The question of condoms arises in chapter eleven, in the context of Benedict’s March 2009 journey to Africa. That trip was largely overshadowed by controversy over comments the pontiff made to reporters aboard the papal plane, to the effect that condoms actually make the HIV/AIDS crisis worse.
Benedict is clearly still annoyed by that reaction, saying he felt he was being “provoked” by the question about condoms. The suggestion was that the church is indifferent to HIV/AIDS, when in reality “the church does more than anyone else,” Benedict says.
Benedict goes on to say that his point was simply that one cannot solve the problem of HIV/AIDS merely by distributing condoms, something that even secular AIDS experts would concede.
While broadly defending traditional Catholic teaching against artificial birth control, Benedict also suggests that in some limited instances the use of a condom might be morally defensible.
“In this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality,” the pope says....Benedict offers the example of a male prostitute. In that situation, he says, the use of a condom “can be a first step in the direction of 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.”
Beyond the question of prostitution, many mainstream Catholic moral theologians have also argued for the moral acceptability of condoms in the case of a married heterosexual couple where one partner is HIV-positive and the other is not. In that set of circumstances, theologians have argued, condoms would be acceptable since the aim is not to prevent new life, but to prevent infection....
Back in 2006, Benedict asked the Pontifical Council for the Health Care Pastoral under Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, who has since retired, to examine precisely that question. Having polled the doctors and other health care professionals, as well as theologians, who consult with the council, Barragán presented the pope with a tentatively positive response – that in the case of couples where one partner is infected with HIV and the other is not, condoms could be justified.
To date that position has not been officially codified, and some Vatican officials have said on background that they worry doing so would be seen publicly as a blanket endorsement of condoms. Yet Benedict’s comments to Seewald suggest that the pope himself is at least positively inclined to such a development.There's a lot here, so I'd like to chew off a little bit at a time.
Let's take the easiest to digest.
Could it be possible that the Pope, in mercy, would adjust the teachings of the Church to accommodate condom use between a married couple when a husband is HIV positive?
Catholic teaching about marriage and sexuality is that it is a symbiotic relationship that has to be open to life. When two people approach the Sacrament of Marriage, if the male is for some reason impotent, or in the rare case of a structural abnormality of the woman that would make it impossible to consummate the marriage, the teaching is that the couple is not eligible for the Sacrament of Marriage.
The suggestion the Pope would incorporate the exception of wearing a condom in marital relations would signal a change the definition of the eligibility to Sacrament of Marriage which would be quite a dramatic development.
Each act of marital intimacy is supposed to be open to life. There is some controversy about whether NFP (Natural Family Planning) even violates this principle. But a woman can ovulate twice or something could happen in her cycle that throws off the science of it -- and NFPers are always open to the possibility that God may intervene and bring life into a relationship even with the best laid plans of mice and men and they rejoice in that life.
These new purported papal explanations would signal a change in the meaning and definition of sexuality to an expression of intimacy and pleasure.
If the medical condition of HIV is going to be an exception, a condition that is mostly spread by promiscuity, there would certainly also be exceptions to other medical conditions.
Another way of saying it is, I'm not buying into it.
On a more complex spiritual level, perhaps it's possible an act of dispensation would or could be granted between certain couples but a change in teaching would send such mixed messages to the conscience that would negatively and materially affect the salvation of many.
The secular world treats our teaching as a merciless understanding of societies where men are promiscuous but the distribution of condoms actually enables men to continue to act irresponsibly, sets the expectation that women will accept this irresponsibility and then play HIV roulette with them when the equipment needs some attention. Societies living this way disconnect human sexuality from emotions, holiness, God. Marital relationships and women are miserable from the effects of betrayals of trust the adultery brings into the marriage.
Would the Catholic Church surrender women to accept and enable the promiscuity and build marriages on this shaky foundation?
It isn't gelling for me.
This article in Catholic World Report does a nice job explaining the context of the Pope's statements. I think I mentioned sometime earlier this week that even when we're being misguided and we are lost, if we are still holding on to a spark of grace, a spark can make a fire.
Anyone having sex that threatens to transmit HIV needs to grow in moral discernment. This is why Benedict focused on a “first step” in moral growth. The Church is always going to be focused on moving people away from immoral acts towards love of Jesus, virtue, and holiness. We can say that the Holy Father clearly did not want to make a point about condoms, but wants to talk about growth in a moral sense, which should be a growth towards Jesus.
Some time ago, I found out a priest I trusted and who knew me quite well violated that trust by taking my children aside and having a nudge and wink conversation with them about using condoms. He took my 28 years of teaching human sexuality as holy (not to mention extremely pleasurable) expression of emotional and spiritual intimacy and fidelity to God and their husbands/wife and used his Roman collar to water it down to pleasure. Perhaps for the rest of their lives.
