The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench


Behind the condom controversy

posted by jmcgee

Over at America magazine’s blog, Austin Iverleigh has some intriguing background and analysis about the pope/condom story:

The point argued by moral theologians was always this. The Church is opposed to artificial contraception, not condoms per se. Just as, in Humanae vitae, the Pill may be used for medical purposes (to prevent heavy bleeding, say), if the intention of using a condom is to prevent infection, not pregnancy, then it was not contraceptive in intention. The point is obvious that — not to put too fine a point on it– a condom used between two men can hardly be considered contraceptive in its purpose; and the same would be true if a husband who returns from the mines infected with HIV uses one to stop his wife getting infected…

…In 2008, while at a conference in Rome, I happened to meet a senior CDF official (I won’t give his name) and asked him what had happened to the commission [set up to explore the issue of condom use to prevent AIDS]. “Everyone knows that theologically there is a strong case for clarifying that teaching,” he told me, “but there’s just no way of doing it publicly without it being misunderstood.” Do you mean, I pressed him, that the Vatican feared the headlines that would result? “Exactly,” he said. “It would be confusing for the faithful.” There was “just no way”, he said, that the Vatican could make this clarification without seeing headlines like “Pope backs condoms” or “Church in reverse on contraception”.

His remarks depressed me — although I understood the communications difficulty.

In February this year, it came to light that the commission had been stood down, and that the report had “never got off the ground” in the word’s of the Health Council’s deputy, Bishop Redrado. I wrote an indignant piece here, entitled “The suppression of theological truth”. It frustrated me that, as a media commentator, I could not articulate what I knew the Vatican believed without being attacked by some Catholics for failing to uphold church teaching.

Now, it seems, Pope Benedict has decided to use the relatively informal, under-the-wire format of a book interview to signal what seems to the outside world as a historic shift but which is no more than expressing what is obvious. But it is a risky thing to do, and Pope Benedict’s courage is to be saluted.

For full context and even more background, read the rest.



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Goodguyex

posted November 21, 2010 at 10:33 am


Condoms are acceptable in cases of adultery, forcible rape of a child or woman, and any homosexual encounter.
If one is determined and has already decided to do any of these things, using a condom is not going to increase the gravity of the act much. It may even less it.



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Howard

posted November 21, 2010 at 11:52 am


The Pope was looking for the tiniest turning toward good in some very evil acts. Frankly, anyone can add to the list. I believe, for instance, that it is wrong to torture prisoners, but it is better to torture them in the hope of discovering useful information than to torture them merely out of sadism. I believe that it was wrong to use the atom bomb on Japanese cities, but it was better to nuke them in the hope of ending the war quickly, with fewer casualties on both sides, than it would be to nuke them for the purpose of maximizing Japanese civilian casualties. In these cases, as in the case the Pope discussed, an act which is evil in itself may nevertheless contain some genuine concern for others. As a pastor, the Pope would like to encourage that little spark of charity to become a blazing fire of well-ordered love for God and one’s neighbor, one consequence of which would be the abandonment of the inherently sinful act. He actually makes it quite clear that he is not *justifying* the use of condoms, only noting that there are circumstances in which there use might indicate something more noble than mere selfishness.
Unfortunately, it was completely predictable that his meaning would be misreported. It is also predictable that when he has to correct the misleading reporting, the headlines will read, “Pope Backtracks on Condom Endorsement.” Opponents of the Church will say, “See, the Catholic Church changes its teachings all the time. The pope just changed Catholic teaching TWICE — once to permit condoms, then back to forbidding them. Once the Catholic Church outgrows its attitude of fear, it will change its teachings to what we’re telling you now.” This is going to happen, and it will confuse many nominal Catholics and potential converts.
It would have been wiser for the Pope to have avoided this answer. After all, Someone once said, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.”



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Howard

posted November 21, 2010 at 11:55 am


“their use”, not “there use”. Ugh. Internet smash brain.



