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Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Pope And Condoms

To illustrate his apparent shift in position, Benedict offered the example of a male prostitute using a condom.

"There may be justified individual cases, for example when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be ... a first bit of responsibility, to re-develop the understanding that not everything is permitted and that one may not do everything one wishes," Benedict was quoted as saying.

"But it is not the proper way to deal with the horror of HIV infection."

Benedict reiterated that condom use alone would not solve the problem of HIV/AIDS. "More must happen," he said.

"Becoming simply fixated on the issue of condoms makes sexuality more banal and exactly this is the reason why so many people no longer find sexuality to be an expression of their love, but a type of self-administered drug."

This is what the Pope will be quoted as having said in a forthcoming book-length interview coming out Tuesday, entitled "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times." It is based on 20 hours of interviews conducted by German journalist Peter Seewald.

What the Heck Is Going On?

The first question, of course, is how on earth could the Pope say this?

As an orthodox Catholic, you have two options:


Option One:

At the risk of being jejune, it is important to point out that the Pope may simply be wrong on this one. He is not teaching ex cathedra on a matter of faith and morals to the Church universal. He is simply expressing a private opinion to a journalist - not exactly the thing from which papal bulls are made.

Catholics are free to say that he's stark raving mad in having made this statement and move on. In that regard, the statement itself would not be a problem, as we would all disregard it. We would have bigger problems to consider.

Option Two:

But, if you prefer not to make quite that quick a judgement, we can study the statement in a little more depth.

The statement is problematic precisely because it is not heavily qualified enough. While the Pope was careful to make the distinction that condom use would be appropriate only for a male prostitute, he failed to expressly say that this male prostitute would necessarily be engaged in sodomy.

In order for the Pope's statement to make any sense, he has to have meant that.

That is, if we assume that he was referring only to the very narrow sphere of a sodomitical prostitution, then Pope Benedict XVI's statement may be defensible, although it is still, at the very least, startling to pious ears.

How does it work?

If the male prostitute were consorting with a woman, then the use of the condom would not be defensible, as it would be an attempt to close off the procreative act from procreation, which is not a permissible act or attitude.

But, the act of sodomy already is, by definition, closed off to procreation. Thus, the condom cannot contribute to the intent to close the act off from procreation, since male-male sex is never procreative and everyone involved presumably already knows this.

The only possible intent that could be associated with condom use in the sodomitical act is to reduce the possibility of disease transmission.

In this regard, although we don't normally consider condoms a medical solution to any known problem, condom use would be treated very much as the hormonal pill is when that pill is used primarily to treat an illness, and not primarily used or intended to be a contraceptive.

We already know that a medication which has the unintended side effect of infertility can be acceptable via the principle of double effect. The use of the condom here does not invoke the principle of double effect, since there is no double effect - the condom isn't preventing procreation, all it is doing is reducing the probability of disease transmission. It is acting as a preventive medicine or pill would that might likewise reduce disease transmission.

Reduction of physical danger to the human person is a good intent.

Thus, the use of a condom in this situation would be a sign that the male prostitute at least valued his own life to some minimal extent. The ability to recognize the inherent value of your own life is a good thing. Thus, "one may not do everything one wishes" especially if that wish involves suicide via sodomy.

Now, it should further be pointed out that the Pope did not say the use of a condom between any two sodomites is acceptable. He specifically qualified his remark to restrict it to the use by prostitutes, and male prostitutes at that.

This qualification is important. The prostitute is usually reduced to this state because of gravely serious circumstances in his life, a complete breakdown of support from others, the need to earn enough money to avoid starvation and a life lived in the elements. It is often accompanied by serious risk of harm from the pimp who controls the life of the prostitute. Not only is the sodomitical life so utterly destructive that it generally results in an early death, the life of prostitution is equally destructive with equally grim results. Combined, the life of a male prostitute is definitely ugly, brutish and short.

That is, male prostitution (like female prostitution) is a situation which is really a form of slow suicide. However, male prostitution is even worse than female prostitution precisely because there is no hope life may come from the evil being done. Thus, the use of a condom in this case - a situation in which the condom only has meaning as a device to avoid the transmission of disease and death - the use of a condom by the male prostitute in such a situation may actually represent an attempt to value one's own life.

But isn't the use of contraceptives intrinsically immoral?

Yes. But the decision to engage in sodomy is already the decision to engage in contraceptive sex, in the sense that it is a sexual act that has no possibility of transmitting life and thus not properly a sexual act in the full sense at all. The presence or absence of the condom doesn't add to or subtract from the life-giving aspect of the act (since it doesn't exist to begin with). Condom use is, so to speak, gilding the lily, in every meaning of the phrase. So, even though a male prostitute uses a condom, in a sodomitical act he's technically not using a contraceptive.

