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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Condom Use Is Moral?

Now an Opus Dei priest has weighed in on the condom controversy, arguing in a lengthy OSV article that condom use, while it may have a prophylactic effect, can be a lessening of the evil of an intrinsically disordered act.

But this priest goes much farther than that, and his conclusions are quite disturbing.

There are several sections which attempt to summarize this thought, but here's as close to a money quote as the article's diffuse, poorly articulated reasoning presents:
Granted that immoral sexual behavior should be avoided altogether, in my view the point rightly made by the Holy Father is that when someone who is already performing immoral acts uses a condom, he or she does not properly choose a lesser evil, but simply tries to prevent an evil — the evil of infection. From the sinner’s point of view this obviously means to choose some good: health. Yet, provided we consider the immoral activities (for example, prostitution) to be intrinsically evil, using a condom to prevent infection means to reduce the evilness and moral disorder of this activity.
Alright, let's accept the man's argument. Prior to this, I have NEVER heard anyone say that the object of the will can change the evil of an intrinsically disordered act. By it's very nature, an "intrinsically disordered act" is evil - the object of the will is not going to change that. The act itself carries meaning, and that "act-ual" meaning, as it were, is wrong, regardless of the intent.

But here, we hear that the object of the will, the reason for doing the act, CAN mitigate the evil and be a step towards the good.


But then he says this:
A condom is designed to be a means for impeding male fluids from penetrating into the woman’s womb. Its normal use is for contraception. In the case the pope speaks of, however, the reason for their use is not the impeding of conception, but preventing infection. We should not confuse human acts, which may be intrinsically good or intrinsically evil, with “things.” It’s not the condom as such, but its use, which presents the moral problem. Therefore, what the pope says does not even refer to the question of contraception
What he means by "use" appears to be not "use" but "intent." For the use of the condom in the two acts - whether it be contraception or disease prophylaxis - is the same. In both cases, the condom is "
a means for impeding male fluids from penetrating into the woman’s womb."

Thus, if it's the "use which presents the moral problem" then the moral problem is present in a heterosexual encounter regardless of intent.

The male fluids contain both semen and virii.
The means for preventing entry to the one is identically the same action that prevents the entry to the other.
The "use" is not just similar actions, it is THE SELF-SAME ACTION.
Even the intent is the same - to keep the seminal fluids out.

Now, the ultimate reason you want to keep the seminal fluids out is different, but what you are using (the condom) and your proximate desire/outcome (the penetration of male fluids into the woman) is built on the self-same action and the self-same intent.

So, in order to make his point, the good priest has to change the meaning of the word "use" from "use" to "intent." But even that is not good enough to accomplish what he wants - he has to narrow the meaning of "intent" so as to completely ignore proximate intent and focus only on ultimate intent. It's the only way he can come to his conclusion "what the pope says does not even refer to the question of contraception."

In other words, he is making EXACTLY THE SAME EQUIVOCATION THE HOLY FATHER MADE in the original statement.

If you'll recall, just hours after Pope's statement came out, I pointed out that the Holy Father initially said the "use" of the condom lessened the evil, then only later in the interview qualified the remark by saying it was the intent.

Everyone kept focusing (and indeed, still focuses) on intent, and pretended (or still pretends) the "use" statement never happened.

But it did happen, and the Opus Dei priest is doubling down on it.

Let's be clear here - "use" is different than "intent."
That's why we have two words, after all.

The man even admits this:
If we don’t know what the purpose is in using the “thing” — the condom — in a sexual act of prostitution, we cannot know what kind of moral act is performed here...
Here he clearly differentiates between "use" and "intent." But he's also clearly made a stupid statement - we already know what kind of moral act is being performed here - it's prostitution, which is evil. What he means is, we can't know if the person is trying to avoid one of the evil consequences of his evil action (transmitting disease) or if he's trying to avoid a good consequence of his evil action (the procreation of a child).

Is Condomized Sex a Marital Act?

