On Condoms

You have all already read today’s (or rather yesterday’s) headlines. The Age typically goes into overkill mode by putting Barney Zwartz’s piece as front line head lines – it rather says more about what The Age considers important in the world than what the Church does.

Terra, at Australia Incognita, gives a useful list of blogs which have already treated the topic. To this I wil add three pieces by John L. Allen Jnr on the subject, including the Vatican Press Release from Fr Lombardo on the subject:

Poe signals nuance on condoms

Pope talks condoms, sex abuse, resignation and movie nights

Vatican statment on Benedict XVI and condoms

He makes a comment at one point in the second article above (on a different subject):

A second theme running through the book is a sort of exasperation from the pope about how his words or gestures are often over-interpreted, with their significance stretched well beyond his actual intent.

That certainly applies in this case too, where, as reported in Barney’s piece, this sort of speculation is now rampant:

Jesuit moral theologian Jeff King said it was significant that the Pope had highlighted intention. ”You could apply the same thing to the married couple where the husband is HIV positive … the primary intention would be to preserve life.”

That is not at all clear. The case which the Holy Father uses in the book is reportedly that of a male prostitute. Presumably he has in mind homosexual acts. The use of a condom in this situation – which can only be for the reduced likelihood of the transmission of sexual disease and can in no way be regarded as a limitation of natural conception – is as “a first assumption of responsibility,” and “a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.” In a sense, that is a little like saying that the passing of laws limiting abortion to the first trimester in a state in which currently the law allows abortion all the way to birth is a “first step” in moving toward a better more moral situation”. It is an “incremental step”.

The situation in married, heterosexual sexual intercourse still carries with it the double effect, both limiting the passing on of a disease AND limiting natural conception – and that means it is in a different category all together. Condoms can be used for all sorts of things (including, I remember in Douglas Adams’ “Last Chance to See”, covering a microphone when it was to be immersed in water). Condoms are just pieces of rubber that can be used for many different purposes. The only purpose condemned by the Church is when it is used as a means of birth control – the thing which, in fact, condoms are actually designed to do.

All that being said, we remind ourselves (as Gareth and Cardinal Reg do so often on this blog) of the difference between an expressed Papal opinion and the Magisterium of the Church.

But in the mean time, the secular world gets all excited, because it sees a “chink in the armour” and an opportunity to exploit it.


Here are two press releases on the subject, one from Cardinal Pell and the other from Bishop Fisher:

A Statement from the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell
22 November 2010


HIV –AIDS is wreaking havoc in Africa, where the Catholic Church is heavily involved in the care of those infected and their surviving family members.
In his recent interview, Pope Benedict insisted on speaking on the basic Christian and Catholic teaching on sexual activity: that such sexual activity is to be confined to the love making between husband and wife. He urges abstinence from premarital and extra-marital sex and fidelity within marriage.
He also mentioned the possibility of a male prostitute using a condom against transmitting infection as a final step “in the direction of moralization”.
This is a delicate and difficult area, sometimes producing tragic consequences. I have not seen the German original of what the Pope said, but hard and exceptional cases can encourage bad law making.
Much work needs to be done to bring consistent, Catholic light into this grey and vexed area, while ensuring that the Catholic moral framework on sexuality remains intact.
I also endorse the brief statement of Bishop Anthony Fisher OP as faithfully representing Catholic thinking.

For further information:
Katrina Lee
Director of Catholic Communications
Archdiocese of Sydney
Mobile: 0403 950652
Email: katrina.lee@sydneycatholic.org

Level 15, 133 Liverpool Street, Sydney, NSW, 2000
Telephone: (02) 9390 5300 Facsimile: (02) 9390 5306 Email: media@sydneycatholic.org

Statement by Bishop Anthony Fisher OP
Diocese of Parramatta (For immediate release: 22 November 2010)

In his forthcoming book-length interview Pope Benedict XVI re-emphasises Catholic teaching that fidelity within marriage and abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage is the only morally permissible approach to chaste living. It is also the only practicable solution to the HIV-AIDs epidemic.

