Sunday, November 21, 2010

Did the Pope say it's okay to use condoms?

The BBC World Service - which is really the only news medium I get to listen to that I take seriously - has been leading on this story for twenty four hours. Which shows that whenever the word 'condom' is pronounced by the Pope, it gets headlines, and demonstrates yet another PR own-goal by the Vatican and its official newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.

I am grateful to a friend for emailing a link to the National Catholic Register that provides a useful analysis of what the Pope says in its full context, rather than the partial quotes by the BBC and L'Osservatore Romano.

The Pope's comments are made in a book entitled 'Light of the World' which will be published on Wednesday November 24th.

A few thoughts based on the NCR article. It is said that Pope Benedict writes:
It goes without saying that the Pope can have private opinions that are wrong.
I love our Holy Father dearly. I don't mind hearing his private opinions on economics, war, music..., but when he speaks on matters of faith and morals, particularly on such sensitive issues as the use of condoms, I'd rather not hear his private opinions that have the possibility of being wrong. He is always "Peter". I fear that these comments will leave the faithful confused - they have certainly led to confusion in the public media. Next week's Tablet will for sure hail the Pope as progressive and reasonable, and say that he is softening the Church's line on contraception, which is manifestly NOT the case.

Here is the full text of Pope Benedict's remarks, provided at Catholic World Report: I have inserted my respectful questionings of our beloved Holy Father's private opinion.
On the occasion of your trip to Africa in March 2009, the Vatican’s policy on AIDs once again became the target of media criticism.Twenty-five percent of all AIDs victims around the world today are treated in Catholic facilities. In some countries, such as Lesotho, for example, [I happen to know a couple of priests from Lesotho who told me that for a male to live beyond 35 is a miracle. The men go to South Africa to work in the mines, are unfaithful while away, and return home infected. These priests who minister to the bereaved families blame the widespread distribution of condoms for the spread of the AIDS virus as they encourage the men to take risks rather than being faithful to their wives.] the statistic is 40 percent. In Africa you stated that the Church’s traditional teaching has proven to be the only sure way to stop the spread of HIV. Critics, including critics from the Church’s own ranks, object that it is madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms.

The media coverage completely ignored the rest of the trip to Africa on account of a single statement. Someone had asked me why the Catholic Church adopts an unrealistic and ineffective position on AIDs. At that point, I really felt that I was being provoked, because the Church does more than anyone else. And I stand by that claim. Because she is the only institution that assists people up close and concretely, with prevention, education, help, counsel, and accompaniment. And because she is second to none in treating so many AIDs victims, especially children with AIDs.

I had the chance to visit one of these wards and to speak with the patients. That was the real answer: The Church does more than anyone else, because she does not speak from the tribunal of the newspapers, but helps her brothers and sisters where they are actually suffering. In my remarks I was not making a general statement about the condom issue, but merely said, and this is what caused such great offense, that we cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms. Much more needs to be done. [More? In addition to distributing condoms? Or is the solution something quite different?] We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help them; and we must do this both before and after they contract the disease.

As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone [alone? So they can be admitted as part of the solution?] do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. [Again, more? In addition to condom use or instead of?] Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work. This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.

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. [Ok, rather big interjection here. The Holy Father refers to an example of male prostitutes, presumably homosexual. The homosexual act is itself disordered. There is no discharge of semen into the vagina of a woman. There is no potential for conception. There is no prevention of conception. THIS IS NOT CONTRACEPTION. THERE IS NO 'SOFTENING' OF THE CHURCH'S TEACHING ON CONTRACEPTION. The use of a condom here is simply irrelevant from the sexual-moral point of view. If it prevents the transmission of the AIDS virus, so be it. But there is NO MODIFICATION OF THE (DISORDERED) END OF THIS "SEXUAL" ACT. I simply cannot make the link that Pope Benedict appears to make between condom use in this instance and 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 doe whatever one wants. Those involved continue to do that which is not allowed and whatever they want. The use of the condom can hardly be considered a virtuous act, thinking of the partner rather than of oneself. The male prostitute will be thinking primarily of his own health. It will therefore be selfishly motivated. The homosexual act remains intrinsically evil, although the evil effects are possibly mitigated. And possibly is a very important word here. Condoms have to be used properly and they have to be faultless. And the increasing frequency of sexual encounters that will result with the false sense of security that condom use provides increases the risk of infection and reinforces the bad habit or vice of disordered sexual acts. Condom use will provide little if any incentive to modify behaviour.] That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality. [And what does this mean? This must be spelt out. Namely: sex is intrinsically ordered towards the procreation of human life in the stable loving (ideally) relationship we call marriage between a man and a woman. Any other way or context of performing the sexual act is intrinsically unhuman.]

Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, [agreed, it is not a moral solution] but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality. [Holy Father, since you allow me the freedom to do so, I respectfully disagree. I cannot see how the introduction of a condom into sodomic relations is in any way a first step in a movement toward a more human way of living sexuality. Such relations are absolutely not a human way of living sexuality. All condom use does is aim to prevent one of the evil consequences of such relations.]
The Catholic blogs and orthodox media will try to defend Pope Benedict's comments. But I think we now have a major problem on our hands. Already, on the BBC World Service news, a spokesman for a US-based dissident group has said how reasonable Pope Benedict is and how his group welcomes the Pope's more moderate views on contraception. It needs to be stated loud and clear that Pope Benedict IS NOT TALKING ABOUT CONTRACEPTION.

However, his comments will naturally lead to questions concerning the case of a married couple in which one of the spouses is infected with the AIDS virus. What then? What is the human expression of sexuality? Is it to use a condom? This is a very different case. The truly human expression of sexuality in this case is to abstain. This will need to be addressed.

And what about female prostitutes? Is there any trace of humanization in their sexual encounters? Is the use of condoms in their case 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?

You can read an alternative analysis by the esteemed Janet E. Smith (who holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit and is serving a third term as a consultor to the Pontifical Council on the Family): What does the Holy Father really say about condoms in the new book? I acknowledge that Professor Smith is far more competent than I am to comment on this matter, but I find her argument unconvincing.

I take this opportunity of renewing my profound love for Pope Benedict. Long may he reign and be protected from his enemies.


  1. I suppose you argue that the infected prostitute without the condom is breaking both 5th and 6th commandments. With the condom the infected prostitute is only breaking the 6th. Which is an improvement.
    I think we should wait. Damien Thompson made a fool of himself by being too hasty. Amy Welborn promises that with the publication of the full book the "conversation will be flipped on it's head".
    This gross incompetence on the part of Vatican media machine.

  2. Can anyone imagine a pre-conciliar pope making this monumental gaffe? What the Holy Father says is typical ambiguous Vatican II-speak: confuse the truth with a hint of error.

  3. Although I shook my head and sighed in dismay when I first learned about the Pope’s comments since I felt (and feel) that they bestowed upon us with a tremendous problem with the secular media and those Catholics who have longed for any recognition of condom use as a moral act. However I simultaneously saw in the Pope’s words exactly what Dr Smith of Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit is suggesting: that the Pope is speaking of “the psychological state of some who might use condoms”(Smith) since he states that the Church itself “does not regard it [condom use] as a real or moral solution” before he says that “there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a...more human way of living sexuality” . He might just as easily have said “a first movement in grace towards a human way of living sexuality”. The prostitute’s intention is after all, an interior, psychological thing, and a possible indication of his/her growth in grace leading ultimately to a full change of behaviour.
    I feel sure the Pope is aware that he is one of the most controversial Popes of the last 100 years, which I think should be leading him and his advisors to recognise that he must be less amenable as Pope than he was as a Cardinal. Sometimes one’s personality traits (friendliness and openness) have to be held in check when one holds the highest office on earth.

  4. Dear Father, I thank you very much for this post.

  5. I read this as saying merely that in some cases the use of a condom could be an bad expression of a good intention.

    E.g. a band of robbers deciding for the first time to nip back and finish off a seriously wounded victim, rather than leaving him for the cold/heat/wolves/jackals. Bad, but caused by a sort of movement of pity. The same thing in this case: it's not okay, but it is caused by something that is good, namely, a thought for the welfare of another person.

    The context also suggests this interpretation. The HF says "This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality". In the example he gives, the condom is the least of the problems, and happens to be an unfortunate result of a positive development, and to concentrate on the condom (as EVERYONE is doing in the press and the blogs - HF's point proven, I think!)is a mistake.

    That's what the text seems to say. Trying to read it as a statement on the liceity (is that the word?) of condom use in situation X is, it seems to me, to entirely miss the point.

    (incidentally, if he did have sodomy in mind, then the condom is morally speaking irrelevant, is it not? It has no contraceptive function.)