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Tony Layne

posted November 21, 2010 at 11:55 am


In normal heterosexual couplings, it’s simply not possible to separate the contraceptive function of the condom from its disease-control prophylaxis. This is why Pope Benedict spoke of it within the context of a gay male prostitute, where reproduction is by definition impossible: Given that the couple should not be engaging in gay sex to begin with, and given that the transaction should not be a matter of sale, then condom use to prevent the spread of HIV is a very, very minimal moral response.
That’s what the Pope said; that’s all the Pope said. Given the MSM misunderstanding, you can see why the Vatican was reluctant to say anything: Anything less than a firm “no” will be understood as a tacit, qualified “yes”.



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Robert C

posted November 21, 2010 at 12:43 pm


No matter how you look at it, it wasn’t a ‘safe’ statement.



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Your Name

posted November 21, 2010 at 12:49 pm


I can just envision the drgu-store encounter …
Customer: “Please may I purchase a condom?”
Salesperson: “First let me see both your marriage certificate and your medical proof that you have a sexually transmitted disease.”
Now, back to reality, wherein the conversation goes something like this …
Customer: “Please may I purchase a condom?”
Salesperson: “Sir, this is a Catholic drug store. We do not sell condoms. They are a tool of Satan and you are bound for Hades.”



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Catherine Marie Panzica

posted November 21, 2010 at 2:43 pm


Condoms are 100% wrong, period. Every Catholic knows and accepts this truth from Scripture and Jesus’ teaching. The only life or death matter that matters is stopping fetus from being murdered by birth control.



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Steve

posted November 21, 2010 at 2:56 pm


Catherine, scripture does not mention condoms; Jesus did not make any direct reference to birth control.
As for preventing a fetus (baby) from being killed, condoms are typically used to prevent conception (and/or the spread of disease) — not to interrupt a pregnancy.
Sex education is essentially a good thing, something Catholics should welcome. All of us need to know the basics of human reproduction, no matter one’s state in life. (That last part is my opinion, not church teaching, of course.)



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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted November 21, 2010 at 3:06 pm


I think one point Iverleigh makes — about using condoms for something besides birth control — is key.
For those who have forgotten, here is the pertinent passage from HV:
The Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.
In other words: in Church teaching, you can use contraceptive devices — whether it’s the pill or a condom — provided that the intent is not to stop conception.
Dcn. G.



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shelou

posted November 21, 2010 at 6:15 pm


I can see why the Catholic Church fights so hard on this issue because it was the #1 explicit issue for Jesus and the disciples. I recall that when Peter asked Jesus three times before the crucifixion what he should do, Jesus said, prevent the use of condoms. It was obviously the most pressing issue on his mind. Jesus’ mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and omniscience rules when it comes to human beings trying to survive and to continue to feed their living children and families. Jesus wants a relationship with the living imperfect ones, too. He’s not just a numbers man like a Wall Street banker. As we struggle, why would we take less compassion from the church than Jesus offers?



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HenryClemens

posted November 21, 2010 at 7:22 pm


At the age of 70 I have by now spoken to several priests about extra-marital sex and the use of condoms.
Almost all agree that it is wrong to add to the sin of fornication or adultery by bringing a child into this world that neither the mother nor the father is prepared to care for. But nor are they, generally, willing to say so very loudly. “Oh, it would be wrong to make this point outside the Confessional; it might be seen as encouragement of sinful behavior.”
I don’t quite know in what world these men live. I have told my sons that when they are tempted to fornication, they should try to avoid the sin, and if they fall, they should repent. But meanwhile they should do their best to see that no conception results.
It was perhaps for this reason that St Thomas Aquinas believed that brothels were the lesser of evils. But St Thomas also understood the virtue of prudence.



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Andrew

posted November 21, 2010 at 11:17 pm


Deacon Greg,
Your quote from HV in your comment at 3:06 doesn’t seem to apply in the present case. What HV seems to have in mind would be, for example, the removal of the ovaries as a treatment and possible cure for ovarian cancer. However, I’m not sure how the use of a condom could be considered a “therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases”.