The problem, of course, is that this unexplained and un-nuanced papal statement seems to build a slippery slope.

If this argument can be used to support condom use between sodomites one of whom is a prostitute, then why could it not also be brought forward to defend the use of condoms by sodomites who are not prostitutes?

The difference here is that in a cooperative sodomitical act, the men are not forced into doing this for money, but instead choose to do it for pleasure. But that distinction will be lost on most.

If it can be used by male prostitutes, then why not by female prostitutes, who also value their own lives in their encounters with the men who exploit them?

The difference, of course, is that of procreative possibility, but that distinction will also be lost on the larger public.

Thus, although it may be true, the Pope's statement by itself certainly makes the life of the Catholic who would explain Catholic Faith to a non-Catholic rather harder than it was.

Even if the Vatican comes forth with further nuance, this papal statement will be pointed to as a "change in teaching" because no one will want to hear the nuance or the deeper explanation.

You could argue, and some undoubtedly will, that the use of a condom is always and everywhere wrong. That's a perfectly Catholic position to hold. And, as I said before, the Pope may easily be flat wrong in what he said.

But, for those who wish to provide an apologetic for the Pope in this instance, it is possible to construct one, even if additional qualifications (i.e., references to sodomy) have to be added to his original statement in order to make it orthodox, even if the reality that he lays out makes it harder for us to explain human sexuality to others.

If he failed to qualify his statement well enough, it wouldn't be the first time a Pope failed to be fully explanatory in a statement. Indeed, Pope Honorius I was proclaimed a heretic by the Third Council of Constantinople and the liturgy of the Church for roughly a thousand years due to his failures to fully qualify his statements. Will Pope Benedict XVI fall into this same category? That remains to be seen. But this is the line his defense will take when the time for defense comes.

In any case, if the sodomy qualification is not added, and the Pope's statement is taken to mean that a male prostitute can use a condom regardless of whether his exploiter is a male paying money for sex or a female paying money for sex, then the papal statement would have been taken to have a meaning that directly violates the ordinary infallible Magisterium of the Church.

As it stands, the papal statement is not sufficiently nuanced and it definitely needs to be explained in greater detail by the Vatican.


26 comments:

pillsburykem said...

I can see the headlines from all the anti-Catholic bloggers now: "Catholic Church changes mind on Condoms".

Matheus F. Ticiani said...

I can see the headlines from all the anti-Catholic bloggers now

Anti-Catholics will do their job anyway; the problem is the ammunition this will give to both the modernists within the Church and the rad-trad types, making life for us orthodox Catholics a little more uncomfortable...but comfort is so boring, anyway, isn't it? :)

But let's not make hasty jujudgments. I foresee a major clarification/retraction this coming Monday...

Patrick said...

They just had a Vatican media official verify the statement, elaborating by saying that is a valid Catholic teaching because the objection to condems is based on contraceptive purposes. It would appear there may be a clarification more than a retraction statement in the near future.

Geremia said...

Re: "But the decision to engage in sodomy is already the decision to engage in contraceptive sex."

There cannot be conception in homosexual acts; therefore, neither can there be contraception in homosexual acts. This is precisely the Pope's point.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Ah - that's correct, and I'll change that wording.

Thanks.

Matheus F. Ticiani said...

It has begun:

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said Nov. 21 that the pope was not "reforming or changing" the church's teaching on sexual responsibility, but rather considering an "exceptional situation" in which sexual activity places a person's life at risk. While the pope was not morally justifying disordered sexual activity, he was saying that use of a condom to reduce the risk of transmitting the disease may be an act of moral responsibility, Father Lombardi said.

On a side note, Jimmy Akin says the book "...is fascinating and unprecedented, though that’s a subject for another post..." and I hope it really is.

Kevin said...

Considering past history, I still think what Dr. Janet Smith said about the issue has some merit.

The Holy Father wasn't saying condom use is licit or even moral for a prostitute.

Rather that the intent of using a condom could be the first step of "moralisation" in the sexual sphere.

Perhaps it is a realization there are consequences of one's actions. That sex is about the other person more than the self, that we must take care with a person. Who knows, it might even lead to the realization that this is wrong.

That being said, Benedict really stepped in it on this one. He was being professorial in a non-professorial format.

He needs to remember that it's not just what he says, but how it can be perceived, how it can be manipulated, etc. With this one, it involves so many clarifications, it would've probably been best to just pass over it.

So while he's not "guilty", this is still sadly his fault. Hopefully they can get the clarification out and get around this.