The Holy Father calls on the faithful to “fight against the banalisation of sexuality” which treats sex as a mere recreational drug, and to seek instead “the humanisation of sexuality” as the expression of marital love.

Despite some misinterpretation in the international media, the Pope has not deviated from or altered in any way Catholic teaching on the intrinsic wrongness of contraception or on reserving sexual intercourse (‘the marital act’) to marriage, that is of a man and a woman.

Pastors have long recognised that in cases such as homosexual intercourse, conception and marital acts are not at issue. Using a condom in this situation is clearly not contraception. It is clear that even here the goal must be to move the individual to living a truly ‘humane’, that is a chaste and loving, sexual life.

The Pope suggests that sometimes “as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom” to protect his client from disease, this might be a sign of an awakening moral responsibility. But using condoms, the Pope insists, is still not “a real or moral solution”.

For interviews with Bishop Anthony Fisher OP please contact:
Jane Favotto – Communications Manager, Diocese of Parramatta
Tel 0418 208 280

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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49 Responses to On Condoms

  1. Tony says:

    So I guess this means that if a bi-sexual male prostitute uses a condom to prevent the spread of STDs with a male client it’s kind of OK, but it really is not OK if he does the same thing for a female client?

  2. Joshua says:

    In neither case is it OK – clearly, a prostitute is by definition doing something immoral, as are his or her clients – but trying to lessen the chance of passing on disease is certainly better from not caring at all, and is therefore a first step toward acting more morally, and hopefully, by God’s grace, giving up such sinful employment (which may well require quite a dose of grace, including assistance from others prompted by that same grace, since we all know how people can be trapt in degrading situations by poverty, drug abuse, social ostracism and so forth).

    • Tony says:

      I think you’re missing the point Joshua. My statement — and the Pope’s for that matter — is not about the morality of prostitution, but the morality of using a condom.

      • Joshua says:

        To use such a prophylactic is, if used for its intended purpose (to prevent conception), of its nature immoral, let alone if used in an immoral act (fornication, adultery, etc.), especially since its use may embolden the user to commit such sins, out of a misplaced sense of security (for, whatever protection against conception or disease it may afford, it will not protect against sin); to employ it to prevent disease, if in an otherwise moral situation (as between husband and wife), that I think could be an instance of double-effect, but frankly I’m not sure – the husband may wish to pay the debt of marriage to his wife, as is his duty, but would not wish her to contract a disease, well and good; would such an act be “open to life”, since the intention is to prevent the donation of sperm? David, could you advise?

  3. Gareth says:

    David: Condoms are just pieces of rubber that can be used for many different purposes.

    Gareth: oh, really.!.?.!…

    • PM says:

      Do you remember that priceless scene at World Youth Day when the ABC’s darlings in the No To Pope movement (all 20 of them) threw condoms at the pilgrims, only to have the pilgrims inflate them as balloons as they went singing and dancing on their way?

  4. matthias says:

    Actually Schutz as an operating theatre nurse i have assisted at an operation where the surgeon used a condom over a gauze pack ,covered the condom with the chorionic membrane from a placenta- before HIV days- and used to assist in helaing post gynaecological surgery.\
    Joshua i like that comment of yours “quite a dose of grace, including assistance from others prompted by that same grace, since we all know how people can be trapt in degrading situations by poverty, drug abuse, social ostracism and so forth” .Yes we must act as instruments of God as He brings His Grace to all

  5. Paul G says:

    Hi David,
    so many commentators, so many experts, so many words. But most of them are listening more to the sound of their own voices rather than what the Pope actually said, and the words are mostly clanging cymbals, signifying not very much.
    Your own Andrew Bolt, a humble political journalist, reported the issue more accurately than most:

    Incidentally, Bolt has also reported another comment on euthanasia that I haven’t heard until now:

  6. Tony says:

    But in the mean time, the secular world gets all excited, because it sees a “chink in the armour” and an opportunity to exploit it.