The good priest recognizes the slippery slope he has created, and attempts to defuse it through raw assertion:
Therefore it is not a question of simply shifting intentions (the further intention) with which we are doing this or that. In this way nearly any action could be justified. One can always find a good intention for justifying the doing of evil things.
But, of course, that's exactly what he's doing. All he's doing is shifting the intention from the proximate to the remote or ultimate. When he sees that his teaching could lead to really lousy moral conclusions, he hastily adds:
These kinds of special questions are outside the scope of what the pope wanted to say and we should not try to extend his remarks to very different cases which are the subject of many expert books. And in so far as these questions refer to sexual acts within marriage, the problems are again of a different order.
That is, his reasoning is so lousy that he doesn't want it to be generalized to establish a precedent.

But notice, he refers to condom use as "sexual acts within marriage." He says this even though, earlier in the same article, he has admitted that these sexual acts are not properly acts within marriage at all (exactly what I warned Jimmy Akin about, which is why Jimmy refused to continue the conversation):

Relying on an old tradition in moral theology that is also reflected in canon law, it was argued that sexual intercourse with a condom by impeding insemination would not meet the physical requirements of a marital act. Because insemination was interrupted, according to this understanding, the act of intercourse was therefore not an act of a generative kind but instead something intrinsically perverted, more like an act of masturbation, sodomy or even bestiality than conjugal love. Although there would be no act chosen explicitly for the purpose of rendering infertile a conjugal act, the use of the condom to prevent the transmission of HIV would be intrinsically evil, annulling the properly marital meaning of sexual intercourse.

There was some scholarly exchange about this, mainly in the National Catholic Bioethical Quarterly. To this day, I am not sure whether this argument is really compelling...

Alright. So a moral argument based in canon law and the ancient traditions of the Church is not "really compelling..." Lovely.

Is Procreation Of A New Human Life, A Person, A Good?

Knowing this, should we be at all surprised to see this gem drop from our good priest's lips?

On the other hand, I consider that a man who at least cares that his occasional female sexual partner not become pregnant acts more responsibly — or less irresponsibly — than a man who does not care about possibly destroying a girl’s entire life; I am thinking of the man who prefers to maximize his pleasure and thus insists on having sex without using condoms. [emphasis added]
Now we discover that a man who uses a condom in order to prevent pregnancy is actually acting in a morally responsible way! After all, the conception of an immortal being, the procreation of a new human life, is an unalloyed good, and we wouldn't want to "destroy a girl's entire life" (not a "woman's life," because "woman" sounds too Scriptural and adult, so we'll just talk about a "girl's life") by allowing the possibility of an unalloyed immortal good, a person in the image and likeness of God, to become part of existence, now would we?

As I've pointed out before, this is theological syphilis - blind, absurd and incoherent. So it is no surprise to see his reasoning descend into that same syphilitic incoherence.

He simultaneously holds that condoms should not be used during fertile periods:
In practice it is hard for an intention to prevent infection not to fuse with other, morally disordered intentions, such as the properly contraceptive intent of preventing the conception of an infected baby. For this reason, spouses should in any case abstain from intercourse, at least in knowingly fertile periods (this doesn’t apply to sterile spouses, of course).
and that condoms can be used at any time by a married couple in which one partner has HIV:
I wrote in 2004 in a letter to The Tablet that “Personally I would never encourage a couple to use a condom, but to abstain. If they disagree, I would not think their intercourse to be an intrinsically sinful act or even a sin ‘against nature’ equal to sodomy, as some moral theologians say.”
And why would it be? Just because the couple is now engaging in extra-marital sex (for that is what a barrier contraceptive is for married couples, even if it is with each other), why would that be a sin?

But why the hesitancy in the first opinion? After all, if using a condom isn't an intrinsically sinful act, then why shouldn't a married couple use condoms regardless of the fertile period? If the ultimate intent is prevention of disease transmission, and they don't want to ruin their entire lives by procreating, then what's wrong with using a condom?

