The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Vatican spokesman: condom issue relates to heterosexuals, too — UPDATED

The clarification has been clarified even further:

The Pope’s landmark acknowledgement that the use of condoms is sometimes morally justifiable to stop Aids is valid not only for gay male prostitutes, but also for heterosexuals, according to the Vatican.

The clarification, the latest step in what is already seen as a significant shift in the Catholic Church policy, came at a news conference presenting the pope’s new book: “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Sign of the Times”.

In the book, a long interview with German Catholic journalist Peter Seewald, the Pope used the example that a male prostitute would be justified using a condom to avoid transmitting the killer disease.


The clarification was necessary because the German, English and French versions of the book used the male article when referring to a prostitute but the Italian version used the female article.

Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said he asked the pope directly about it to clarify his thinking.

“I asked the Pope personally if there was a serious distinction in the choice of male instead of female and he said ‘no’,” he said.

“That is, the point is it (the use of a condom) should be a first step towards responsibility in being aware of the risk of the life of the other person one has relations with,” Lombardi said.

“If it is a man, a woman or a transsexual who does it, we are always at the same point, which is the first step in responsibly avoiding passing on a grave risk to the other.”


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Some analysis, meantime, from Fr. James Martin:

The Catholic Church has not changed its teaching on the use of condoms as a means of birth control. Nor has the church “officially” changed its teaching on the use of condoms: an interview is not the same as an encyclical or a document from a Vatican congregation. But the previously out-of-bounds discussion about whether condoms can be used as a means to prevent the spread of disease is now in-bounds. That is change, by any definition. And that change is a good one, for if it stands, it will mean the prevention of death. As such, it may be seen as a pro-life move.


Change is to be welcomed, not feared. As Blessed John Henry Newman said, “To grow is to change. To be perfect is to have changed often.” That would be the same John Henry Newman beatified by Pope Benedict XVI.

UPDATE: And then there’s this, from Michael Gerson:

African Catholic leaders of my acquaintance have long understood that a complete prohibition of condom use is unrealistic. Among discordant couples – one HIV-positive, one negative – the use of condoms is a requirement…

As usual, the pope locates his statement within a sophisticated theological argument. He seems to be saying that there is a moral aspect even to acts the church considers immoral. The use of a condom, in this case by a prostitute, can be an early, incremental sign of ethical awakening, showing concern for the welfare of another human being. Such personal responsibility in sexual relationships is not sufficient, but it is preferable and important. Without conceding the moral ideal, the pope is accommodating human failures for the sake of human life, in the hope of further moral transformation.

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Holly Hansen

posted November 23, 2010 at 10:07 am

Our Holy Father is way ahead of his most conservative supporters. Truly a good shepherd, a wise pastor.

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Rev. E.J. Cappelletti

posted November 23, 2010 at 10:16 am

I was odained in 1950. The teaching at that time was quite clear on this matter. It is a case of double effect. If an action has two effects one good and one bad, provided that one does not will the bad effect, he or she is free to choose the good effect.
Using a condom to avoid infecting a spouse is a good effect, preventing conception is the morally bad effect. One is free to choose the good effect.