Geremia said...

Re: "he was saying that use of a condom to reduce the risk of transmitting the disease may be an act of moral responsibility"

Fr. Lombardi's statement desperately needs qualification, although he does use the word "may." All he has to say is that only homosexual acts can incorporate condoms because only then are they only used as prophylactic and not contraceptive. In the case of a heterosexual couple with STDs, even if conception is unlikely due to sterility/infertility, using condoms would still be contraception, no?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Geremia,

Yes, using condoms with a heterosexual couple, even if one is infected with AIDS, is still contraceptive.

The problem now is, does the principle of double effect apply?

In order to answer that question, we have to ascertain
a) whether the attempt to avoid transmitting disease is a greater good than the rendering of the act infertile is evil,
b) whether we truly do not intend to render the act infertile, but merely foresee it.

Even if you can maintain (b), it isn't clear that (a) is going to be objectively true.

After all, the transmission of disease is merely a temporal evil (it is time-limited and ceases to be a problem at death, which is a natural evil), whereas the decision to incapacitate the act which carries the life-giving power of God has an eternal result (a person who would exist forever is not permitted to come into existence).

In order for double-effect to operate, it has to be shown that the possibility of disease inhibition is a greater good than the possibility of procreating life itself.

To those who wish to make this argument, good luck with that.

There are very well-known Catholic commentators who are saying the Pope did not say condom use is good.

That's crap.

The Pope said it was the first step towards moralization and valuing of human life - since when is that not a good?

Worse, the "clarification" essentially doubles down on the Pope's original statement.

This is a stinkin' mess, and may well end up putting Pope Honorius I and Pope Benedict XVI on similar footing.

Matheus F. Ticiani said...

Steve

While I certainly think the comment was inappropriate and, barring any great content the book in question may have (as Jimmy Akin alludes to), I can hardly can see why faithful Catholics should assemble and publish such a thing, from what I could gather the Pope was speaking informally on a very conjectural realm that's not even pastoral, let alone "theological" or "dogmatic".

In line of this, and I have no idea whether this will be the "official" line of defense/retraction from now on, doesn't all this discussion about the moral theology of contraception serve just to unecessarily raise the stakes of this blunder?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Matheus,

What's conjectural about male prostitution? He may have put in a lot of "maybes", but that's the only thing conjectural about it. Male prostitution is a reality.

The stakes here were established the minute the Pope opened his mouth. He's the Pope. Everything he says to journalists is news.

The news media are going to spin this big no matter what the Catholic blogosphere does.

So far, both the original statement and the clarification have been lousy. He's got a few more days to sculpt this thing and then it sets in concrete. The clock is ticking.

Matheus F. Ticiani said...

Steve

Male prostitution is certainly a reality, but the idea of devout Catholic gigolos that will listen to and be badly influenced by the Pope is highly conjectural, isn't it?

The news media are going to spin this big no matter what the Catholic blogosphere does.

I agree with that and all the rest you wrote, and that's my point: perhaps we should follow the next developments insted of further rationalize the issue.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

You would be surprised how people rationalize their sins.

There are heterosexuals who fornicate, but rationalize by saying "At least we aren't using condoms." There are Catholics who have been pressed into sex slavery/prostitution, who worry about whether they are culpable for the prostitution (they aren't because they are forced into it), and don't know what to do about the condoms.

No, I don't think this is all that highly conjectural.

Geremia said...

The pope said that if one uses a condom in a homosexual act, then that person is on his way toward a more human understanding of sexuality. He did not say the condom is the cause, but rather a change in mentality that made him chose a condom.

Also, this book will do a good job getting people to at least learn more about the Church, even if they do just buy it because of the media's twisting of the facts. Many people will probably buy the book hoping to rationalize their sins, but perhaps they will learn something about the Church they never knew and realize that her doctrine is very rational/reasonable.

Jordanes said...

There are very well-known Catholic commentators who are saying the Pope did not say condom use is good.

That's crap.

The Pope said it was the first step towards moralization and valuing of human life - since when is that not a good?


No, they're right -- he did not say condom use is good. He said the intention to try to prevent the spread of disease, out of a concern for others, is good. The choice to engage in homosexual conduct, even with a condom, is still not moral -- but with a condom would be a step towards morality, that is, a step towards the morally good.

But whatever he meant or didn't mean, this is a major disaster. Even though his words aren't heterodox or erroneous, there is no way most people will correctly understand him -- confusions and scandal are inevitable. Kyrie eleison.

Geremia said...

Matt. 18:7: "For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh." Ergo, oremus pro pontifice nostro Benedicto.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Jordanes,

The Pope says the use of the condom indicates "a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality."