Sure, the point of marriage is procreation, indeed, the biological point of sex itself is procreation, but if we can frustrate the very biology via the use of a condom by a fornicating couple, then what difference does it make if we frustrate that biology inside or outside the marriage? All we're doing in marriage is violating sacred vows to procreate, but in condomized fornication, we're violating our very own sacred natures, so what difference does a little vow-breaking make?

What matters is no one get the sniffles.

Whereas using a condom to prevent death by syphilis was always seen as a problem, our new enlightened age with our new enlightened version of syphilis (HIV) has changed our thinking. Obviously HIV is entirely different than any other STD because.... well, just because.

If this is where the Pope intended to take us, the Pope - in his capacity as private theologian - is wrong. What the "private theologian" said in the interview will never be written into a Magisterial document because the conclusions announced by this priest, his avid supporter, are erroneous.

Personally, I see no point in reading the speculations of a private theologian, even if he is the Pope. Spend time with the Magisterium - the saints, Fathers and Doctors of the Church, the official documents of the Church. Benedict's private speculations are not part of Church teaching in any formal way. Insofar as what he says matches the Magisterium, it is already present in other documents. Insofar as what he says does not match the Magisterium, it is not worth any good Catholic's time.


RecoveringFeminist said...

I'm going to throw a huge wrench into this whole controversy because I have not seen this proposition anywhere since the Holy Father made these comments in his forthcoming book. During elections, we are told we can vote for the lesser of two evils, EVEN IF THERE IS A 100% pro-life GOOD ALTERNATIVE. Case in point, voting Third Party. The subjective (not objective) reasoning allowed for voting for a "less evil" candidate is that the 100% pro-life candidate cannot win. Oft cited is the "lesser of two evils" situation. I see many similarities with some of the theological arguments, same verbiage, same justification for some evil. If all the words applied to this present controversy regarding the Holy Father's words were used in the case of elections, how would all that play out? Inquiring confused Catholics wants to know!

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Excellent question.

The priest in the OSV article throws out all the good buzz words. He talks about how we cannot do evil, but we can tolerate evil, etc.

So, we're supposed to tolerate a lousy candidate because we can't legitimately expect a good candidate to win. This proposition is actually taken from William F. Buckley, the man who famously said of the Church "Mater, si, Magister, No!" (Mother, yes, Teacher, No!).

Ask the priest who tells you this if he is a fan of William Buckley. If he isn't, then point out to him that he, in fact, is.

Patrick said...

Let's place this into another context - say a child stealing a loaf of bread to keep their mother from starving or a person who steals a car in order to gain freedom from someone trying to kill them - we can see a similar situation of intent and material use. The consequences of doing what may be an immoral act can be lightened by the intent of the offender to save a life (anothers or their own). However, the victim still suffers the same consequence no matter the actors intent.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Your analogy doesn't work.

Taking bread in order to preserve someone's life is not properly stealing at all, since the person who owns the bread has a moral duty to give it to you to prevent your mother's death via starvation. All the Fathers agree on this, with Chrysostom being the most vocal about it.

Same goes with "stealing" a car.

But the priest doesn't say that. He actually says that condom use to prevent pregnancy is acceptable between fornicators. That simply can't be seen anywhere in the Fathers. It is a violation of Tradition.

The Opus Dei priest is a heretical, but OSV doesn't question him in a way that exposes the lie.

Patrick said...

The hypothetical still works for the Popes original argument because pro-creation was not the intent of the prostitution act at all. The argument is a different one when extended to the use in marriage because the Catholic assumption is pro-creation should always be a possibility. The Opus Dei priest made an argument outside the intent of the original statement.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Patrick, the act of heterosexual sex always contains within it the possibility of procreation, so the act itself ALWAYS contains the intent to procreate because that's the primary biological purpose of the act.

To argue that the act of the will can CHANGE what is intended by the biological reality is absurd - it bears no contact with reality.

If I were to jump off a building with the intent to fly, that intent would make my suicide no less real. The faulty intent would just prove I was insane.

Anyone who looks at the heterosexual act and ignores the procreative aspect is, in an analogous fashion, also insane.

Patrick said...