  6. MP O'Regan: I think it's a bit casuistic to weigh things up in terms of just trying to reduce the number of commandments one is breaking.

    Father Gary: can we really say that grace is motivating the condom user? Is it not simply self-interest? I am also not convinced the psychological argument used, and which I guess the Holy Father had in mind. Will the use of a concom be a path to withdrawing from a dehumanised way of expressing sexuality?

    I still fear this has been a gaffe. When explaining the morality or non-morality of condom use, a full exposition of the topic must be given. The Pope's teaching needs to be clear and statements made which cannot be misinterpreted, and always made with the media in mind for they are the ones most people hear from, not directly from the Pope.

    Am watching the debate with interest - I hope my fears prove to be groundless.

  7. Theresa Sinclair22 November, 2010 06:47

    Father, I followed your commentary with interest. What do you make of the fact that our Holy Father spoke of the dangers of "no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love"? Is admitting the moral propriety of this dimension of sexuality not as significant a departure from official teaching as his remarks on condoms?

  8. It's difficult to see how Catholics can debate in the public square given the state of both constituencies. I say we go back to the catacombs which is where we should have stayed. The Church is paying too high a price to have the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster invited to royal weddings. This latter occurrence being the manner by which the success of the Second Vatican council is measured by the likes of Professor Eamon Duffy. In any event, the "Axis of Evil" list is now so long, it's difficult to see how a major international conflict can be avoided. Technically, the Irish Republic are now on that list and certainly being treated as such by the 'international community' as in the banks. Who the heck is there to engage in Britain when all one sees is the schadenfreude which greets what is happening in Ireland? What value add is there now left in the Second Vatican council project? It's a busted flush and Benedict XVI seems constitutionally incapable of admitting it.

  9. Hmmm…much to ponder in all of this: Pope’s private opinions – Magisterium – Lesser evil – Principle of Double Effect – AIDS - Fidelity – Abstinence, etc. And one more thing: agendas…

    Taking just the last item. What was l’Osservatore Romano thinking in publishing this specific extract and at this particular time (the eve of the consistory)? In giving advance copies of the book to various entities the publisher – Libreraria Editrice Vaticana – the understanding was that extracts from the book would not be published before the official release of the book on Wednesday of this week.

    But l’Osservatore contravened that understanding and - in a manner more representative of a News of the World or The Sun tabloid publication – picks the one section most apt to provoke worldwide attention and controversy.

    It’s hard not to think that there was an ulterior motive in this – designed to embarrass or damage the authority of the Holy Father – by some in the Vatican who are opposed to the Holy Father’s approach.

    That said, while the Holy Father’s example initially raises eyebrows, I think in the long run there will be benefits from his words. Just as in the past (Regensburg, the Williamson affair, etc.), what initially was widely perceived as ‘disastrous’ resulted in more in depth discussion and clarification.

    The rumors of the Holy Father’s ‘demise’ are usually exaggerated…!

  10. Theresa: sexuality is surely and undoubtedly an expression of love when exercised in a natural and human manner, i.e. between husband and wife as an act of self giving open to the possibility of - if not with the actual intention of - procreation of new human life. I'm not saying the Pope has departed from Catholic teaching but that he has left us confused. His remarks appear to be imprecise. But I'm not the academic or philosopher that he is.

    Sadie Vacantist: I don't get your tirade.

    GOR: I haven't seen the L'OR article so am unable to comment on the selective nature of the quotes. For sure this would have blown up anyway. I hope you are right - that the teaching will be clearer...

  11. GOR: Has not l’Osservatore Romano been given a new Editor in recent times? - somebody more media-savvy, more with the times, cooler. So what can we expect other than scoops, sound bites and sensationalism which will sell the paper but be careless about the truth. Oh dear - it might have been a trifle too staid in the past but cannot it not achieve a serious balance?
    One wonders if the bean counters have not been at it and it is now regarded as a profit centre or some similar managerial idiocy.

    Nicolas Bellord

  12. Thank you Father. This has helped me get my tired brain to grasp what is going on.
    While I see the idea of an evil act being mildly mitigated by a less than evil intent- I just wonder why it had to said in such a ways as to be so comfusing and just feed the media sharks.
    But then the Holy Father is always going to be a target of their nastiness- it must be hard to avoid.

  13. Yes Father, it would have blown up anyway. I just think there was no need for l’OR to light the fuse!

    Now as to clarification, here’s the thing. People will conclude that as the Pope ‘approved’ condoms in one scenario (he didn’t approve of it, but they will be told and may believe he did), others will jump to the conclusion that then it is also approved in other scenarios.