    The ‘armour’, David? On this issue in particular the Church has been as uncompromising and ‘chink-less’ as any that I can imagine.

    The AIDS epidemic has been devastating the world since the 80s — in particular the gay community in some parts — and I’ve never seen anything like this suggestion now coming from the Pope. The ‘armour’ is very much the church’s creation.

    All that being said, we remind ourselves (as Gareth and Cardinal Reg do so often on this blog) of the difference between an expressed Papal opinion and the Magisterium of the Church.

    But this was no ‘off the cuff’ remark. It came from a series of interviews — not under-pressure ‘doorstops’ but scheduled interviews. Presumably if, on reflection, this wasn’t his view he could have asked the author to withdraw the statement (there’s no indication that the Pope was misquoted or treated unfairly by the author) or he would have made some sort of ‘retraction’ by now.

  7. Joshua says:

    Recall the important fact that the failure rate of condoms is quite high (I forget the exact figure, but I think it is of the order of a few per cent, correct me if I’m wrong). I recall also the disturbing statistic, relayed by a Dominican sister who runs an orphanage for HIV positive children in South Africa, that the average long-haul truck driver in that country stops for sex with prostitutes on average half a dozen times on each trip between Jo’burg and Durban, for instance. Astonishingly randy as that statistic appears, it would therefore seem obvious that in the course of a year, such drivers would almost certainly suffer failure of condoms (even if they used them), and so would be exposed to the risk of catching or passing on disease. For this reason, since such sexual promiscuity is quite risky and prone to exacerbating the spread of a vile epidemic, not to mention leading to bad consequences and at base disrespectful of women, treating what should be chaste and beautiful as a squalid transaction, it would seem that, even if condoms per se were morally licit, still their use would be unacceptably risky.

    • Tony says:

      Let’s just assume the Dominican Sister was right, Joshua.

      For every 100 times that a driver has sex with a prostitute (over 70 or so long-haul trips) and uses a condom, there will be a ‘few’ … let’s be generous statistically and say 10 … in which the condom will provide less than adequate protection. So, if one participant has HIV and the ‘failure’ of the condom combines with transmission via, say, broken skin, then there is a real risk of passing the infection on.

      So is that risk ‘quite high’ in comparison to the drivers not using a condom? Surely not. It is very low.

      But it almost goes without saying that the risk is astronomically high in comparison to abstinence and fidelity or not having sex at all.

      So, why would it not be OK to encourage the drivers to use a condom with a view to that being ‘a first assumption of responsibility’ and ‘a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality’?

      • Gareth says:

        Tony playing the DEVILS advocate again, zzzzzzzzzz

      • Joshua says:

        One cannot encourage people to do something risky and sinful, even if it is a slightly less risky and mayhap, we hope, slightly less sinful act than the alternative (viz., use prostitutes with or without using a condom – and the verb “use” says it all, reducing a woman to a receptacle): such a proposal smacks of the recent contretemps at Amazon books over a book supposedly advising pedophiles on slightly less risky forms of behaviour!

        Remember that use of a condom may actually have the perverse result of emboldening a person to sin more often and more lustily.

        For this reason, while one can regard a person using a condom to avoid passing on disease as trying to at least do something slightly less wicked, one could hardly encourage it: one cannot encourage evil to be done that good may come of it.

        • Tony says:

          Unless you regard what the Pope says as ‘encouragement’, Joshua, I’m not sure what you’re getting at.

          I’ve used the terms he used but in another situation, a situation you brought to the blog.

          Remember that use of a condom may actually have the perverse result of emboldening a person to sin more often and more lustily.

          A key word in that sentence is ‘may’. Just as condoms may ’embolden’ a user so too, seat belts may ‘ebolden’ a driver. It’s a good argument for teaching the driver to use the seatbelts as instructed and drive safely rather than ban seatbelts.

          • Joshua says:

            Don’t be a silly sausage! Seatbelts are perfectly moral and licit things to use (you’d be a fool not to, not to mention a lawbreaker), whereas condoms are morally illicit. What a silly comparison!