I have some insight as to how that could impact their marriages, their relationships with God, their grace.
I'm wagering that the Pope knows exactly what the kind of changes being attributed to him would mean and my thoughts on this are, he was grossly misquoted, taken out of context or misunderstood. I'm looking forward to reading others on the matter...though some, not so much.
Pray for the Pope. The poor man must be extremely frustrated with all of us!
Update with some other lucid observations:
Before you go out and buy a box of Condoms from Cleansing Fire.
Keep checking the links in my blogroll where I'm sure others will weigh in.
I hate to keep drilling home this week's meme but if you are not in a state of grace, this is a perfect example of how what you're hearing and what people actually may be saying can be radically different and how it can lead you right into temptation and sin.
Take care about with whom you entrust matters of your own soul and the souls of your children.
My facebook friend Norman Servias, who lives in HIV capital of the world (South Africa) gave me a heads up on this article at Zenit that features the spectacular work of his production company on the matter and a great quote from the local Bishop.
First a quote from the Bishop:
Bishop Hugh Slattery of Tzaneen, South Africa, commissioned the videos as part of a program to respond to HIV/AIDS in an authentically Catholic way.
In an interview with ZENIT, Bishop Slattery said that the aim of the second video, completed last year, is to show that "abstinence before marriage and fidelity within marriage will quickly stop the spread of AIDS."
A third production entitled "Called to Care", will deal with "caring for the sick, the dying, and the AIDS orphans," and a fourth video, due for release later this year, will show "marriage and family as the real solution to the AIDS pandemic."
A new Web site offers videos that document the fight against AIDS from a Catholic perspective. Metanoia Media, producer of the award-winning video "Sowing in Tears" and its follow-up, "The Change Is On," released the site last Friday to give a different perspective on the Pope's words about condoms. "The Change Is On" features unique footage and testimonies of abstinence activists and Catholic AIDS workers in South Africa and Uganda. It documents their successes and the challenging issues they face in the fight against the pandemic.
Norman Servais, head of the South African production company, told ZENIT: "My country, as you know, is the AIDS capital of the world, so speak to us about condoms if you like and we'll tell you that they are not the answer!"You can find Norman's work HERE.
How degrading and frustrating it must be to women trying to correct the culture to have our village idiots running around throwing promiscuous men condoms.
I bumped into this spoof of the condomaniacs that is worth a read.
The Holy Father was asked in a recent interview to comment on the behaviour of terrorists who plant no warning bombs in heavily populated areas of cities, close to schools and nurseries. He said it was a bad thing.
He was then asked if it was better if the terrorist telephoned in bomb warnings so that buildings could be evacuated.
The Holy Father said that while engaging in such acts of terrorism was always morally wrong, telephoning a warning "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 political issues or demands for justice".
Media: "So you're saying it's okay to plant bombs so long as you use phone warnings?"
Holy Father: "No, of course not, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of serious injury or death to an innocent person...
Not surprisingly, the theological screwballs at Vox Nova jumped right on the situation to exploit and confuse Church teaching. It's hard for me to swallow that educated people would believe that the Pope would change Church teaching by leaking it out statements for us all to crack the code in some individual's book. Therefore, I have a hard time swallowing their 'work' is being done in good faith.
I'm going to tell you a little story. A recent convert to the faith, who is on the internet trying to learn about it, was grateful for the Snarlson uproar because it signaled to her that she ought to do more serious diligence about whether Vox Nova is sound. She spent significant time researching herself, sent me some links that confirmed for her Vox Nova is cleverly wording their dissent.
Characterizing Vox Nova folks as faithful to Church teaching is damaging to people who are recent converts and poorly catechized Catholics. We need to help our apostolates understand they've got to characterize Vox Nova properly.
Dissent at the National Catholic Reporter is very obvious but for Catholics who know their faith and are trying to teach it to others, it is damaging to link and reference apostolates and people in a way that implies they are sound Catholic thought.
There's no such thing as 'the truth wins out in the public square' when you are talking about matters of the soul. It is much more complicated. When you are operating under the notion that you can give a voice to everyone and the people who have come to trust your judgment are relying on you to point them in the right direction, there are some who may get caught up in the tangled web - especially if they are not in a state of grace or they are a new convert. We don't offer our space to Richard McBrien, even if a thing or two he writes about the poor could pass the muster of Catholic teaching. By doing so, people will think they can link and follow what Richard McBrien teaches as important to pay attention to.
There are some self-appointed arbiters of 'charity' around the internet who have derailed because they can't see the bigger picture and do not understand matters of the soul. Don't be one of them. If you run into one of them, do what you can to advise them.
Take some advice from this fool and keep 23rd psalm handy when you do because you might just find yourself getting a 'charitable' boot in the fanny.