Saturday, November 20, 2010

Go Now and Wear a Condom.

While I was over at National Catholic Reporter, I noticed this story by John Allen saying the Pope signaled the acceptance of the distribution of condoms to help prevent HIV from spreading.

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.

What is Pope Benedict saying?
We must note that the example that Pope Benedict gives for the use of a condom is a male prostitute; thus, it is reasonable to assume that he is referring to a male prostitute engaged in homosexual acts. The Holy Father is simply observing that for some homosexual prostitutes the use of a condom may indicate an awakening of a moral sense; an awakening that sexual pleasure is not the highest value, but that we must take care that we harm no one with our choices.  He is not speaking to the morality of the use of a condom, but to something that may be true about the psychological state of those who use them.  If such individuals are using condoms to avoid harming another, they may eventually realize that sexual acts between members of the same sex are inherently harmful since they are not in accord with human nature.  The Holy Father does not in any way think the use of condoms is a part of the solution to reducing the risk of AIDs.  As he explicitly states, the true solution involves “humanizing sexuality.”
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.

Fr. Z.

Pew Lady.

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.


breathnach said...

Carol, the media frenzy is just beginning to percolate.

It is just a matter of time before the media drags out Charles Curran to do a victory lap.

The media and the cultural elites will use this to highlight the dissenters. His comments on the banalization of sexuality are superb.However, the Pope would have been better off just restating Church teaching and not delving into the subjective psychology of male prostitutes. Any thinking Catholic cannot take this as heralding a change in Church teaching. However, it was clumsy to fall into this media firestorm.

kd said...

Since this story has gone viral I'm sure there will a statement from Rome for all the News Media's of the World who are twisting the Holy Fathers thoughts and words on this matter. If this were as the media reports then the gates of hell have taken over the Seat of Peter which we all know will never happen. A warning to all good Catholics every where, unless you see it in quotes from the mouth of the Pope -Don't believe it. The devil is alive & kicking!

Kathy said...

Anyone who thinks the Pope has changed his views is being ridiculous. The persecution is full swing. Pope Benedict XVI did not say that male prostitution was a circumstance which condoned condom use. What he said is that an HIV-positive male prostitute using a condom was doing something slightly less evil (not good, nor morally neutral, and certainly not permissible, but only slightly less evil) than the same male prostitute failing to use a condom. Why? Because in either case he was committing inhuman and perverted sexual acts, but if his intent in using a condom was to save the other person from illness, having that good intent may (not "would," but "may") make the whole act slightly less evil than it would have been without that protective intent.

Anonymous said...

Mrs. McKinley wrote: "When two people approach the Sacrament of Marriage, if the male is for some reason impotent or unable to give life or the woman unable to receive life - the teaching is that they are not eligible for the Sacrament of Marriage."
Whose "teaching"?
Female infertility is not and never has been an impediment to marriage. If the fact of her infertility is known by the woman before marriage, it must be disclosed to the man, and if it is not, it could be the basis for annulment on grounds of deception.
What is at stake for validity is the ability to consummate the marriage by performing the marital act, which is the "matter" of the sacrament, not its reproductive outcome. What constitutes an impediment is, in almost all cases, male impotence, though certain very rare structural anomalies in a woman night also interfere.
I think it is very important to point this out, since some young women reading this blog might mistakenly think themselves disqualified from marriage based on misinformation.

Carol McKinley said...

Thank you for posting this correction, which indeed is very important distinction. I have made the correction to the post.

Anonymous said...