Fornication is a physical evil. Fornication with a disease that can bring death becomes a moral evil, which is a much greater evil. The condom brings it back to a level of physical evil if the intent is used to protect the other from the disease. The intent did not do away with the consequence of evil of the original act, but does change the level of the immorality involved.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

a) Physical disease is a physical evil, not a moral evil.

b) Some people consider pregnancy a disease that can cause death - our priest in this article is very close to that position when he says a child can destroy a girl's entire life.

c) While it's nice to have a good intent, having a good intent does not make one sane.

Patrick said...

Physical deadly disease is a natural evil; knowingly giving someone a deadly disease is a moral evil. The openness to pro-create in marriage, even if it ends in a life, should never be considered giving one a disease and the priest obviously misunderstood the original papal discussion.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

If the priest misunderstood that part of the papal instruction, then how do we know that he got ANY part of it right?

The Pope said the use of a condom mitigates the evil of ANY sexual act, sex of the persons involved wasn't relevant.

That appears very strongly to be erroneous. The evil of contraception is not mitigated at all.

Again, there's no moral difference between a man who uses a condom because he doesn't want to transmit disease and a man who doesn't use a condom during a rape because he intends to beget a child.

Both intend a moral good while in the midst of undertaking a moral evil.

But no one is using the rape example because it highlights the distastefulness of the Benedict's opinion.

Patrick said...

I'm not using the rapist argument because it is not equivalent. Desiring good is not the same as trying to lessen an evil. You should not do an intentional evil act and believe it will result in good, but you can lessen the severity of an evil act. If you are robbed with the intent of getting your money is a different level of evil than robbing with the intent to kill. Where the court systems go even further and require premeditation to determine the level of evil, theology only requires the action and the intent. Unintentionally giving someone poisoned food is a completely different morality than intentionally giving them that same food, though the consequences are the same. Fornicating in any situation is evil, but doing so knowing that it can kill them is a whole new level, which is why there are different understandings of levels of evil.

Steve Kellmeyer said...


Desiring to fornicate, engage in sodomy or adultery is not desiring a good.

If you have a deadly disease, such as syphilis or HIV, then you shouldn't be trying to simply reduce the chance of killing your partner, you shouldn't be having sex at all.

I agree the two scenarios are not entirely equivalent.

In the fornication with HIV scenario, the person is trying to reduce the chance his/her partner is killed in his own pursuit of pleasure. Despite his desire, however, the partner may still get infected and die.

In the rape scenario, the rapist is not trying to kill anyone at all and no one will die no matter what happens. All he's trying to do is conceive life.

So the rapist's intention is objectively superior to the HIV infected person, if only because the risk of death to the other person is so substantially less, and the ordering of the sexuality (at least in the case of sodomy vs. heterosexuality) is morally superior.

And yes, rape is morally superior to sodomy, although both will damn you to hell.

Teresa said...

Since the Holy Father didn't say that the "use" of the condom was a "good" but rather that it was a lesser evil and a recognition of a moral responsibility to prevent another individual from getting HIV I don't see how that departs from previous Church Teachings. It's not like two homosexuals can procreate so by using the condoms they wouldn't be preventing procreation. I am not saying either act or the use of condoms is good but rather that the condom would be preventing a greater evil from occurring.

Okay, what about when a "contraceptive pill" is used for a disease such as endometriosis? Since the "pill" is normally used as a contraceptive wouldn't that be a similar scenario as the Pope's condom scenario?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

The Holy Father did indeed say the use of a condom was a good, in the sense that, if the user had the right intent, it moved the user towards the good.

The use of the pill for endometriosis is a different situation since there it is not necessarily the case that the woman using it is having sex at all. However, in order for the condom to be effective for reducing disease transmission, it must be used during the sexual encounter.

Thus, the use of a condom necessarily entails a sexual aspect that the use of the pill for endometriosis does not necessarily entail.

Teresa said...

The Pope said: "There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. 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.

Pope Benedict says “may” and not “is”. Then, Pope Benedict goes on to reiterate that “it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.”