    And someone already appears to have done so – Austin Ivereigh in America magazine – saying: “The point is obvious that -- not to put too fine a point on it-- a condom used between two men can hardly be considered contraceptive in its purpose; and the same would be true if a husband who returns from the mines infected with HIV uses one to stop his wife getting infected.”

    Certainly he’s right that the intention may not be contraceptive, but the effect certainly is. It would appear that he is invoking the Principle of Double Effect. But does it meet the conditions for that principle? And while there is another albeit unattractive and difficult way to preserve the wife’s health – abstinence – is the use of a condom in this case morally justified?

    So I’m hoping that this incident will result in some clarifications issuing from the Vatican – and not just in sound bites. Perhaps this will serve to resurrect and complete that study on the condom issue which was initiated and subsequently shelved by the Vatican.

  14. Please read this : from Fr. A.M.

    "In this the Pope does not reform or change Church teaching, but reaffirms it, placing it in the perspective of the value and dignity of human sexuality as an expression of love and responsibility.

    "At the same time the Pope considers an exceptional circumstance in which the exercise of sexuality represents a real threat to another person's life. In such a case, the Pope does not morally justify the disordered practice of sexuality but maintains that the use of a condom to reduce the danger of infection can be 'a first act of responsibility', 'a first step on the road toward a more human sexuality', rather than not using it and exposing the other person to a mortal risk.

    "In this, the reasoning of the Pope certainly cannot be defined as a revolutionary change.

    "Many moral theologians and authoritative ecclesiastical figures have supported and support similar positions; it is nevertheless true that we have not heard this with such clarity from the mouth of the Pope, even in an informal and non-magisterial form.

    "Thus Benedict XVI courageously makes an important contribution to help us clarify and more deeply understand a long-debated question. His is an original contribution, because, on the one hand, it remains faithful to moral principles and transparently refutes illusory paths such as that of 'faith in condoms'; on the other hand, however, it manifests a comprehensive and farsighted vision, attentive to recognising the small steps (though only initial and still confused) of an often spiritually- and culturally-impoverished humanity, toward a more human and responsible exercise of sexuality".
    OP/ VIS 20101122 (630)

  15. It could be useful to look at the issue in terms of "marginal contribution to sinfulness".

    In the case of marital sexual relations, the contribution of the use of a condom to sinfulness is 100%, since it turns an otherwise good act into a sin.

    Consider now an act of adultery or fornication, which is a grave sin in itself. In my view, such an act does not become substantially more sinful if a condom is used. In economics' terms, the marginal contribution to sinfulness of the use of a condom in an already morally illicit sexual relation is not significant.

    And if there is a risk that one of the persons participating in that relation might be infected with an STD, there is no marginal contribution to sinfulness at all, (and it could actually be a negative marginal contribution to sinfulness, as the Pope said, although of course not nearly significant to balance the illicitness of the relation).

  16. "I don't get your tirade"

    It's not that difficult and it is not a tirade, thank you very much.

    1) The Vatican II project of reaching out to engage the World is futile.

    2) Things are so bad in the World that Ireland's treatment at the hands of the bankers effectively means that they have joined 'the axis of evil' as their country is about to trashed. Pray tell how can such a World can be engaged when that sort of thing is happening?

    3) Things are so bad in the Church that even the OR is briefing against the Pope.

    4) Conclusion: the Church should shut up and go underground.

  17. santoeusebio: Yes, Gian Maria Vian was appointed Editor of l’Osservatore Romano in 2007 and his goal was to ‘modernize’ the paper. Some would say he has succeeded too well - ‘modernize’ being close to modernism…! The paper has had a few gaffes. Some were serious as, for example, praising Obama as an ‘anti-abortion president’ and the Archbishop Fisichella incident. Others just plain dumb – like saying Bart Simpson was Catholic!

    While the OR is not the official voice of the Church, it is considered ‘the Pope’s newspaper’ and the Vatican Secretariat of State has some input and oversight into what is published there. So, when gaffes are made it does reflect on the inner workings of the Vatican and, ultimately, the Holy Father.

  18. I thank God for the Holy Father's carefully considered words.

    From the line taken in this post, I presume that having a hysterectomy would be forbidden because while it would normally done as a health measure, for example to avoid death by cancer, it is intrinsically a contraceptive act of the highest order?