            To use your comparison, it would seem that one should teach people how to use condoms: but this the Church rejects.

            • Tony says:


              I wasn’t comparing the morality of seat belts and condoms. I was comparing the notion of ’emboldening’.

              I assume you made that observation in the context of a logical argument against condoms rather than a moral one. The logic was the limit of my comparison in this context and, as such, is not silly at all.

              I think references to sausages are better left out of this conversation!


          • jules says:

            But in that scenario the ‘driving’ is not sinful, in itself, whereas promiscuous sex, especially homosexual sex, is a mortal sin on two levels 1. It is a sin against God’s law on marriage. 2. It is a sin against the body -against nature an affront to God. So even wearing a condom in the case of HIV does not take away the sinfulness. Anyone having sex that threatens to transmit HIV needs to grow in moral discernment. This is why the pope focused on a “first step” in moral growth. So in the case of a married couple, the loving and good thing to do is to abstain. Condoms have a failure rate. Why risk infecting a spouse?? It would be morally wrong to risk that.

        • PM says:

          Indeed condoms do encourage promiscuity, as does politically correct secular sex education which takes its cue from the pron industry. The appalling Stephen Fry has come out attempting to normalise ‘cruising’, but the curriculum czars have well and truly beaten him to it.

          And down at the ABC and the Firfax press they’re still doing it for Ho Chi Minh.

          • Tony says:

            Such wild assertions are not that helpful, PM, and the reference to Ho Chi Minh is … strange.

            • Joshua says:

              Tony, I think he was making a reference to olden-day political issues about Communism or something…

              And it is rather obvious that people have more sex these days than formerly, what with the breakdown of former taboos and the emboldenment resulting from the use of contraception, especially barrier methods, whereas once people were more reticent to have sex in case they caught a disease or conceived.

            • Joshua says:

              The obvious parallel is with the rise in the use of pornography since the Internet became widely accessed: many men would be far too embarrassed to ever buy a dirty magazine, but in private have discovered that many smutty things are only a click of a button away…

              In a similar fashion, with the drop in societal strictures against fornication and suchlike behaviour, and the concomitant use of methods of contraception and disease prevention such as condoms, the perceived risks of such forms of sexual behaviour were lessened, and so people were more likely to commit sexual sins. I think this is a fairly obvious and uncontroversial analysis (assuming you regard such acts as sins)!

        • Joshua says:

          Remember, we can never encourage people to do something objectively wrong, even if that particular act is somewhat less wicked than another: so, while it is less terrible to commit sodomy while using a condom than while not doing so, since at least the chance of passing on disease is lessened, it remains the case that neither act is moral, and so neither act can be encouraged.

          It would be like telling a thief to steal less! Certainly if a thief stole less often or stole lesser amounts than before, that would be better than continuing to steal at the former rate, but it remains obvious that such acts would be sins, leaving aside very unusual circumstances (e.g. I must steal medicine to save someone’s life because I cannot obtain it in any other way given the cruel refusal of the only chemist around to sell me some) and so one could not encourage a thief to steal less.

          Similarly, one could not encourage someone to fornicate less – yes, it would be an improvement compared to their former behaviour, but they would still be sinning through committing such acts. Rather, one would encourage the person to give up such sins, and have compassion on them and encourage them to repent when they fell back into sin.

          I think the Pope’s hypothetical is of that sort: he could hardly encourage a male prostitute to use a condom, but at least if that person did it would be somewhat of an improvement, and a step toward “sinning no more”.

  8. Matthias says:

    South Africa is only one country, it also happens on the highways of Kenya . Uganda is the only African country to have taken the initiative in fighting HIV/AIDS whilst Kenya and Tanzania have ” ignored the elephant in the room” so to say.

  9. Joshua says:

    Remember, the Church is not primarily or directly a health care organization; its primary and direct focus is on saving souls. Viewed from an amoral or merely utilitarian perspective, certain forms of public health promotion seem reasonable, whereas from a moral or Christian perspective they are unacceptable.

