News reports over the last few weeks have been teeming with repercussions of the words of His Holiness Benedict XVI in his book-interview, Light of the World, on the use of condoms in certain circumstances.
The media’s interpretation in general is that the Church has changed her position on condom use and now allows it in some cases. Some theologians and high-ranking ecclesiastical dignitaries have adopted the same stance, causing confusion among Catholics.
The most meaningful statement in this line was by Georges Cardinal Cottier, Theologian Emeritus of the Pontifical Household under Pope John Paul II. According to the Swiss prelate, the meaning of the Pope’s words is that those who use condoms “will be free in their consciences to know that by adopting that means they are not doing evil.”1
Obviously, this statement is untenable from the standpoint of natural morals and Catholic doctrine.
In these weeks since November 20—when L’Osservatore Romano divulged the Pope’s statements—we have followed closely the glee of Catholic liberals and the surprise and shock of conservatives. Moreover, and more directly, we are sensitive to the perplexity among the 200,000 plus American Catholics who receive our magazine and subscribe to our various mailings. Hence, it seemed timely for us to formulate these considerations on the moral implications of condom use, based on principles of Natural Law and Catholic morals, and review the record on the results of such use from the perspective of science and experience. In so doing, we join with many others who have also written affirming that condom use in unacceptable and forbidden by natural law and Christian morals.
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1. The Pope speaking as Pope, and the Pope speaking as private theologian, are not the same thing and do not have the same authority
First of all, it is well to observe, as clarified by the spokesman for the Holy See himself, Rev. Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., that in his interview the Pope spoke “in an informal and non-magisterial form.”1 For that reason, on presenting the book to the press, Archbishop Rino Fisichella emphasized that the opinions expressed in Light of the World do not require the assent of the faithful, but only respect.2
The distinction between the Pope when he speaks as the Sovereign Pontiff and when he issues opinions as a private theologian is a classic one. In his famous treatise on ecclesiology titled The Church of the Word Incarnate, Charles Cardinal Journet explains it as follows:
“The theologians point out that the Pope can be considered as a private person, as a particular theologian, the author for instance of a theological work or a treatise on Canon Law, and so on; or as the Sovereign Pontiff and ruler of the Church. From the first standpoint he does not differ from other theologians; he is, as they are, liable to err. It is only in the second capacity that he is protected by various forms of divine assistance … we may here distinguish the ‘acts of the Pope,’ in which he does not engage his supreme jurisdiction, and ‘pontifical acts,’ in which he engages his authority as Vicar of Christ. The divine assistance concerns these ‘pontifical acts,’ not the ‘acts of the Pope.’”3
Perhaps the most famous case of a Pontiff speaking as a private theologian is that of Pope John XXII (1316-1334) who, already being the Holy Father, repeated in sermons ideas he had expressed before his election. He held that the souls of the blessed do not see God until after the Last Judgment. The affirmation caused great commotion and confusion and the Pope clarified, that he had merely presented his opinion as a theologian, without any intention to doctrinally define the matter. Later on, he discarded this scholarly opinion.4
2. Ideology disregards what science and experience demonstrate on AIDS and condom use
A. Promiscuous sexual intercourse is the main cause of the AIDS epidemic
It is well known, that the main cause of the AIDS epidemic is infection with the HIV virus, spread especially through improper or promiscuous sexual intercourse. And secondarily, through the use of infected syringes among drug addicts or contact with infected blood, as in transfusions or surgeries.5
Although great progress has been made in the discovery of drugs that extend the lives of HIV-infected persons, no vaccine or drug to prevent contagion in the event of contact with semen, blood and other infected bodily fluids has yet been found.6
B. Condom use lowers but does not eliminate the risk of contagion
Condom use can diminish the risk of sexual transmission of the HIV virus but does not eliminate it. Therefore, there is no such thing as “safe” promiscuous or unnatural sexual relations.
Even the U.S. government agencies that recommend condom use recognize that abstinence and fidelity are the only effective ways to avoid sexually-transmitted infection.
The most reliable ways to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), are to abstain from sexual activity or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner.7
Consequently, the only effective way to stop HIV contagion and the scourge of AIDS is to promote a moralization of customs.
C. A campaign that misses the root of the problem
Now then, anti-AIDS campaigns usually do not denounce the main cause of the illness’s dissemination—sexual promiscuity—but merely offer a palliative for it: condom use.
Many of these campaigns go so far as to exploit fear of catching AIDS as a means to promote a false notion of sexuality, legitimizing sexual promiscuity and aberrant practices contrary to nature, as long as condoms are used. Thus, we switch from a moral assessment of human actions—in this case, sexuality—to a pragmatic-‘scientific’ assessment: good is whatever “works,” scientifically speaking. However, even this view is contradicted by science and empiric data, since condoms do not “work” one hundred percent of the time.