    The Holy Father rightly distinguishes between contraception and actions taken to preserve health, even one's own (which isn't selfish but a moral requirement that all of us are expected to take, which is why smoking for example is a serious matter for the morally aware Catholic).

    Sadly, this post and many of the comments made, simply make the distinction blurred by effectively getting upset because in their minds condoms always mean contraception. The distinction in what the Holy Father, and on the world's media, has been very clear. It is a great PR coup in fact, to get the world discussing this seriously with respect to the Church, a sensitivity to the nuance of the Pope's comments and perhaps the chance to show that Catholic moral teaching is about grace in a fallen, deadly world where all of us, even the morally virtuous, only find our way to God through incremental steps from vice to glory.

  19. Hysterectomy is not an intrinsically contraceptive act. An unavoidable consequence is that conception can no longer occur. In this case, it is the intention that determines the morality of the act. If the intention is to heal, the procedure is a healing act, a good act, with an unintended consequence (that is, really, morally neutral). If the intention is to avoid conception, the removal of a healthy womb would be an act of mutilation, a bad act.

  20. I think my post was very clear that the Pope was not talking about contraception. The central point that I disagree with His Holiness on is that the use of condoms (by male prostitutes) 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 or a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.

  21. GOR: I agree with you that Austin Ivereigh is wrong to invoke the principle of double effect in the case of an infected spouse using a condom to prevent the transmision of a STD to their spouse. The use of a condom in heterosexual (married) relations is of its very nature contraceptive. It therefore renders the sexual act unhuman and is therefore a move away from the humanization of sexuality. It also has the effect of, hopefully, preventing the transmission of the STD. But the act is of its very nature unhuman, not unhuman by means of a double effect. The only morally justifiable way for an infected partner to prevent the transmission of the STD to his/her partner is to abstain.

    In my opinion!

    Of course, now there will probably be a move towards resolving this problem at Magisterial level.

  22. This is from the blog "A Minor Friar" by Fr. Charles, OFM. It seems spot on, with the additional advantage of being succinct:

    The press and everyone else are having fun with this one.

    Last night I heard (from a regular commenter on this blog, no less) a fine analogy to what Benedict seems to have said on the moral level: When robbing a bank, just don't shoot the teller.

    In other words, the sort of case that the Pope seems to raise is already cut off from openness to new life and is already a case of compounded disorder, injustice, and misery. In such a case, perhaps using a condom to (perhaps) prevent the transmission of HIV could mitigate the tragedy of the whole business and be the beginning of a journey to real morality.

    The problem with contraception is that it attempts to divide the unitive and life-giving powers of sexuality. The rotten fruit of this separation--which has been more or less accomplished in our culture--is in evidence all around us. In the sad and sinful case in which the Pope is speaking, neither of these powers is present in the first place, so there is nothing to frustrate through the use of a condom.

  23. And I agree with this. But the Pope said the use of a condom by a male prostitute might be a first step towards the humanisation of sexuality. And that I can't get. "the analogy of the bank robber is getting a bit tedious. If you take a gun you intend to use it if in a jam. And if you don't load it with bullets what use is it?" If the Pope had simply said: sodomy is an evil act, the use or no of a condom doesn't affect the evil nature of the act. And any one with half a brain would seek to limit the evil consequences of an evil act..." things would be clearer. But I think it was not wise for the Pope to use such a non-magisterial means of communicating a moral theological opinion.

  24. I can understand, from these sparse and stand-alone excerpts, how confusion has been created. But, for me, it seemed clear that the Pope was not endorsing the use of condoms. Yet, I can see how his words, with all their qualifying clauses and sub-clauses, could be seen as ambiguous. The BBC website has commissioned a piece by John Allen which says one thing and then another, so it seems he is also confused and further muddies the waters.

    For myself, when I read the "more could be done" section, I inferred that the Pope was reiterating what he had previously said, that in no way were condoms "the" or even a part solution to the AIDS/HIV epidemic and that the solution lay elsewhere. But his words, I admit , could be taken to mean something else.

    Problem 1: The Pope thinks and speaks like an academic, not a seasoned media performer. He may also have forgotten he was not just speaking one-to-one to a Catholic writer he knows well but to the world. That would be naiveté on his part and he wouldn't be the first. He just doesn't know how to do sound-bites but, at the moment, that is what we have been presented with, sans context.

