireland dies because doctors won't abort a septic fetus. Cardinals teach against the use of condoms in AIDS-ravaged Africa. Finally, Francis may be creating a crack in the wall of clerical indifference to suffering that has damaged the Church's credibility for decades.
We will have to see whether the Curia tries to walk back the pope's statements, and whether diehard Catholic conservatives create a backlash so strong that Francis and his papacy are discredited. In the meantime, let's pray that this fissure of common sense and basic human decency widens enough to break open the glacier of crony morality that has discredited the Church in the eyes of many.
Donald Trump may fume and fuss about the pope calling him unchristian. But the moment will pass. Francis's break with the Church's unwillingness to grapple honestly with the morality of sexual expression will be the more lasting and more historic moment.