Beliefnet
Adapted from an article that first appeared in The Tablet.

Most people are convinced that an HIV-infected person who has sex should use a condom to protect his partner from infection. Whatever one may think about a promiscuous lifestyle, about homosexual acts or prostitution, that person should act at least with a sense of responsibility in trying to avoid transmitting his infection to others.
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The teaching of the Church is not about condoms or similar physical or chemical devices, but about marital love and the essentially marital meaning of human sexuality. It affirms that, if married people have a serious reason not to have children, they should modify their sexual behavior by--at least periodic--abstinence from sexual acts. To avoid destroying both the unitive and the procreative meaning of sexual acts, and therefore the fullness of mutual self-giving, they must not prevent the sexual act from being fertile while having sex.But what of promiscuous people, sexually active homosexuals, and prostitutes? What the Catholic Church teaches them is simply that they should not be promiscuous, but faithful to one single sexual partner; that prostitution is a behavior which gravely violates human dignity, mainly the dignity of the woman, and therefore should not be engaged in; and that homosexuals, like all other people, are children of God and loved by him as everybody else is, but that they should live in continence like any other unmarried person.But if they ignore this teaching, and are at risk from HIV, should they use condoms to prevent infection? The moral norm condemning contraception as intrinsically evil does not apply to these cases. Nor can there be church teaching about this; it would be simply nonsensical to establish moral norms for intrinsically immoral types of behavior. Should the Church teach that a rapist must never use a condom because otherwise he would, in addition to the sin of rape, fail to respect "mutual and complete personal self-giving and thus violate the Sixth Commandment"? Of course not.

What do I, as a Catholic priest, tell promiscuous people?
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What do I, as a Catholic priest, tell AIDS-infected promiscuous people or homosexuals who are using condoms? I will try to help them to live an upright and well-ordered sexual life. But I will not tell them not to use condoms. I simply will not talk to them about this and assume that if they choose to have sex they will at least keep a sense of responsibility. With such an attitude I fully respect the Catholic Church's teaching on contraception.This is not a plea for "exceptions" to the norm prohibiting contraception. The norm about contraception applies without exception; the contraceptive choice is intrinsically evil. But it obviously applies only to contraceptive acts, as defined by Humanae Vitae, which embody a contraceptive choice. Not every act in which a device is used, which from a purely physical point of view is "contraceptive," is from a moral point of view a contraceptive act falling under the norm taught by Humanae Vitae.Stopping the worldwide AIDS epidemic is not a question about the morality of using condoms, but about how to effectively prevent people from causing the disastrous consequences of their immoral sexual behavior. Pope John Paul II repeatedly urged that the promotion of the use of condoms is not a solution to this problem because he holds that it does not resolve the moral problem of promiscuity. Whether, generally, campaigns promoting condoms encourage risky behavior and make the AIDS pandemic worse is a question of statistical evidence which is not yet easily available. That it reduces transmission rates, in the short term, among highly infective groups like prostitutes and homosexuals is impossible to deny. Whether it may decrease infection rates among "sexually liberated" promiscuous populations or, on the contrary, encourage risky behavior, depends on many factors.In African countries, condom-based anti-AIDS campaigns are generally ineffective, partly because for an African man his manliness is expressed by making as many children as possible. For him, condoms convert sex into a meaningless activity. Which is why--and this is strong evidence in favor of John Paul II's argument--among the few effective programs in Africa has been the Ugandan one. Although it does not exclude condoms, it encourages a positive change in sexual behavior (fidelity and abstinence); unlike condom campaigns, which contribute to obscuring or even destroying the meaning of human love.

Campaigns to promote abstinence and fidelity are certainly and ultimately the only effective long-term remedy to combat AIDS. So there is no reason for the Church to consider the campaigns promoting condoms as helpful for the future of human society. But nor can the Church possibly teach that people engaged in immoral lifestyles should avoid condoms.

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