    Problem 2, and I'm not sure I go along 100% with a stitch-up theory, though it's possible, it may be that the editor of L'Osservatore let his journalistic nose for a scoop overcome a deeper and more analytical reading. As a result, the Holy Father has suffered a grave disservice. I imagine that the book itself was probably proof-read at The Vatican but the ensuing story was not.

    As to the reference to condom use by a homosexual, my take on it (only in translation) was that if a man began to think about how - notwithstanding that it is an immoral act - he might cause harm to another it might be the first sign that base metal could turn into gold; in other words the beginning of spiritual and actual reformation. In that, the Pope would have been pointing out, as did Christ, that there is always the possibility of redemption.

    I agree that there needs to be clarification, but I can already hear the shrieking when the secular world realises that the Pope was not striking a deal with the devil.

  25. Andy Piacente aka Doria2 Yonkers, NY23 November, 2010 04:51

    Andy Piacente aka Doria2

    A poster above hit the proverbial nail when he said, "Typically abiguous Vatican twospeak." It's killing us.

  26. Thank you, Father. "The Remnant" has linked to you, CWR and Lifesite, but you are the one who, with all due respect to the others, is seeing this clearly. I have added a couple of comments to the CWR page that I won't duplicate here.

  27. Fr Gary: I may be contacted at jboyle1502 at gmail dot com. I would be glad to hear from you. Thanks for your message.

  28. Thank you Fr. Boyle, I also support and love our Holy Father very much. But I disagree also with what he said. Unfortunately this is causing so much confusion and heartache in the Church.

  29. While it is true that the Pope said the use of a condom might be a first step towards the humanisation of sexuality, it is still possible that he meant the good but misguided intention behind doing so. I consider this the most likely meaning of what he has said because he tells us that condoms make the problem of AIDS worse, that they are not an authentic solution and that they are not a MORAL solution. The Pope doesn't speak nonsense; he cannot say using condoms "can be a first step in the direction of a moralization" of a person, but it is immoral!
    He can however suggest that the desire of a prostitute (presumably he means one who is HIV+) to protect another can be the first signs of an awakening conscience in that man.
    Read aas referring to the good shown by the misguided INTENTION of the prostitute the whole text makes much better sense and is also consistent with everything else the Holy Father says in this and other texts about condoms.
    Saying he reccomends condoms or approves them or thinks to use them in this case is better than not too, doesn't add up with other parts of the text itself (they are not moral) or with anything he has previously said.

  30. This whole situation stinks to high Heaven, and all the Holy Father has really done is to put yet another terrible burden on us hapless Catholics who are trying to hang on to things as best we can and to defend the Faith to a secular world.

    It is not surprising to see people like Dr Smith defending the Pope's idiotic - yes, idiotic - remarks. She is a big proponent of another misguided papal initiative, John Paul II's ludicrous "theology of the body" which, in this day and age, only serves to throw gasoline on a roaring fire. Dr Smith, as intelligent as she obviously is, has a blind side when it comes to the sexual ideas of recent Popes. She defends the indefensible.

    And so many others are quick to jump to the defense of the Pope without a prudent waiting period. The fact that the secular world sees this clearly - and that it has sent shockwaves worldwide - should be enough for us Catholics to see that we now have an extremely serious problem to deal with.

    Thank you, Father Boyle, for your thoughtful remarks.

  31. The Holy Father is clearly talking about the intention to limit harm as 'the first step' not condom use per se. " There can be nonetheless, in the *** intention *** of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality."

  32. Dan

    Clearly there is now confusion. Yet I do not think it is fair to condemn Pope John Paul II's 'Theology of the Body' for I believe this very theology upholds and promotes a true humanization of human sexuality. There may be some aspects here and there that one can disagree with - matters that come within theological opinion - but I cannot see that it merits ridicule. Janet Smith is a foremost promoter of sound Catholic morality. I do not dismiss her argument but, having read through it, do not accept it, recognising my inferior expertise in the field.

    Ben Trovato and others: taking steps short of changing behaviour to reduce the risk of infection could also be seen as a means of seeking ways to continue such an inhuman way of living sexuality without the risk. It is therefore a means of continuing irresponsibility.

    Not unlike using contraception to continue engaging in illicit sexual intercourse while avoiding the responsibility of a child. Whilst a child is a good being avoided and infection is an evil being avoided, the irresponsibility is present in both scenarios.

    Which, of course, Pope John Paul's Theology of the Body addresses comprehensively.


