Barney Zwartz, our local erstwhile Religious News reporter for The Age, has cobbled together a report on the latest rumours about the next BIG THING to come out of Rome, this time on the old “Condoms and AIDS” chestnut, in an article called: “Pope’s small step on condoms“.
You, like me, are probably well and truly sick and tired of hearing that the Catholic Church’s is to blame for millions of AIDS deaths in Africa and elsewhere because of her stance on contraception. There is something really odd about the logic that says that African men (the majority of whom are not Catholic) are catching the AIDS virus through extramarital sex (something which the Catholic Church condemns even more insistantly than contraception) and passing it on to their wives when they have “unprotected” sex with them (because the Catholic Church tells them they aren’t allowed to wear a condom). The fact that such an argument is totally illogical won’t convince many people who believe it that it isn’t true, but still, it has to be said.
So condoms and AIDS are big news in the West. Why? Because everyone wants AIDS in Africa to be stopped? No, of course not. Otherwise they would be donating in huge amounts to allow the Catholic aid agencies in those countries to distribute the vaccines free (why is the Catholic Church and not the Drug Companies the big bogey man in this debate?). Its because everyman in the West wants to wear one when they have sex with their partner (male or female) without any twinge of conscience about the fact that the celibate guy in white in the Vatican’s Ivory Tower tells them not to. If only we can get that self-righteous SOB to admit that condoms are GOD’S WILL in just one small, tiny loophole of an instance, then: WE’VE GOT HIM! It’ll be condoms for everyone by tomorrow morning.
So, Barney is right about this much. It “would open other contested areas of sexual morality for debate and re-examination”. Or as the “Australian lay leader who did not want to be named” said: “It might provide the chink in the wall people have been searching for to get the church to have a fresh look at sexuality.”
Of course, the proposed (supposed?) relaxation would apply “only to married couples”. One should not forget that the Protestant Churches in the 1930’s said exactly the same thing when they reversed the Church’s 1900 year old tradition of opposition to contraception. Look at where they are now on the matter!
So, what can we expect? I don’t for a moment believe that the Holy Father is going to do a turn around and say: “In the instance of married couples where one is infected by the AIDS virus, the use of a condom during intercourse is a holy and sanctified act.” How could he, when it has been clearly taught up to this point that the use of such a barrier objectively negates the uniative (and not just the procreative) nature of intercourse between a husband and wife?
What could be stated, and in fact, current teaching implies, is that in the situation in which an HIV positive man insists of forcing himself sexually upon another (be she or he his wife or otherwise), the partner has a right to demand that the man wear a condom. This is to invoke the doctrine of the lesser of two evils (it is less evil to use a condom in intercourse than it is to commit murder), and the doctrine of the right to self-protection.
The unwilling partner (presuming he or she is unwilling), by demanding such protection, would not be sinning. The HIV positive man would be sinning, a) by failing to refrain from sexual relations when his condition poses a threat to his partner, and b) by using a condom; although his greatest sin would be the former, not the latter. Were he to have sex with his partner without a condom, he would be guilty of even greater moral evil, ie. of almost certain murder.
If a clear ruling was given in this regard, it would not alter the Church’s witness and teaching with regard to human sexuality one jot. But then, I doubt that it would satisfy those want to see the Church come a cropper on this rubbery issue.