OK - how is taking such a first step NOT a good thing and/or NOT a recommendation to use a condom?

Don't we want people to take such first steps?

Are such first steps objectively evil or even morally neutral?

To say that the Pope is NOT recommending condom use in this situation when he clearly says that it is "a first step towards a more human way of living" is ABSURD.

Not to pick on Janet Smith, because a lot of people are saying similar things, but here is what Janet Smith says, "He is not speaking to the morality of the use of a condom...
Would it be proper to conclude that the Holy Father would support the distribution of condoms to male prostitutes? Nothing he says here indicates that he would..."

The fact is, the Pope statements facially contradict each other.

On the one hand he says it is not acceptable, on the other hand he says it is a first step towards becoming more human.

The only way you can coordinate what he says is to assume he is equivocating - using wildly different standards between the breaths he takes to start the two sentences.

"But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality." vs "...in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality."

Ok - he says it isn't a solution because it isn't humanizing except that it IS "a more human way of living sexuality."

WTF?

Doug Pearson said...

Steve- Thanks for taking the time to digest this. I had not really ever thought about the "non-contraceptive" nature of condoms when used by men with other men.

But, I don't think there is a high percentage of male prostitutes, who think that they will be right with God and in union with the Church if they just refrain from using a condom in their acts of sodomy.

I think the smartest thing the Vatican could do with this is to point out the non-contraceptive nature of the situation the Holy Father was discussing, as that is the ONLY thing that makes any sense at all.

Thanks again Steve!
Doug

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Doug,

You're right - not a lot of prostitutes are going to think that.

The problem is, the Vatican is saying that they aren't entirely wrong if they DO think that - that they are at least on the right road if they get that idea in their heads.

And, as you point out, the Vatican needs to point out that it's only discussing sodomy, but to date, it continues to be entirely silent on this aspect of what Pope Benedict said.

This kind of silence is what got Pope Honorius I in trouble.

Paul said...
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Paul said...
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Jordanes said...

The Pope says the use of the condom indicates "a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality."

No, he did not say that. He said the use of a condom out of an intention to avoid harming someone can be (not is, can be) a first step toward moral behavior. It is the good intention he approved, while neither endorsing nor condemning the means chosen to try to avoid causing someone harm.

Are such first steps objectively evil or even morally neutral?

Seeking to avoid doing someone harm is objectively good, but not all means of avoiding, or trying to avoid, doing someone harm are morally justified.

To say that the Pope is NOT recommending condom use in this situation when he clearly says that it is "a first step towards a more human way of living" is ABSURD.

However, he did not say the act is morally good, rather approving of the good intention. Most regrettably, he did not make that very clear, and since then Lombardi (as is his wont) has only worsened this scandal with his unhelpful "explanations" and "clarifications" that are only piling on instead of clearing the refuse away.

This is a disaster.

Commodianus said...

People (Catholic and especially otherwise) seem to be having a difficult time understanding that while an earnest attempt to stop the spread of Sexually Transmitted Diseases like AIDS may include the use of a condom, as the Pope mentioned in a hypothetical premise, this does not however amount to a moral approval. The fact of the matter is that the quotes lack context because they're incomplete snippets from a yet to be published book. Stick with what the Church teaches and leave the speculation to the media.

Piece of Mind said...

Saying it's OK to use a condom for illicit sex is like saying it's OK to rob a store without using a loaded weapon. Just waive a fake pistol and you accomplish the same end. Likewise, when armed robbery is committed, there is usually an "enhancer" applied to the criminal charge, making the punishment worse. So when a judge learns that the criminal used a lesser weapon, he may issue an easier sentence.

Face it, this was a major blunder by the Pope. He also has hinted of resigning if he can no longer perform his duties. It seems like this would be a good time to hand over the keys to the kingdom.

Piece of Mind said...

Saying it's OK to use a condom for illicit sex is like saying it's OK to rob a store without using a loaded weapon. Just waive a fake pistol and you accomplish the same end. Likewise, when armed robbery is committed, there is usually an "enhancer" applied to the criminal charge, making the punishment worse. So when a judge learns that the criminal used a lesser weapon, he may issue an easier sentence.

Face it, this was a major blunder by the Pope. He also has hinted of resigning if he can no longer perform his duties. It seems like this would be a good time to hand over the keys to the kingdom.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Piece of Mind,

There is a difference between a homosexual using a condom and a heterosexual doing so.

It is not contraceptive for a sodomite to use one.

It is contraceptive for the heterosexual to use one.

Thus, while the sodomite may well be going to hell, he won't be going to hell for using a condom.