D. Ideological bias
Such ideologically-biased campaigns lead to a breakdown in the population’s moral standards while at the same time facilitating dissemination of the pandemics by selling the false guarantee of promiscuous but “safe sex.” And though promiscuous sexual intercourse indisputably is the main cause of AIDS dissemination, these campaigns spread the “safe sex” myth rather than preaching a moralization of customs.8
That ideological bias affects sexual behavior particularly among adolescents and young adults, a group with a steadily increasing number of people infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.9
A comparison of these initiatives with the campaign against tobacco use is enlightening. Ever since the U.S. Surgeon General has determined that cigarette smoking is dangerous to one’s health, all sorts of measures, even legal ones, such as banning smoking in public places, began to be adopted to discourage the habit. Yet there were no national or international campaigns to educate the public about safe smoking and encourage the use of filters to lower the risk of lung cancer, heart disease and other problems related to tobacco use. No one organizes mass distribution of free filters in schools, prisons and so on as done with condoms. The reason is that most people carrying out anti-smoking campaigns believe that abstinence is the most effective way to reduce the health problems related to smoking.10
Why, then, in the case of AIDS, do we see an insistence on promoting “safe sex,” instead of advocating abstinence and discouraging promiscuous sexual intercourse?
E. An erotic culture that rejects chastity as a solution and holds sexual pleasure to be a “human right”
The practice of chastity within and outside of marriage is according to natural law and Christian revelation and raises society’s moral standards. Besides not hurting people’s health, it is the most effective solution to combat AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. However, because of the above-mentioned ideological bias, the practice of chastity is discouraged and dismissed in favor of the condom-based “safe-sex” myth.11
Today’s erotic culture presents the practice of chastity as impossible or even unnatural, while defending the “normalcy” of homosexual acts. Moreover, sexual pleasure is regarded as a “human right” that every individual may exercise, no matter what its object, nor the circumstances and means of this exercise, and regardless of the risks of propagating venereal disease, particularly AIDS.12
3. Catholic morals and Natural Law condemn condom use as “intrinsically evil”
A. Making the moral condemnation of condoms absurd
In this Sexual Revolution context, the constant affirmation of Church Magisterium that condom use in sexual relations is contrary to nature and “intrinsically evil”13 begins to be seen as an absurdity that must be fought by all means, including media attacks against the Catholic Church.
However, the Church cannot change its teaching on the proper end of human sexuality,14 seeing that this Magisterium is clearly based on natural law, Revelation and the constant teaching of the Popes and moralists throughout her history.15
B. Condom use is “intrinsically evil”
Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches that “in the realm of lust one says that an act is contrary to nature when it may not result in begetting as normally occurs according to its essence.”16
Now, condom use prevents sexual intercourse from attaining its normal end (i.e. impregnating the feminine organ with semen), and is thus onanistic and mechanically contraceptive. Therefore, its use is contrary to nature and is intrinsically evil.
When employed in heterosexual relations, barring an accident, condoms are contraceptive and turn sexual intercourse, even between husband and wife, into an onanistic act; and thus no condom can be used even if the woman is in an infertile period or has become sterile due to age or illness.17 The intention of the person using a condom cannot modify the nature of the latter, which is to onanistically retain the sperm.
Condoms also can diminish the risk of contagion of sexually-transmitted disease, but that effect is obtained only through a distortion of the begetting act; in other words, through an act contrary to nature. Hence they cannot be used as prophylactics.
What is to be said of condom use in relations that are not only sterile, but are contrary to nature as such, like homosexual relations? Would condom use be morally legitimate in such cases?
Something that is evil because it goes against nature in a heterosexual intercourse cannot become good when used in homosexual relations. Otherwise one would fall into the absurdity of admitting that an unnatural and therefore evil act (homosexual intercourse) could make another unnatural and evil act (condom use) good. Now, “good and evil are mutually opposed.”18
Therefore, condom use is also illegitimate in homosexual relations. The fact that homosexual relations are sterile as such does not change the condom’s intrinsic characteristic of deviating the normal course of the begetting act. Therefore, its use remains evil. Although it does not change the nature of the sin of homosexuality, it adds new malice to it, making it an even graver sin in its kind.
From the subjective point of view, to call for the use of that “wicked instrument commonly called ‘condom’”19 in homosexual relationships, in a vain attempt to prevent the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, reveals a hardening in the ways of evil, wherein one does not hold back in one’s desire for sin even when confronted with the possibility of contracting deadly disease.
And since condom use does not eliminate the risk of contagion, employing it to practice homosexual acts also entails a sin against justice toward another (danger of infecting him) and a sin against the virtue of prudence in relation to self because of the very real risk of contracting the mortal illness.
