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:
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.
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.