  33. To all the young people out there the Church has essentially authorized the advice that "if you're going to do it use protection". Thanks to the total lack of Catholic grounding that is how it will be interpreted.

    This is what the Church has been pilloried for rejecting for years, and as far as the practical result of what has been said, whatever sophistical evasions are used to preserve the "orthodoxy" of the statement, the Church has in the eyes of the world, at least, endorsed condom use and we know that Pope is not going to put much effort into disabusing them of that notion.

  34. Father, as others have stated, what the Pope has stated is in line with past teachings. The Catholic faith can only be understood in the light of the hermeneutic of continuity so it is impossible for the Pope to deny past infallible teachings.

    Intrinsic evil is always intrinsic evil, but who among us can go a single day without committing a single evil act? Who among us is not in need of at least the occasional confession?

    I am not guilty of any of the major sins (at least if I do commit major sins, I am blind to them), but the sins that I do commit are very hard to overcome. Even a little progress on these sins are a major accomplishment. Even seeing where I was blind is also major accomplishment.

    The people in the Pope's example are extremely lost in evil. If they are not commended when they take a baby step out of evil (with the stipulation that they still have a long journey ahead of them to break free from evil), they will never leave their evil ways because the baby step is all they are able to give and they are too spiritually weak to give more. But just as a baby eventually learns to walk, then run, so can the lost be strengthened to walk then run from evil.

    The Pope is addressing this aspect of sin. Jesus walked among the sinners while they were still sinners. He didn't excuse the sin or leave them in sin, but he did love and strengthen them so that they could escape sin.

    I'm not explaining myself well, but I hope that I'm clear enough.

  35. Oh, one more thing. The Church must speak the truth in love even though are those who try to pervert that truth. If the Church cannot speak the truth because it might be misunderstood, then the Church has stopped being the light of the world and instead become like the wicked servant who buried his talents so as not to risk loss.

  36. Father Boyle thank you for your commentary. I was very distressed when I heard the news but knowing there are good solid priests out there like you gives me hope.

  37. Father, it *could* be seen, and perhaps is, but the HF was saying that it *could* be an expression of positive inner change. And that's all he said.

  38. Anonymous at 21:05 on 23/11/10 - I find myself sympathising with your analysis more than that of, for example, Michael Matt. "Sophistical evasions" are what I am reading, or, alternatively, the fallacy of reasoning known as the appeal to prestige. (Effectively, "You're not clever enough to understand what the Holy Father said".)

  39. All I can say is that as a mother of six children who has undergone numerous miscarriages, surgeries, sacrifices and difficulties to be open to life and remain faithful to the Church’s teaching on marriage and procreation, I’m exceedingly troubled by the Holy Father apparent endorsement of condom use as the lesser of two evils.

    By opening the exception of condom use to heterosexuals where procreation is indeed an issue, are we now to assume that Section 14 (below) of Humanae Vitae is now irrelevant?

    “Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good,” it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (18)—in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general.”

  40. Many commentators are saying that the Pope was just talking about intentions. I.e. the intention not to spread HIV is a good one and that he did not approve the use of a condom. Fr Lombardi then issued a statement where he said:

    In such a case, the Pope does not morally justify the disordered practice of sexuality but maintains that the use of a condom to reduce the danger of infection can be 'a first act of responsibility', 'a first step on the road toward a more human sexuality', rather than not using it and exposing the other person to a mortal risk..

    The words which I have emboldened starting with "rather" seem to me to put a gloss on the Pope's words which is unjustified. Lombardi is saying that the first step is the use of the condom rather than the intention. That is not what the Pope said.

    That having been said many commentators fell back on the argument that the Pope was only talking about male prostitutes presumably in some homosexual act where the use of a condom cannot be contraceptive and is therefore morally indifferent.

    But then Lombardi claims that the Pope did not necessarily mean just male prostitutes but female as well and throws in transsexuals as well (which the Pope certainly did not mention) just to add to the confusion.

    Thus commentators are thrown back on the intention only argument.

    I wonder whether the problem is not Lombardi SJ.

    Nicolas Bellord

  41. I agree 100% with Anonymous above. I feel betrayed, and feel the hardest thing of all is that my kids are laughing at me for having defended traditional teaching to them. They 'agree' with the Pope. They support condoms. They now feel justified in this. I am shattered and so sad. J. McGirr

  42. Dear Father:

    I do not wish to bore your readers by responding to your kind response to my post but I must respectfully point out that, irrespective of John Paul II's intentions (which were never made clear, since he wrote and spoke in a distictly ambiguous manner) his "theology of the body" is a disaster. I have attended some of these TOB "sessions" and have been uttely appalled at the flippancy, crudity and, yes, banality, of it all. And it really does no good to say that John Paul didn't intend it to go down to this level. Again, his intentions may have been noble but the results are, thus far, awful. And, I'm afraid, very predictable. He was not a stupid man; he should have known how this was going to end up.