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Joe

posted November 22, 2010 at 4:21 am


Henry,
You have unfortunately been given incorrect advice. Sex is an absolutely sacred act, which serves two purposes. First, it unites the husband and the wife, thus increasing their pure love for each other. Second, it assists God in creating new life. Any attempt to remove one or both of these purposes from sex is wrong. Thus, one cannot (even in marriage) “use” one’s spouse solely for one’s gratification. Love does not “use” another, but seeks the absolute good of the other. Similarly, anyone who engages in sex must be willing to welcome children. Life is a natural consequence of sex, and if one is not prepared for children (and married), one should not have sex. The procreation of a child is never an “evil” to be avoided. Rather, a child born of illicit sex is (as all children are) a gift of God. God allows evil solely because He brings a greater good out of it. Thus, God can use illicit sex to produce an incredible good, new human life. I know this is contrary to what the World teaches, but that is the whole point. The World rejected Christ; if we follow Him (as we are commanded), it will reject us too. As St. Augustine said, this world is not our true home. We are in exile in this world. As for St. Thomas Aquinas, he was referring to the city of Naples. It was busy port town at the time, and therefore many coarse and uncivilized sailors frequented the town. It was likely that, if there were no brothels, the sailors would wreak every kind of havoc (murder, rape, etc.) on the inhabitants of Naples. Thus, St. Thomas reasoned that having brothels in Naples, though they are still evil, is better than the greater evils which would result in the brothel’s absence. Thus, St. Thomas is ONLY referring to this very specific situation. He is in no was talking about the prevention of life.



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Goodguyex

posted November 22, 2010 at 4:42 am


Joe, maybe you have a good point. Now going back to the situation talked about by Pope Benedict which is regarding male prostitutes, the majority of their clientele are homosexual men or 45+ year old women. Procreation is not technically an issue here, disease prevention is.



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Joe

posted November 22, 2010 at 5:34 am


Goodguyex,
True. The Holy Father was referring to condom use in VERY particular circumstances. My point is that one cannot have a discourse about sexual acts without a proper understanding of the sacredness of sex. This understanding must at least be in the background. On another note, there is really no maybe about what I said. Sex, in its true form, has two purposes, and it cannot be separated from them. Thus using a condom while committing adultery is not permissible.



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Tim H

posted November 22, 2010 at 10:17 am


But meanwhile they should do their best
to see that no conception results
With all due respect Henry, subjective morality is one of the oldest trick in Satans book. You can justify any evil using this logic yet God demands only one standard of behavior – self control and personal holiness. Confession and repentance are given to us by God as gifts becuase he knows we are weak but using condoms during extra-marital sex to prevent conception serves your own convenience, not God’s.
I would politlely ask you Mr. Clemens, if this is what you teach your sons, to please keep them away from my daughters.
Anonymous CDF officials and homosexual prostitutes aside, what the vast majority of Christians in the pews must realize is that Humanae Vitae and Genesis 38:8-10 have not been repealed. Arguing about whether homosexual prostititues should use condoms or not is like arguing about whether someone should be murdered by knife or gun. It completely misses the point. Wasting seed is wasting seed and Onan’s life was demanded for it.
That’s not what the excerpt from the Holy Father’s book is about anyway. As put well by CNA, “condom use might be their first act of responsibility to redevelop their consciousness of the fact that not everything is permitted and that one cannot do everything one wants.”
-Tim-



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HenryClemens

posted November 22, 2010 at 2:54 pm


I am obliged to Tim and Joe for their polite replies. They may well be right. But St Thomas, to choose one element of my reply, was not writing about Naples. For one thing, he cited St. Augustine, and while he was bishop of a seaport, it wasn’t Naples. And one of the phrases Thomas employed was something to the effect that a city without brothels was like a palace without a sewer system, and to do without the former the world was at risk of being consumed with lust. Perhaps he was wrong, and on the other hand perhaps we are seeing such a world now –though we are at a point that I doubt brothels would make the difference.
When my wife and I stand outside an abortion clinic supporting with our prayers a nun we know who helps young women turn away, I am driving to regret that the women who do not heed her counsel did not at least ask their boyfriends to use a condom. I suppose by some standards she should have asked that it be removed? But in any case, while I do not doubt your good faith, nor doubt that you may well have been instructed by a holy priest, I do not yet believe that in this contested area the last word has been said or that the magisterium has spoken with the clarity that you assume. The Holy Father has said, in effect, that someone infected with AIDS would be (or at least might be) taking a step closer to true morality by using a condom. Would he be better having no sex at all? Certainly. But if he is going to do so, surely better that he act with some residual prudence. I think the Holy Father and I are at one on this.