Dear Carol,
Thank you for accepting my earlier correction. I agree that misinterpretations of the Pope's remarks could lead to a serious malformation of Catholic consciences (Of course, the Pope's remarks were delivered "off the cuff," as it were, and without the precision possible in a formal teaching document; nonetheless, he did have a chance to edit them before publication and he chose not to strike or materially alter them, it would appear, since this is not a random press interview, but a book which he he himself chose to publish through his usual U. S. publisher.
There are several statements you made in your original post which seem to me to be in need of some clarification or correction. This is a difficult and complex area, so it is easy to make mistakes. Your wrote:
"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."
First of all, if the Pope thought of this as a "dramatic development," he would not have announced it in such a informal and relatively off-hand way. He did so, I think, because the possible application of the Principle of Double Effect, ancient and venerable in the field of Catholic moral teaching, had recently been much discussed in Vatican circles in connection with the question of limiting the spread of AIDS. This discussion is mention by John Allen in the article and has been known for some time to Catholic moral theologians, some of whom had been solicited for their opinions. It is possible that the Pope had rather lost track of how far this discussion had gone from normal public perceptions, but what was being proposed was not untraditional or revolutionary.
[Commentary continued in another posting.]

Anonymous said...

Dear Carol,

You wrote further, "Each act of marital intimacy is supposed to be open to life." This is not exactly the teaching of the Church, since in that case intercourse within a marriage, where one or both of the couple was known to be sterile (which can happen for any number of causes over which control cannot be exercised), would be sinful, and this is not held to be the case. The requirement is that the operation of the reproductive process be allowed to proceed naturally in each instance and not be artificially interfered with.

"There is some controversy about whether NFP (Natural Family Planning) even violates this principle." This calls into question the truthfulness of the ordinary Magisterium, which is something I'm sure you would not want to do. It is preposterous to claim that something is allowed only on the grounds that it might not work! I know that there are moral rigorists who question the legitimacy of NFP, but their opinion goes beyond the teaching of the Church.

"These new purported papal explanations ..."

I do not think they can any longer be "purported," since they are there in the book, according to Ignatius Press and L'Osservatore Romano, who are likey to meet the classic citeria of "scientes et veraces."
"... would signal a change in the meaning and definition of sexuality to an expression of intimacy and pleasure." No, they would not; they would merely represent the application of a traditional moral principle to the same facts viewed within the same framework of moral teaching.

[Commentary continued in another posting.]

Anonymous said...

Dear Carol,

You wrote, "If the medical condition of HIV is going to be an exception..." which it would not be, for the reason explained in previous postings. " ... a condition that is mostly spread by promiscuity..." There are innumerble ways to contract HIV/AIDS, including accidents in the performance of the corporal works of mercy. But even if the cause of infection in any given instance had been sinful (through promiscuity or intravenous drug use) anyone now concerned to follow the Church's teaching would likely have repented of earlier immoral behavior and be confronted, in a state of grace, with the question of how to meet his marital obligation without endangering the life of his or her spouse.
"... there would certainly also be exceptions [not exceptions, but applications of the same principle] to other medical conditions." Certainly possible, but not inconsistent with the Church's tradition.

I know (as his Holiness must also certainly know) that the overdue application of the Principle of Double Effect to this question will be ballyhooed in the secular press as a "revolutionary change" in the Church's doctrine and as a concession to the wisdom of the World, and as a challenge to the doctrine of Infallibility. Catholics should simply point to the facts and insist that, properly understood, it is none of these.

Carol McKinley said...

Thanks for your thoughts. I'm not sure we are looking at the situation from the same perspective. Of course, the person may have repented and now in a state of Grace but there is equal chance they are not at all repentant about their behavior - especially if they are pressing their partner to have sexual relations with a leper wearing a 'condom' which has a great chance of infecting her. Not my idea of somebody who recognizes the consequences of his actions. (and I stand by the statement that most contract HIV through sexual promiscuity).

To announce publicly that condoms are permissible (rather than handle the situation as a private dispensation) would place hundreds of thousands of women at risk for contracting HIV who are not at risk now because those couples are practicing celibacy.

My 'dramatic development' was tongue in cheek.

I am aware of the conversations that have in the past taken place about permitting Catholics with HIV to use condoms. I will say that my sources in Rome tell me that John Allen is not exactly networked into the faithful theologians and Bishops. As an FYI, I would take what he says with a grain of salt. The 'double effect' teaching as it applies to sexually reckless men who insist on continuing to put others at risk instead of being celibate wil. no more be given a golden parachute, in my opinion, than a teaching saying Catholics should rob a bank with guns that have blanks instead of loaded bullets.