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Gerard Nadal

posted November 23, 2010 at 10:55 am

Reverend Cappelletti,
“Using a condom to avoid infecting a spouse is a good effect, preventing conception is the morally bad effect. One is free to choose the good effect.”
The problem that I have with all of this is that the Pope is speaking on a more academic plane. The reality of condoms is that they have a 15% failure rate during typical use, as opposed to ideal use. This failure rate is established for use in married couples as evidenced by pregnancy as the definition of failure, and is contained within the textbook: Contraceptive Technology, which is the family planner’s bible.
With that number, 80% of all couples using condoms as their sole means of contracepting will conceive within ten years.
Now, this failure rate is established for pregnancy, which involves a five day window out of a 30 day month. Condom failures take place on the other 25 days, but are not included in the failure rate, because pregnancy is being used as the indicator of failure.
Even when having sex without any contraception at all, on an every-other-day basis, people have only a 15% chance of conceiving. So the truth of the matter is that condoms have a much, much, higher failure rate than 15% during typical use. In dealing with the transmissibility of HIV, this is catastrophic.
Improper storage temperatures during shipping and handling in summer and winter weaken the structural integrity of the latex, with the consumer having no way of verifying how well the condoms have been handled. The list of issues is endless.
So when the Holy Father spoke, his commentary didn’t seem to include the issues surrounding condom integrity and failure rate. Quite frankly, I’m alarmed at Pandora’s box that has been opened. In light of the failure rates of condoms, the ONLY loving response on the part of the HIV+ person is to refrain from sex for the rest of that individual’s life. No loving person would take the chance of endangering the life of another.
My wife is a nurse and I am a medical microbiologist and this issue was vetted fully when we were engaged. We both agreed that if either of us ever contracted HIV during an occupational exposure that we would never again have sex, and that our abstinence would be the highest expression of intimacy and authentic love.
We stand by that today, eighteen years later. This has nothing to do with double-effect. This is about learning sacrificial love by dying to self so that others might live.

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posted November 23, 2010 at 11:35 am

I agree that mutual consent to abstinence in the contraction of a communicable disease IS a great sacrificial gift of love. But not all are up to this…
I also wonder…I have met many couples who use NFP with a contraceptive mentality (so to speak) and claim (I believe) a 96% effectivity rate in avoiding pregnancy. So if condoms are only 85% effective then then I guess one could say that couples who use condoms knowing the failure rate – instead of NFP – are actually more open to the possibility of life. I am thinking of this, of course, only from the mental outlook point of view of the couples and not from the “interferrence” aspect.

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Your Name

posted November 23, 2010 at 12:04 pm

“the ONLY loving response on the part of the HIV+ person is to refrain from sex for the rest of that individual’s life”
Dear God,
Please SPARE US from such “love”.

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posted November 23, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Openness to life has nothing to do with the failure rate of your chosen birth control. It is all about intent and mindset. A couple using NFP with a contraceptive mindset is not open to life. I think people often miss that NFP is not universally allowed. It is an approach to the regulation of conception that only *may* be allowed under certain circumstances and with certain intent.
Your Name (12:04),
Our world needs a lot more love that would sacrifice and suffer for the sake of another. I’m sorry, but Gerard Nadal is completely right. What person could claim to fully, truly and selflessly love their spouse while simultaneously exposing them to the kind of risk that even “safe” sex with an infected person represents? For what? pleasure? If sex is a danger, not having sex falls in the bare minimum level of love that should be found in marriage.

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posted November 23, 2010 at 1:46 pm

I agree with you that Pandora’s box has been opened, and that it can be very messy…but I don’t necessarily think that it is a bad thing.
There is so much ignorance about church teaching regarding love and sexuality. This could be an opportunity to rediscover Humanae Vitae, which is a relatively short, beautiful and prophetic encyclical.
From what I have read so far, “Light of the World” is an extraordinary presentation of the mind of a man who is perfectly clear about church teaching…yet who understands that we are all “on the way” in our journey of faith.

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posted November 23, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Eka is right – it is a ‘good’ Pandora’s Box to open. It was necessary to open it and it is now necessary to freely, openly, and loudly proclaim Humanae Vitae. Dumbing down teaching has not worked.
The ‘no condoms’ slogan is one example of the dumbing down of Humanae Vitae, resulting in people not understanding the difference between contraception and condoms!
As to Gerard Nadal’s point about condoms being only 85% effective… The Pope has said that use of a condom in illicit sex in order to prevent disease transmission could signal that the user is developing a better conscience (rather than go ahead without the condom). He does not say that it makes the illicit sex moral.
Obviously, abstaining would be the moral thing to do. But again, let’s look at the intent. If one abstains only in order to avoid giving someone the disease, again, it is another ‘step in the direction of a moralization’. If one abstains because one has come to understand that sex outside of marriage goes against God’s intent for us, then an even bigger step, so to speak.
Now I think, Gerard, the main problem is that you are jumping from this to the implications on what the church should teach and do. I agree fully with you that the church should not simply advise people to use condoms. And here is the main point – what the Pope said, especially read in its entirety, does NOT imply this. In fact, he says otherwise – I don’t have the quotes in front of me, but they’re in the book.
In fact, in my opinion, such frank discussion is necessary to get more people to understand Humanae Vitae and help us avoid the situation where people say ‘they’re going to do it anyway’.