    Now, the advice of Our Lord to the adulteress was “Sin no more” – not, “Be safe, have your partner use a condom”.

    As the Apostle many times warned us, unrepented sexual sins, amongst many other grave forms of wickedness, lead to damnation:

    “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Of the which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21)

    This solemn teaching ought not be watered down; I can hardly imagine St Paul turning social worker and “raising the consciousness” of sex workers in Corinth by encouraging them to have frequent check-ups from St Luke the good physician! The Apostle instead observes that:

    “Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners, shall possess the kingdom of God. And such some of you were; but you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of our God.” (I Cor. 6:9-11)

    “Such were some of you” – he converted souls, not peddled contraceptives.

    In the case of using prostitutes in particular, St Paul goes on to say that :

    ” the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. Now God hath both raised up the Lord, and will raise us up also by his power. Know you not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. Or know you not, that he who is joined to a harlot, is made one body? For they shall be, saith he, two in one flesh. But he who is joined to the Lord, is one spirit. Fly fornication. Every sin that a man doth, is without the body; but he that committeth fornication, sinneth against his own body. Or know you not, that your members are the temple of the Holy Ghost, who is in you, whom you have from God; and you are not your own? For you are bought with a great price. Glorify and bear God in your body.” (I Cor. 6:13-18)

    This sin is particularly reprobated, because it is so opposed to the one-flesh union that is marriage, itself a most apt symbol of the union of Christ and the Church: it is a diabolical perversion. A man should not treat women as interchangeable chattels for him to abuse!

  10. JoyfulPapist says:

    I can never understand why the world at large assumes that people disobeying church teachings to have promiscuous sex are suddenly meekly obedient about not using a condom. If the South African truck driver discussed above were to obey church teachings, he wouldn’t be spreading disease up and down his long-haul route – and if he isn’t going to obey church teachings about promiscuity, then why blame the church for his failure to wear a condom?

    • Joshua says:

      Quite right – to a point.

      People being quite irrational, strange and ludicrous cases such as habitual fornicators refusing condoms on such grounds do occur – consider the example of the young Mr Abbott, made publicly known when his putative son surfaced (before turning out to be sired by another): he and his then girlfriend avoided prophylactics, even when they gave in to temptation, as they were both Catholics! Very odd rationally speaking, all too human however.

      • Gareth says:


        It is a poor, if not pathetic arguement to state that I fornicated, but at least I didn’t use contraception.

        It is like saying ‘I robbed the bank, but at least I didnt shoot someone’.

        God HATES mortal sin and there is justification for it.

        A fornicator and a saint are uncompatable – fornicators are not members of the body of Christ full stop.

        • Joshua says:

          Gareth, yes I do know that!

          I was merely illustrating how confused people can be.

          After all, I daresay you and I and our interlocutors here have all done things we regret, and have hied ourselves to the confessional in times past…

          There but for the grace of God go I.

    • Tony says:

      I can never understand why the world at large assumes that people disobeying church teachings to have promiscuous sex are suddenly meekly obedient about not using a condom …

      If the Pope thought like that, then he wouldn’t have bothered speculating about a male prostitute. Would he?

  11. matthias says:

    “God HATES mortal sin and there is justification for it.” No God just hates sin , He does not divide it into greater or lesser sins-just sin-separation from God,Who in His Mercy and Grace bids us confess,repent,accept His Grace through the sacrifice of Christ and to walk with Him .

    • Gareth says:

      Sorry Matthias,

      You know the Catholic in me has to divide sin into mortal and venial offences.

      I have no qualms to state that Scripture can back this up and it is something that I have confidence in Catholic theology that it makes more logical sense than alternative poistions.

      • Joshua says:

        The Catholic distinction is between sins that, while offending God and our neighbour, and wounding ourselves, do not utterly cut us off from Him and damn us if we do not repent, and those sins which do by reason of their serious nature.

