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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The CDF On the Pope's Condom Remarks

Here is the text of the response made by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith concerning how to interpret the Pope's private theological opinion concerning condom use.

Jimmy, Janet, Father: please call your offices.

Notice something very interesting:
As is clear from an attentive reading of the pages in question, the Holy Father was talking neither about conjugal morality nor about the moral norm concerning contraception.
Do you see the distinction the CDF makes?
The Holy Father was not talking about conjugal morality.
The Holy Father was not talking about the moral norm concerning contraception.
Instead of just making it a flat statement about the use of the condom (with the assumption that we are only talking about its use in conjugal relationships), the CDF instead put two clauses in that statement. So, the use of contraception is seen by the CDF as a moral matter which is distinct and distinguishable from "conjugal morality."

It's almost as if the Church taught that the use of contraception outside of marriage was evil!
Go figure.

After all, if all of the Church's statements were really only ever about contraception in marriage, then the CDF distinction would not be necessary. By the very fact that the CDF took the trouble to make this distinction, we see that the Church has always had two interrelated teachings: one on the morality of contraception, the other on "conjugal morality."

Thus, to argue that contraceptive use outside of marriage may be permissible is demonstrated here to be a canard.

It goes on to say:
Those who know themselves to be infected with HIV and who therefore run the risk of infecting others, apart from committing a sin against the sixth commandment are also committing a sin against the fifth commandment
Now, the sixth commandment merely says "Do Not Commit Adultery."
It does not say "Do Not Fornicate."

Thus, according to some people, the Ten Commandments are really only about marriage.
They aren't really about sexual situations in which neither of the parties are married.

At least, if we were to follow the arguments of Jimmy Akin, Janet Smith and Father Martin Rhonheimer, we would be forced to into this conclusion.

But, oddly enough, the CDF doesn't appear to agree with any of these luminaries. Instead of agreeing that the Ten Commandments (and modern papal encyclicals) speak only to the problem of married sex, and not to the problem with fornication, the CDF instead conflates fornication with sins against the Sixth Commandment:
The response of the entire Christian tradition – and indeed not only of the Christian tradition – to the practice of prostitution can be summed up in the words of St. Paul: "Flee from fornication" (1 Cor 6:18).
So, that settles that question rather definitively.
The modern papal encyclicals on contraception address both married and unmarried people.
Turns out you don't need a Ph.D. to understand Church teaching after all.

I expect Jimmy, Janet and Father will post apologies for their incorrect interpretations.
Could someone notify me when you see those apologies?
I'd like to read them.

The CDF: Unanswered Questions

But we have another question unsettled, and the CDF hasn't addressed that question:
In this context [a prostitute infected with AIDS], however, it cannot be denied that anyone who uses a condom in order to diminish the risk posed to another person is intending to reduce the evil connected with his or her immoral activity. In this sense the Holy Father points out that the use of a condom "with the intention of reducing the risk of infection, can be a first step in a movement towards a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality." This affirmation is clearly compatible with the Holy Father’s previous statement that this is "not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection."

Some commentators have interpreted the words of Benedict XVI according to the so-called theory of the "lesser evil." This theory is, however, susceptible to proportionalistic misinterpretation (cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter "Veritatis splendor," No. 75-77). An action which is objectively evil, even if a lesser evil, can never be licitly willed.
The problem is simple.
In a heterosexual encounter, given that:
  1. The method used to mitigate the possibility of infection is identical to the method used to mitigate the possibility of procreation,
  2. An action, which is objectively evil, even if a lesser evil, can never be licitly willed, and
  3. The contraceptive effect of the condom is not only intrinsically evil, the contraceptive effect is a greater evil than the disease that the condom mitigates,
in what sense is Benedict's private theological opinion "in full conformity with the moral theological tradition of the Church"?

Well, according to the CDF statement, this "full conformity" riff is ONLY in regards to the disease mitigation, it is NOT a statement about the procreation-mitigation effect the condom simultaneously produces. Remember:
...the Holy Father was talking neither about conjugal morality nor about the moral norm concerning contraception.
My point still stands, and the CDF "clarification" hasn't addressed it - the use of a condom by anyone, married or unmarried, in a situation where it would be contraceptive is NOT a step towards "moralization" or "respecting the life of another."

Now, the CDF spends a deal of time talking about proportionalism and the "lesser evil."

But the contraceptive effects are not a lesser evil, they are a GREATER evil, so the CDF commentary in that regard is completely irrelevant.

The elephant remains in the living room, and the CDF can't talk about it because if they do, the terrible secret will be revealed:

Insofar as the the Pope's private theological opinion addresses any aspect of the fecundity of the heterosexual act, that private theological opinion is most assuredly erroneous.

In short, condom use by heterosexuals, no matter what their intent, is a step only towards a minor and revocable good, not a step towards any eternal good.

The CDF "clarification" expressly refused to deal with the contraceptive aspect of condom use.
Because the contraceptive aspect cannot be divorced from the disease-mitigation aspect (both are accomplished in the same action) the CDF "clarification" is fairly useless.

The only clarifications that will ever be useful here are those that:
a) Recognize that TWO effects are being produced from the single act of using a condom in heterosexual intercourse,
b) Address BOTH aspects and their relative merits in comparison to each other and in comparison to what constitutes a movement towards the good.

So far,
the Pope hasn't done this,
the CDF hasn't done this,
none of the secular commentators have done this.

I've done it, but the answer I get when I do make this comparison is that the Pope is wrong - or he's so insignificantly right that it doesn't matter in any practical way. No one wants to hear it.

Consider: a heterosexual using a condom to reduce disease is choosing an insignificant temporal good (disease transmission) over an eternal good (new human person).

Heck, the guy chose an insignificant temporal good (venereal pleasure) to begin with - that's why he's having sex with a prostitute even though one of them may have HIV. So it's unclear to me why choosing to try to mitigate disease transmission is that much of a step in the right direction.

Sure, you can make some small moral hay depending on exactly who has the disease and exactly what transmission is trying to be mitigated, but it's really a stupid conversation to have.

So, you have your choice: the papal remarks are either wrong or inane.
Neither reflect well on Pope Benedict.

A rapist who refuses to use a condom on the grounds that he wants to participate in the procreation of a human person is making a greater step towards the good than a john who uses a condom to prevent disease transmission.

But don't expect to see that comparison on the front page of the Ignatius Press website anytime soon. It wouldn't be good for sales.


R said...

Wow. Very well done.

Ben said...

Agreed "R".

Well said Steve.

Merry Christmas.