20 November 2010

OMG! The Pope says condoms are OK!!!

The Pelvic Obsessed Media are going bat crazy over the Pope's "changing his mind" on the morality of condom use.  No such change has occurred.  The use of artificial contraception within the bonds of marriage for the prevention of procreation is always intrinsically morally evil.  Sex outside the bonds of marriage is always intrinsically morally evil, so the Church has never felt it necessary to say anything about the use of contraception when it comes to adultery, pre-martial sex, same-sex sexual activity, etc.  

What the Church has said about condom use to prevent disease is this:  it is not a fool-proof means for preventing the spread of STD's.  Only sexual abstinence is 100% guaranteed to prevent the transmission of diseases contracted through sexual activity.  The only "change" here is that BXVI is saying out loud what common sense and logic dictates.  In cases where one sexual partner is infected with an STD, it might be morally permissible to use a condom in order to protect the uninfected partner.  

When it comes to making moral choices intention is vital.  If you are married and you use condoms with the intention of preventing pregnancy, you are intending a morally evil act.  If you aren't married and you use condoms. . .well, you are already engaging in a morally evil act--sex outside the bonds of marriage.  The Church has never addressed the issue of whether or not artificial contraception is permissible outside of marriage.  Why?  Because sex outside of marriage is always morally evil.  For the Church to say, "Yea, it's OK (or not) to use condoms if you're gonna fornicate or commit adultery" would be strange.  

What about a case where a husband or wife commits adultery and contracts an STD? Is it morally permissible for them to use a condom?  If the intention is to prevent the uninfected partner from disease, I'd say yes.  We might even go so far as to say that not using a condom would be morally evil.  Under the circumstances, the best option for them would be sexual abstinence, especially if there is a chance that a child might be irreparably damaged by the disease.

The example that BXVI uses to illustrate his point is telling:  a male prostitute who uses condoms to prevent STD's.  The Pope says the guy is showing some moral awareness by using condoms. He is already engaged in a morally evil business, so taking steps to lessen the evil consequences of his chosen occupation demonstrates that there is a spark of conscience at work. 

Bottom-line:  nothing has changed.  The whole "Pope shifts his position on condoms" meme sells papers.  Nothing more. 

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  1. I disagree that condoms can be used if a couple is married to prevent disease because the condom usage is an offense against eros that cannot be justified by saying that disease prevention is the goal. Condoms are not a medical treatment for any disease, so a comparison between condoms and hormonal treatment with infertility as a side effect fails. It doesn't kill the disease while also killing sperm, making pregnancy unlikely. It is still evil and a deprivation of the love owed between the spouses, although I think you could make strong arguments for diminished culpability in choosing this particular evil.

    The entire point is to keep part of one person away from the other person, and that just isn't something you can have happen in the context of a sexual act. No matter how tragic it is, the disease is now part of the body of one partner, and you can't treat your spouse like a buffet saying "I would like the pleasure, emotional intimacy and sense of being one with you, but KEEP THAT AWAY FROM ME!" It's schizoid no matter how you cut it, even though there is disease involved. The sick spouse needs to have the humility to offer his or her broken, wounded self suffering from illness, not to pretend that there is no illness so as to purloin some small sense of the marital act while acting against eros from the outset.

    The potential that love will require excruciatingly painful choices is part of what we risk (rather, embrace) in marriage. Marriage cannot be a willing, living martyrdom for love of one's spouse where you get to say "OK, now *that* is a good enough reason for me to feign union but keep my sexual fluid away from you." There aren't good enough reasons to have sex and throw up barriers between partners like that. We love to the point of death, not until the point of "disease prevention" and then you can alter the sexual act because full consummation is too much to ask of the uninfected spouse and abstinence is hard.


  2. I see it as a publicity stunt to sell a book.

  3. Anonymous1:55 PM

    Father I ask you to please re-consider your statment that condom use might be moral to prevent STD transmission between a married couple. I understand the double-effect implications, I'm more worried about people's faith in technology. Let's say the husband recieved HIV through tainted blood transfusion. Now he is unable to have sex with his wife without a high chance of endangering her life. Using condoms does not eliminate that risk, but only reduces the risk. In this hypothetical the risk is low but still around 10%. So it is going to bed playing Russian Roulette. A true husband should understand that the risk is still too high to endanger his wife's health.

    Fr. Joshua

  4. Fr. Joshua,

    I wrote in the post above: "Under the circumstances, the best option for them would be sexual abstinence..."

    My example of the married couple is meant to point out that their intention in using a condom is to prevent disease not pregnancy. If this couple were real and they came to me for advice, I would urge them to abstain from sex.

    We have to keep in mind that the morally evil object of contraception is NOT condom use; it's the prevention of the natural end of sex: children. We've become rather stuck on when and why condoms can be used. The point is not to misuse the sexual act. Condoms are just a means of abusing sex.

  5. Jana, without having a real live couple in front of me telling me what's going on, I'd have say that culpability would be at or near zero.

    I can imagine circumstances where a young family would be devastated if the parents were to abstain from sex.

    Would it be moral, given your argument, for the couple to continue having sex w/o protection? If they told you that they were going to have sex regardless of the disease, would you tell them that it is morally better that they not risk further infection? How about children? Should they risk death, leaving the kids w/o parents?

  6. Fr. Philip, I would hold that it would be morally persmissable for them to *by mutual decision* have sex knowing the risks if they felt the extraordinary call to embrace the results of such a decision. I would argue that in ordinary cases, prudence would seem to be the most important virtue and prudence would require that you safeguard the health of the uninfected spouse.

    However, I do not preclude the possibility that a couple could be called to a heroic degree of generosity. We all vow a willingness to die for love when we marry. Every time a woman has sex with her husband, she chooses to love him, embracing whatever ends that means, including the difficulties of normal pregnancies, the agony of pregnancy or birth loss, and the possibility (however remote) that giving birth will cause her harm or even death.

    But we love anyways, because the person we have given ourselves to in love is worth everything that we have and are, without condition, to whatever end God calls us to. We die for eachother daily, in everything from being willing to pick up the socks left in the hallway with a cheerful heart to being willing to die for eachother. That's a fundamental part of marriage, and why it claims such nobility.

    It is a hard, agonizing, bloody mess, but that is exactly what marriage is, and while I know that I fall short constantly and failure to love completely is present in every marriage (in varying degrees of gravity) but I would not for the world claim that there is a single moment in which I can legitimately absolve myself from my responsibility to the love I vowed of my own free will when I married. If we can opt out because things are even stunningly difficult, how does martyrdom not become optional? I may not always live up to my vows, but the vow still stands and I would not alter it for the world nor would I ever claim that it could be morally *required* to objectively sin against the love owed between spouses to mitigate the consequences of love in extraordinary circumstances.

    And I agree that there would be very little to no culpability when people stumble beneath that particular cross, but a fall *is* a fall, and could not remotely be a moral imperative because of even the most extreme circumstances.

  7. And condoms and contraceptive usage are not only violations of the procreative meaning and end of sexuality. They are a profound violation of the unitive meaning of human sexuality, regardless of whether that couple is called to conceive a child at that particular point in time.

  8. Anonymous8:19 PM

    I re-read your post. I see what you were getting out now. Point taken.

    Fr. Joshua