        For instance, getting angry with your parents when you were a teenager was probably a venial sin, not a mortal sin: it was sinful, but not deserving of eternal damnation.

  12. Peregrinus says:

    Couple of thoughts:

    1. You’re a bit harsh on The Age, David. It was in fact l’Osservatore Romano, the official organ of the Holy See, which broke this story by selecting this short exchange out of the entire book, and running a story on it at a time when the book as a whole was still under embargo for other media outlets. And, when the Italian papers wished to pick up on this story and run with it, they asked the copyright holder, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, another agency of the Holy See, for permission to quote the relevant passage. They were duly granted permission. There are a couple of interpretations of these events, but the obvious one is that Someone Important in Rome has decided that he wants this particular issue discussed.

    2. There seems to be a degree of confusion about the “male prostitute” example. The original German text simply uses the term “ein Prostituierter”, which is grammatically masculine but simply means “a prostitute” without a specified gender which, as in English, would usually bring to mind first of all a female prostitute. The Italian text, as quoted in l’Osservatore Romano, uses the term “una prostitute”, grammatically feminine but meaning simply a prostitute of unspecified gender. As in German (and indeed as in English) if you want to indicate a male prostitute you usually need to say so. I’ve read that the commentaries in the German and Italian press on this story treat the pope as speaking of prostitutes without distinction of gender. Yet in the English text, “a male prostitute” appears. Why?

    3. Is this just a quibble? I don’t think it is. One interpretation of the pope’s comments would be that the use of condom does not deprive the act of its procreative significance if the act hasn’t got any procreative significance in the first place, and of course homosexual intercourse (between a male prostitute and his presumably male client) doesn’t have the procreative significance that heterosexual intercourse does.

    4. On that view, the pope’s comments are not applicable to heterosexual couples – married couples – one of whom is infected with HIV.

    5. I can’t avoid the unworthy suspicion that whoever did the English translation of the book used “male prostitute” either because the assumed that was the pope’s view, or because he thought it [i]should[/i] be the pope’s view.

    6. The fact is, though, that the original text and the Italian translation do not say or suggest a reference to a male prostitute. And, perhaps more to the point, whether the reference is to a prostitute or a male prostitute, the pope offers it merely as an example or illustration of a wider principle – “There may be a basis in the case of some individuals . . . where [condom use] 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 . . . there can be . . in the intention of reducing the infection, a first step in the movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.” There is nothing in the wider principle, as the pope states it, to confine its application to instances of homosexual intercourse.

    7. Part of the astonishment and/or outrage that this statement seems to be provoking is, I think, based on misconceptions of the church’s teaching. The church’s magisterial teaching on this topic, at least as set out in Humanae Vitae doesn’t address the question at all. It only addresses marital intercourse, and most of what it says builds upon the specifically marital nature of the intercourse. Implications for non-marital intercourse, homosexual intercourse, prostitution etc are extrapolations by commentators and theologians. Different commentators and theologians have suggested different implications.

    8. There’s a simplistic moral calculation which goes like this:

    (sex outside marriage) = bad


    (condoms) = bad


    (sex outside marriage plus condoms) = double bad

    Fortunately the Catholic ethical tradition is beyond such simplicities, and if the pope’s comments tell us nothing else they tell us at least that.

    9. The pope’s comments raise more questions than they answer, but they do at least refute the nonsense that is sometimes parroted as “magisterial Catholic teaching” (“the church teaches that condoms are intrinsically evil”). I think we have to wait for the book as a whole before we can start exploring the questions the pope raises.

  13. Peregrinus says:


    From an Associated Press report:

    “However, questions arose immediately about the pope’s intent because the Italian translation of the book used the feminine for prostitute, whereas the original German used the masculine.

    The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told reporters Tuesday that he asked the pope whether he intended his comments to apply only to men. Benedict replied that it really didn’t matter, the important thing was that the person took into consideration the life of another.

    “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 man, a woman, or a transsexual. … The point is it’s a first step of taking responsibility, of avoiding passing a grave risk onto another,” Lombardi said.