Here's what my sources tell me: A teaching that ultimately exposes women to partners who are HIV infected thereby increasing their chances to contract HIV is not going to happen, some of them enumerated in my post.

I am guessing that the Pope is talking about "intent". The intention behind wearing a condom when you selfishly make a decision to put your partner at risk for contracting HIV, demonstrates there is a spark of grace and the hope is, that spark will start a fire.

People who see the off the cuff statements of the Pope as an indication he is contemplating annoucing the use of condoms for prostitutes and sexually irresponsible and promiscuous people is bizarre.

In terms of a couple who are 'sterile' -- those couples are still open to life - St. Elizabeth was 'sterile' so I can't follow your thesis on that one.

Re: NFP - According to some reputable and faithful theologians NFP is meant to assist couples to get pregnant and was never meant to be used to plan pregnancy. There are many things that get In no way are they saying that the Magisterium is flawed, they are saying this is another thing that has been hijacked (like the 40 years where the majority of US Bishops claimed the Latin Mass was forbidden, Canon 915 does not have to be enforced - etc.

I was not taking any position on this - I was simply reporting it.

I already have pursued the answer to this with various people but I am interested in your perspective. When a man becomes impotent later into the marriage, many well-respected priests and theologians are telling them that they have to live like brother and sister. Once a man becomes impotent, there can not be any kind of sexual activity between them because the activity cannot lead to the end game. People are being told this even when they are in their 50's and 60's. I'm interested to hear your thoughts on this.

Anonymous said...

Why didn't the passage get spotted as "controversial" or "troublesome" and removed somewhere along the line? I.e., by the German author of the book, or by the editor/publisher of the German edition, or by the translator from German to Italian, or by the editor/publisher of the Italian edition, by the translator from Italian to English, or by the editor/publisher of the English edition (viz., Fr. Fessio's Ignatius Press)!

Jerry said...

Dirty. The man is dirty. I'm utterly disgusted and horrified at what Pope Benedict has done to the Universal Church. This wasn't some casual musings, which would be bad enough. It now comes out that he wants to "kick-start a debate" on prophylactics and AIDS. A debate? On doctrine? On a highly contentious topic that has been resolutely ruled in the negative over and over again? But this isn't the dirty part.

What Bernardin and Hehir could only have dreamed of, Pope Benedict was able to accomplish on a world-wide scale. He has insinuated into the minds of billions the hideous image of a sodomite for hire, his diseased organ, and a latex sheath. And not just content with the image, he proposes a thought to go with it, encouraging all to dwell further on a repulsive act with the hope of finding a positive aspect to it! Of all the things that should never be mentioned, and all the scenes that should never be imagined! Was it O'Malley? Or Mahoney? No. The pope, THE POPE, has impressed it on our minds! To what end? To what end?

And there's more to come! This was a deliberate, premeditated action by the pope that he plans to continue. He has created a panel to launch a discussion. And of all the men available for the panel, Benedict has chosen Msgr. Fisichella who, you may recall, chastized a Brazilian bishop for excommunicating abortionists! It makes one wonder just what the pope has in mind for this panel. Maybe delving into "hard cases" of the 5th and 6th Commandments? Where is all this going?

This is dirty. This is scandalous. Souls will be lost. Pray.

Carol McKinley said...


I don't believe for a minute that the Pope wanted to kick start debate. That was from an anonymous source that I don't believe to be in the loop at what is happening at the top.

There has been an influential group in Rome that has tried to get a policy on condoms out there but they did not get through the many faithful priests and Bishops working and the Pope working in Rome. I believe this was an off the cuff remark about morality and grace but it was very poorly worded in context. Hopefully, he will realize the atomic bomb to souls and get a more substantive clarification out there.

I'm sure he is devastated. Let's keep him in our prayers.