Tuesday, November 23, 2010


The world is all a-twitter about the "new" position on condoms mentioned by the Pope in a forthcoming book. The article below is pretty much right down the middle and I think accurately describes the position of Benedict and more importantly, the Church.

"The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told reporters Tuesday that he asked the pope whether he intended his comments to only apply to male prostitutes. Benedict replied that it really didn't matter, that the important thing was the person in question took into consideration the life of the other, Lombardi said.

"I personally asked the pope if there was a serious, important problem in the choice of the masculine over the feminine," Lombardi said. "He told me no. The problem is this ... It's the first step of taking responsibility, of taking into consideration the risk of the life of another with whom you have a relationship."

"This is if you're a woman, a man, or a transsexual. We're at the same point," Lombardi said.

The pope is not justifying or condoning gay sex or heterosexual sex outside of a marriage. Elsewhere in the book he reaffirms the Vatican opposition to homosexual acts and artificial contraception and reaffirms the inviolability of marriage between man and woman.

But by broadening the condom comments to also apply to women, the pope is saying that condom use in heterosexual relations is the lesser evil than passing HIV onto a partner.

While that concept has long been a tenet of moral theology, the pope's book "Light of the World" _ a series of interviews with a German journalist _ was the first time a pope had ever publicly applied the theory to the scenario of condom use as a way to fight HIV transmission."

Most of the articles that I see are much closer to this: Pope: Condoms OK for women with HIV too.

Both articles make a similar point; condom use by the HIV infected is the "lesser of two evils". Let's apply a bit of logic here. How can the Church, an organization designed to do battle with evil and to deny it a foothold in the world, ever proclaim that any evil is permissible? That is what most of the press would have us believe it has done as evidenced by the headline cited above. Condom use in the case of HIV infection is evil. It may be a lesser evil but it is evil none the less.

The Pope has not changed the Catholic teaching that the use of condoms is evil. In fact, he goes so far as to call it immoral in the interview that is raising all the ruckus. He is only remarking on the intent of the person using them. He is talking about the beginning of an interior conversion.

We can all agree that to try to protect someone else from infection is good. The question is, how does this movement towards the good in action imply a movement towards the good in the soul?

For the answer to this we need to travel all the way back to the Council of Carthage which was held on May 1, 418. It was called to address the heresy of Pelagianism. Out of the nine canons proclaimed there one is particularly important to this discussion:

"Without God's grace it is not merely more difficult, but absolutely impossible to perform good works."

So what does this mean? We are incapable, because of original sin, of doing good, any good, by ourselves. All good comes from God. Human activity without the influence of God's grace is always evil.

Any action that is a good is a good only because the actor is following the promptings of the Holy Spirit. In this regard, the HIV infected person, while still committing an intrinsically evil act if they are having sex outside marriage, is showing, by the use of condoms and if the condoms are being used only to stop the transmission of disease, a recognition that the act they are participating in is evil and disordered and they are making an effort to move to the good. Since this can only happen through the prompting of the Spirit then the use of condoms, in this very narrowly defined instance, could, potentially, be a morally defensible act.

And, I believe from everything I've read, this is what the Pope is talking about. Of course, I haven't seen any mention of Pelagianism yet but then most people have a far more interesting life than I do.

I'll try to write about something a bit more exciting next time.

You can read Cardinal Burke's opinion about the Pope's comments at The National Catholic Register.
H/T Commentarius de Prognosticis

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