    Those comments concluded the press conference, and Lombardi took no further questions about how broadly this interpretation could be applied.”

    Full report, for those interested: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hJU2dz_FwsPjYGXFjYDkbEH5VHfA?docId=d01ae88980c54a2da67605575ea0e7f6

    • Tony says:

      Looks like +Fisher has jumped the gun then. Another Vatican PR blunder?

      • Peregrinus says:

        I don’t think Dr. Fisher has jumped the gun. But, if he had, how would that be a Vatican PR blunder? Surely it would be a Parramatta PR blunder?

        (Or is Dr. Fisher the eminence grise behind the figurehead of Benedict?)

        • Tony says:

          In the +Fisher’s message above, he says

          Pastors have long recognised that in cases such as homosexual intercourse, conception and marital acts are not at issue. Using a condom in this situation is clearly not contraception. It is clear that even here the goal must be to move the individual to living a truly ‘humane’, that is a chaste and loving, sexual life.

          The Pope suggests that sometimes “as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom” to protect his client from disease, this might be a sign of an awakening moral responsibility. But using condoms, the Pope insists, is still not “a real or moral solution”.

          Now, by way of a disclaimer, I’m not taking a shot at +Fisher. I think he has responded to the information he had at the time. But somewhere along the line, someone has mistakenly translated the original German text. I assume this is a Vatican PR blunder, but I did put it the form of a question.

          • Peregrinus says:

            The (mis)translation appears in the English edition of the book. The Vatican comment was in ;’Osservatore Romano and it quoted the Italian edition, which does not say or suggest a male prostitute.

            Although the copyright is held by Libreria Editrice Vaticana the publication of th book is a commercial operation, and I image the commercial publishers arranged for the English translation to be made. The flyleaf will probably identify the translator.

            Even if someone at the Vatican is responsible for the error, I think “blunder” is too strong a word. The German, Italian and I assume other texts are correct, and while English commentators have been momentarily confused, the confusion has been cleared up. Indeed, clearing it up has provided an opportunity to provide a bit of clarity and focus to the pope’s intended meaning.

            • Tony says:

              You’re probably right, Pere.

              I wonder if we will see another communication from +Fisher to ‘clear up’ the confusion about what the Pope actually said?

  14. Joshua says:

    So, at the end of the day, the Pope said that for a prostitute to have a thought for disease prevention was at least a step toward acting morally.

    It’s a pity the media reported this so wildly and inaccurately, as if at the next blessing Urbi et Orbi (Tony: I am being facetious, just so you don’t miss the point) His Holiness was to throw down prophylactics upon all and sundry.

    In any case, it afforded us all time to exchange our views.

    What of my own confused question above – in the case of a marriage where one partner fears infecting the other, may some barrier method be used so as to pay the debt of marriage, or would doing so not pay the debt in the right manner? (I suppose it wouldn’t, but I remain unsure…)

    • Tony says:

      As an aside.

      I know it’s a traditional term but I just have to say that ‘marriage debt’ is the strangest euphemism!

    • Peregrinus says:

      In fairness, Joshua, I think some of the confusion can be attributed to extremists on the other side, who propagate absolutist views such as that the church teaches that condoms are intrinsically evil, that Catholic teaching forbids someone who has no intention to have sex but has reasonable grounds for fearing rape from taking the contraceptive pill, etc.

      It is the case that the pope’s comments here reflect theological opinions that have been current and mainstream for a long time. But the comments are significant nonetheless, because (a) these opinions have not previously been endorsed by popes at any level, and (b) there have been conservative voices happy to dump on theologians voicing these opinions as dissenters, non-magisterial, etc.

      I think the problem has also been magnified by conservative voices attempting to claim Pope Benedict as their own, so to speak. The truth is that, especially on this issue, he isn’t. There was a previous interview-book with Seewald, Salt of the Earth, published in 1996, when he was just plain old Cardinal Ratzinger, where he discussed contraception. He expressed sympathy with Catholics who struggled with the church’s teaching on contraception, and urged an approach which concentrated less on “the casuistry of individual cases” and more on “the major objectives that the church has in mind”, which (he said) are three:

      “The first and most fundamental is to insist on the value of the child in society. . . . to recover the original, true view that the child, the new human being, is a blessing.”