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Gerard Nadal

posted November 23, 2010 at 4:01 pm

I’m all for the teaching moment on HV, anytime, anywhere.
While I fully grasp the highly nuanced position the Pope was making in his statement, the problem lies in the fact that it is just that… highly nuanced. The point is going to be lost on the bulk of the people who simply will not see the dimensionality. They will only see a pass for prostitutes and extrapolate and arrogate a pass for themselves.
The sad truth is that far too many of our clergy do not feel inclined to preach on HV, and this is even more radioactive. So this just makes matters worse down in the trenches.
What do the Deacons here think about this?

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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted November 23, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Gerard…the fact is, most of the people in the pews will greet this with a shrug.
Here’s an interesting story about what happens when you preach on HV:
Some years back, I remember my father-in-law telling me about a young, newly ordained priest in his parish who took it upon himself to preach a homily about the evils of contraception. “I know many here aren’t following church teaching,” the priest said, “and I want you to know I understand, and the church wants to welcome you back into full communion. I’ll be available after mass for confession.”
Well, parishioners were horrified, and angry. Many wrote to the bishop to complain. Some threatened to stop donating.
Two weeks later, the priest was transferred.
And so it goes.

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Your Name

posted November 23, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Yes, it DOES ‘go’ like that – tell people how “evil” they are in one breath and in the next tell them how much you ‘love’ them and want to “welcome them back into the fold”. Talk about bi-polar messaging.
sorry, but you can’t keep on ‘preaching’ self-contradictory messages and expect to be believed by the people in the pews. It just drives them away. It did for me.

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Your Name

posted November 23, 2010 at 4:40 pm

“African Catholic leaders of my acquaintance have long understood that a complete prohibition of condom use is unrealistic.”
Then, at least according to your Uber-Catholic comboxers, those “leaders” aren’t good Catholics.
“the pope is accommodating human failures for the sake of human life”
That at least is a start, but to many, it will come across as nothing more, less or other than moral relativism. (Spit!)

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posted November 23, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Well, I suppose that if the bishop had supported the priest, and if the Pope had supported the bishop, the situation may have turned out better. Of course, I’m abstracting away the delivery of the priest’s message, his relationship with the parishioners, etc.
Everything being equal, in my opinion, if the Pope speaks more openly and freely, this will set the tone for everyone. And this Pope speaks very much with empathy, I find, and if he, instead of the young priest, were on that pew, people would be much more inclined to listen and introspect.
And what’s with people becoming horrified and angry? Where’s the love and charity in that? Deeper problems…

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Robert C

posted November 23, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Gerard. Which brand are you referring to?
Your Name. sounds a little grumpy to me.

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posted November 23, 2010 at 9:47 pm

YEA! The Pope is getting with the 21st century.

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posted November 23, 2010 at 10:33 pm

However the original Vatican message that condoms are not really sufficient to stop HIV is still valid and upheld in the context of general without behavioral change. Condoms can be a stop gap but are overwhelmed in their inefficiency with multiple encounters. Same as with using condoms as a contraceptive.
Condoms simply are not enough and where in Africa this attitude was taken (that condoms are enough) HIV has become rampent.
I had that figured out a long time ago.

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Grumpy Old Person

posted November 24, 2010 at 9:34 am

“Condoms can be a stop gap but are overwhelmed in their inefficiency with multiple encounters.”
You’re supposed to use a new one with each encounter. DUH!
LOL ;{O)

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Your Name

posted November 24, 2010 at 4:06 pm

“clarified even further” ???
Odd that it needed ANY clarification. One of your comboxers (in one of the SEVEN other threads you’ve started on this topic) said it was “perfectly clear”.
Guess not.

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