    To repeat my analogy, you don't throw gasoline on a roaring fire; you don't throw a theology of sex exaltation on raging hormones, on young people being hit with every kind of vice, natural and unnatural, from all sides. I've read carefully what you've written but I can assure you that in practice young people look upon John Paul's TOB as a sign that the Church has finally got in the groove.

    But I thank you again for saying what needed to be said about Benedict's disastrous statements. God help him.

  43. If the Pope says that using a condom is "not a moral solution", then it must mean it is not a solution at all. If we take a moral realist stance (and I think we should), then a solution which is not moral is one that does not correspond objectively to the good. It is an illusory 'solution': "not a real solution" as he said. Therefore, the only thing left is the good intention in wanting to preserve someone else from harm, even if this is expressed in a mistaken choice.
    He has not said it is sometimes ok to use condoms.
    I agree with Clare (and Berenike)
    I respectfully have to disagree with you, Father.

  44. Any form of prostitution is evil. The use of condom is irrelevant. Otherwise, it becomes a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, a first step on the road toward a more 'human sexuality'(?), to distribute free condoms to all the perverts. There is no such thing as to sin in the right direction. It is not our business to comment on what the perverts do in their filthy bedroom!

    The lesser of two evils is a Protestant concept, not Catholic. It has no place in the history of Catholic moral teaching. We cannot choose the lesser of two evils because the lesser evil is still evil, and evil can never be the direct object of our will. Romans 3:8 condemns the principle that a person may do evil that good may come from it. St. Paul teaches that those who do so, their “damnation is just”. It is forbidden to do evil to achieve good.

  45. I'm afraid that the Holy Father's incomplete treatment of the subject will ease the consciences of Catholics who already (perhaps guiltily) use contraceptives.

    Pray for the Holy Father, for clarity and for an end to bad reporting!

  46. Anonymous: you are right that one cannot choose a lesser evil. The issue is dealt with, albeit briefly, by Father Fessio SJ at:

  47. The sight of all these Taliban Catholics in a state of panic is hilarious!

  48. But the Holy Father is infallable!! I am shocked when people say he is wrong with what he has said.

  49. @PIUSXXX
    As a 'Taliban Catholic' myself, I didn't find my peace disturbed. I did find a certain wry amusement in the deafening sound of liberal bandwaggons being rolled out.

  50. Mike: the Pope is not infallible per se. His teachings, however, are infallible
    - when he teaches on a matter of faith or morals
    - to be definitively held by all the faithful.
    In his book he is giving an opinion. We are free to discuss!

  51. Fr Boyle, you say that the pope's example of a male prostitute presumedly homosexual... but that is a big presumption on your part which the holy father did not say or imply. Male prostitutes can be gay, straight or bisexual so why do you presume that he was referring to homosexual activity? The only conclusion can be that it fitted your preconcieved argument.

    The clarification comments by Lombardo further state that the pope's comments referred to homosexual, heterosexual or even transexual acts so it is clear that the pope was also referring to certain circumstances where conception might be a possibility.

    I am sure the pope knew exactly what he was saying and he meant exactly what he said. He was well aware that this was a controversial topic and would be picked up by the press. The line that the OR broke the press embargo is also ludicrious. They would have had special permission to print extracts before the official embargo and I am sure the pope himself was involved in what parts of the text were relleased early.

    Instead of trying to spin the pope's comments, why not try to think about what he said with an open mind.

  52. One makes certain presumptions when constructing an argument. I stated my presumption so that people could see my line of argument and also to make clear that I knew full well of the other kinds of male prostitutes you mention.

    I don't think I was among those who blamed OR - the press would have got hold of it and run with it.

    I am fully aware of the ramifications concerning heterosexual intercourse which is why I am concerned at the lack of clarity. But, as the Pope said, condoms do not comstitute a moral solution.

    As for being open minded, what is the difference between an open mind and a questioning mind? My post was a public airing of my questions and my reasoning, nothing closed about it at all. IMHO.

  53. Thank you very much for this interesting information!


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