      The second was to oppose a separation “in which sexuality is something completely detached from procreation.” (To illustrate this danger he cited the world envisioned in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.)

      The third was the concern that humans should not imagine that they can “resolve great moral problems simply with techniques, with chemistry” rather than by how they live.

      All completely orthodox, of course, but what is omitted here is any insistence that each and every act of sexual intercourse must be open to the transmission of life, and that any departure from this is seriously sinful. All of the “major objectives” that then-Cardinal Ratzinger identified could be met by a sexual life which involves contraception in the same way that it might involve NFP.

      Seewald pressed him on this:

      Seewald: “The question remains whether you can reproach someone, say a couple who already have several children, for not having a positive attitude toward children.”

      Ratzinger: “No, of course not, and that shouldn’t happen either.”

      Seewald: “But must these people neverthless have the idea that they are living in some sort of sin if they . . . ”

      Ratzinger: “I would say that those are questions that ought to be discussed with one’s spiritual director, with one’s priest, because they can’t be projected into the abstract.”

      Nothing here can be construed as affirmatively endorsing recourse to contraception on any occasion. But the overall thrust suggests that, for Benedict, the great moral question is not what is done in connection with each and every sexual act, but rather a holistic view of people’s intentions, orientations and lives. That seems to me to be of a piece with his latest comments suggesting that the morality of condom use is dependent on context and that we can envisage (admittedly extreme) circumstances in which a decision to use condoms is a step towards morality, not away from it.

      As I say, nothing at all out of line with what is commonly suggested by Catholic ethicists. But it will go down like a rat sandwich in certain quarters.

      As to your own question about a married couple, one of whom is HIV-positive, what Ratzinger seems to suggest is that the question should be examined by the couple, with their spiritual advisers, in the light of the “major objectives” he outlines. The issue can’t be “projected into the abstract” because the ultimate decision is going to depend on working out how the “major objectives” are going to be realised in the actual circumstances of the couple’s life and their relationship and their family situation.

      • Tony says:

        Well, it’s been a week now and I think some perspective is emerging about what the Pope said and what it means. I think this contribution from James Martin SJ in The Huffington Post is a worthy contribution. A sample:

        Once again, the Catholic Church has not changed its teaching on the use of condoms as a means of birth control. Nor has the church “officially” changed its teaching on the use of condoms: an interview is not the same as an encyclical or a document from a Vatican congregation. But the previously out-of-bounds discussion about whether condoms can be used as a means to prevent the spread of disease is now in-bounds. That is change, by any definition. And that change is a good one, for if it moves the conversation ahead, it may mean a further lessening of the spread of HIV/AIDS and the prevention of death. As such, it may be seen as a new kind of pro-life initiative on the part of the Holy Father.

        Change for the better is to be welcomed, not feared. (A good resource on this John Noonan’s A Church that Can and Cannot Change.) As Blessed John Henry Newman said, “To grow is to change. To be perfect is to have changed often.” That would be the same John Henry Newman beatified by Pope Benedict XVI.

        I wonder if this will mean that those at the coalface of AIDs prevention can now participate in the ‘C’ of prevention as long as they are strongly pushing the ‘A and B’?

        • Peregrinus says:

          I think in practice they’ve been doing that for some time, Tony. And there are plenty of (respectable, Orthodox, conservative) Catholic theologians and ethicists who back them in this.

    • Joshua says:

      I see in a newer post that David has answered my question well: of course, if the husband has a dread disease, he ought spare his wife the threat of catching it by abstaining from relations with her, especially since – as I mentioned above – the failure rate of condoms is not negligible, and hence using such could not be expected to afford total safety from the threat of infecting his spouse; I won’t go on further, since David has so excellently answered my question.

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