It may seem like a small step for Pope Francis, but it could be a giant leap for the Catholic Church. Speaking after his triumphant visit to Mexico, the pontiff said the use of contraceptives to prevent a dangerous disease from harming a fetus may be the lesser of two evils. That would seem to open the door for limited use of artificial contraception, which has long been banned by the conservative church. Francis was referring to the Zika virus, which researchers say is linked to serious birth defects, such as debilitating under-formation of the brain. Hundreds of cases have been reported in Latin America. Still, he said under no circumstances should abortion be considered a “lesser evil”, by likening it to murder. The pope may have opened the floodgates. READ MORE: Pope hints that condoms could be ‘lesser evil’ than the harmful effects of Zika virus Many diseases such as HIV may harm both mother and her unborn baby. If Zika qualifies as an exemption to the ban on the use of contraceptives, then why not other such diseases? Clearly, the same humane logic applies to those other diseases. An extremely learned and intelligent man, Francis could not have been speaking loosely. In any case, his latest pronouncement is in line with his more liberal attitude towards traditional Catholic taboos such as homosexuality. He has previously said “who am I to judge” gays and lesbians. Francis may now be questioning a major tenet in the milestone 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, in which Paul VI banned the use of birth control under most circumstances. The church teaches that procreation is one of the most important duties of married couples. The church has long been criticised for taking a hard line against the use of condoms to stop the spread of Aids, especially in Africa and Asia. In most of Latin America, where Zika is most common, abortion is illegal and birth control often difficult to obtain. Francis is hearing his critics and is responding with a humane approach within the confines of church teachings.