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Grumpy Old Person

posted November 22, 2010 at 4:33 pm


Doesn’t any one else see the sheer inanity/idiocy of a “contraceptive” the intent of which is NOT “to stop conception”?
Madness. Folly. Lunacy.
Typical, too, sadly.
THINK people. It’s what God gave you brains for.



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Name: Mark

posted November 23, 2010 at 4:16 am


It could be useful to look at the issue in terms of “marginal contribution to sinfulness”.



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Joe

posted November 23, 2010 at 4:37 am


Henry,
Thank you for your prayers at abortion clinics. It is truly noble that you and your wife pray there. I also have prayed at clinics. It is cause we must continue to rally around and support. Anyone who prayers at clinics is certainly commendable for doing so.
As for St. Thomas, you are correct. While I believe Naples is an example of the situation he was describing, his comments are certainly not limited to that city. His comments were made in the context of a discourse on law. In this discourse, he argues that the Natural law and Human law alone are insufficient. Divine law is thus necessary. In his Summa Theologica, he presents four reasons why Divine law is necessary. The fourth of these reasons is “because, as St. Augustine says, human law cannot punish or forbid all evil deeds, since, while aiming at doing away with all evils, it would do away with many good things, and would hinder the advance of the common good, which is necessary for human living.” Thus in Naples, for instance, human law should not attempt to outlaw brothels because if it did so, the lives and safety of the citizens would be compromised. Brothels are still evil, but the human law might, on certain occasions tolerate them. It must be emphasized, however, that St. Thomas is speaking about human, man-made law. He is not referring to what God’s law forbids and allows. I apologize for my earlier misstatement. I hope this helps to clear it up.
As for the Church’s official teaching, section 2370 of the Catechism states that “‘every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequence, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible’ is intrinsically evil.” This seems pretty clear. One cannot separate sex from its two purposes.
Lastly, the Pope made these comments in an interview. He was not speaking with infallible authority in this instance. Section 891 of the Catechism declares that a Pope is infallible “when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful – he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.” An interview, even if that interview becomes a published book, is certainly not a method for a Pope to exercise his infallibility. Popes can, and often do, write and speak as private theologians. When writing or speaking in this capacity, they are not infallible. The Pope, when writing in this private capacity, can certainly be wrong. I am not saying I disagree with or dislike Pope Benedict. All I am saying is that the simple fact that he made some remarks does not make those remarks the official teaching of the Church.
To repeat, thank you for your efforts at abortion clinics. God Bless!



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Cherie

posted November 23, 2010 at 7:28 pm


Please explain something to me… How is a man who intends to use a condom to prevent a possibly deadly infection of HIV to his wife acting in a moral way, but a man who uses a condom to prevent a death of his wife from the possible “infection” of pregnancy acting differently? This is a slippery slope and a very relativistic argument.



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Your Name

posted November 24, 2010 at 4:19 pm


Goodguyex,
“Condoms are acceptable in cases of adultery, forcible rape of a child or woman, and any homosexual encounter.”
Apparently His Highness the Pope Himseslf disagrees with you now. Check out the phrase about a ‘lesser evil’.



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Dirty Phone Sex

posted December 14, 2010 at 3:44 am


Pope Benedict has reached the top of the ladder, he’s now pope with all the powers and responsibi­lities of guiding his flock. Unfortunat­ely, he is looking more and more like a politician that is in over his head. We in the USA have seen a lot of that in the last eight years. I pray that Pope Benedict will see that there is a difference between exercising power and being a shepard to his flock.



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