Where did Pope Benedict say that the condom use is a good?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

"Good" equals "this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility."

If you don't agree that these things are good, then you're right, he didn't. But if you do, then he did.

Teresa said...

Does a "first step in the direction of moralization" really constitute a "good"? Does recognition of a moral responsibility really mean that a person is cooperating in a "good act"? This is not stating that the person has come full circle and is taking part in a moral or a "good" act but rather is accepting some responsibility for his bad actions which may lead the person to form a better conscience and make a good decision in the future to avoid engaging in sex altogether.

Two homosexuals engaging in sex without the use of condoms is an immoral act. Two homosexuals engaging in sex while using condoms is an immoral act. Two homosexuals engaging in sex when one has HIV is an immoral act. Two homosexuals engaging in sex when one person has HIV and uses a condom is an immoral act but the preventative measure used so that the other partner doesn't get HIV is better than not using a condom.

Better does not mean "good".

Steve Kellmeyer said...

"Does a "first step in the direction of moralization" really constitute a "good"? Does recognition of a moral responsibility really mean that a person is cooperating in a "good act"

In both cases the actor is cooperating with grace.

Again, if you think cooperation with grace is not a good, then you're right about what the Pope said.

On the other hand, if you DO think cooperation with grace is a good, then you're wrong about what the Pope said.

Teresa said...

How could two people committing sodomy be cooperating with grace?

The Pope never said that the use of the condom in this instance involved the cooperation with grace.

Steve Kellmeyer said...


How can you take the first step towards moralization or assumption of responsibility, how can you have any charity for your fellow man WITHOUT grace?

Does a man move towards the good on his own without the need for grace?

Are we all Pelagians now?

The Church is kind of against that idea, having formally condemned it on numerous occasions.

Teresa said...

The accusation of Pelagianism is grossly uncharitable. It would be less uncharitable for me to accuse you of taking a hard-line Calvinist position of Total Depravity, but I would refrain from that. Try to remember that my position is not that the condom-wearing sodomite is choosing the good. I do not believe it is. So I could hardly be saying that they are choosing a good act, as such, without God's help. My position is that I do not believe that the Pope said it was good. I also do not think that the Holy Father was taking the position that the condom-wearing sodomite was "cooperating with grace" in any meaningful, potentially salvific sense. That reading of the Holy Father's remarks seems worse than uncharitable - it seems to be quite unfair and unnecessary. I am having a hard time figuring out your position, Steve. Do you think that the condom-wearing sodomite is cooperating with grace, or do you attribute that position to the pope and judge his view to be incorrect?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Teresa, I'm not trying to be uncharitable, I'm just trying to figure out your position.

The Pope said the use of the condom can be "a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility."

Both of those are movements towards the good and mitigation of evil. Indeed, the clarification of the papal statement used exactly that phrase, IIRC.

In order to move towards the good (i.e., mitigate the evil), we must first be (a) given grace and (b) cooperate with the grace given us.

Now, there are all kinds of grace e.g., providential, actual, or sanctifying.

No one is saying the sodomite receives the salvific, sanctifying grace of the sacraments by using a condom.

But the Pope clearly DOES mean to say that the sodomite who uses condoms with right intent is cooperating with actual (non-salvific) grace.

It is a dogma of the Church that we can't move towards the good OR mitigate evil unless we cooperate with grace. What the Pope describes is precisely this movement. So I think it is perfectly legitimate to ask how your position doesn't lead to Pelagianism.

Brendan said...

Notwithstanding a great deal of confusion on the part of commentators, to disagree with the Pope's remarks, in their full context, is to believe:

In the most marginal case, for example of a male prostitute, as he first begins to become aware of the harm of his behavior, that perhaps not everything is allowed, is bound, in conscience, to refuse to use a condom in an act of sodomy, because condoms are a contraceptive. That refusal, exposing himself and another to greater risk of death for the sake of respecting the noble ideal of what the act profanes, will be the first step toward moralization, a first recognition of sound theology, or at least will not move him in the wrong direction, as the condom use most certainly would.