Finally, from the extrinsic standpoint, resorting to condom use feeds a pernicious industry and helps spread the “safe sex” myth and therefore a culture that conveys a false idea of the purpose of sexual relations, which come to be seen no longer as a duty toward humanity in renewing generations through procreation but merely as an egoistic and irresponsible pleasure.20
C. The principles of “double effect” and “lesser evil” do not apply to condom use
Moralists present a series of conditions that justify the use of the two principles of double effect and lesser evil. However, the general rule is that one may never desire an evil end or use an illicit, morally condemnable means to achieve a good. In the former case, one would be choosing evil for evil and in the latter, one would be accepting that the end justifies the means.
In both cases one would be violating the fundamental principle of natural law, “Good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided.”21
Msgr. Michel Schooyans, a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, clearly explains why the principle of the lesser evil does not apply to condom use:
In morality the principle of the lesser evil is very simple. It consists of saying that when one is confronted by two inevitable evils, one must choose the lesser of these two evils. It is almost a question of good sense. As an example, let us revert to the case of condoms. To have relations with an HIV-positive [person] and trying to protect oneself with condoms is not something inevitable. There is always the freedom to have or not have this type of relations.22
D. The objective gravity of guilt
Even when a person living in sin (e.g. a male or female prostitute) has begun a process, perhaps remotely, to restore moral order in his or her soul, that does not eliminate or diminish the culpability or severity of new sins that are committed. Thus, one can not advise such a person to commit increasingly smaller sins.23
From the pastoral standpoint, one must encourage that sinner to advance on the path of conversion by enlightening him more and more on the evil of sin and its consequences for eternal life.
Generally, a sinner opens up to grace when he feels nauseated with his sin and, like the prodigal son, remembers his father’s house. Then, from the bottom of his soul, he cries out: “Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness; in your abundant compassion blot out my offense. Wash away all my guilt and cleanse me from my sin.”24
Unshakable confidence in God and Mary Ever Virgin
Amid the confusion and chaos that is increasingly widespread over the earth, sparing not even sectors of Holy Mother Church, let us trod on with unwavering confidence in God and in the maternal intercession of Mary Most Holy, who, in Her apparitions in Fatima in 1917, though warning mankind of the great chastisements it would have to go through should men refuse to heed Her call to conversion, nevertheless assured us of ultimate victory, when She promised that “Finally, My Immaculate Heart will triumph!”
Feast of the Immaculate Conception
December 8, 2010
The American TFP
- “Note by Fr. Lombardi Concerning A New Book On The Pope,” Nov. 22, 2010, Vatican Information Service. http://visnews-en.blogspot.com/2010/11/note-by-fr-lombardi-concerning-new-book.html.
- Cindy Wooden, “Pope’s teaching in new book deserves respect, says Vatican official,” The Catholic Telegraph, Nov. 23, 2010, http://www.thecatholictelegraph.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id
- Cardinal Georges Journet, The Church of the Word Incarnate (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1955), Vol. I, pp. 438-439.
- Cf. Johann Peter Kirsch, s.v. “Pope John XXII” in The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910). Available at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08431a.htm.
- Cf. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, How is HIV passed from one person to another?, http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/resources/qa/transmission.htm; HIV and AIDS among Gay and Bisexual Men, http://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/docs/FastFacts-MSM-FINAL508COMP.pdf.
- J.R. Minkel “Where is the AIDS Vaccine? Science gets closer, but a fully effective vaccine against HIV remains elusive,” Scientific American, Feb. 7, 2008, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=where-is-the-aids-vaccine.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Condoms and STDs: Fact Sheet for Public Health Personnel, http://www.cdc.gov/condomeffectiveness/latex.htm.
- On the ideological aspect of these campaigns, see the excellent study by Msgr. Michel Schooyans (member of the Pontifical Academy for Life) and Anne-Marie Libert, Le terrorisme à visage humain, (Paris: Éd. de Guibert, 2008).
- Cf. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Sexual and Reproductive Health of Persons Aged 10–24 Years — United States, 2002—2007,http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5806a1.htm; Maggie Fox, “Study: Half of Young Americans to Get Sex Diseases,”http://www.unh.edu/health-services/ohep/sexual-health_sex-diseases.html; Nastasya Tay, “UN says AIDS epidemic slows, infections dropping,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Nov. 23, 2010, http://www.ajc.com/health/un-says-aids-epidemic-751864.html.
- Cf. Tara Parker-Pope, “‘Safer’ Cigarettes: A History,” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/cigarette/history.html.
- By way of contrast, in places like Uganda, where chastity was promoted as a means to combat AIDS, the results were excellent. Uganda emphasized risk avoidance, not risk reduction in its anti-AIDS campaign. In other words, the main focus of the campaign was sexual abstinence and conjugal fidelity, not condom distribution and use. The results in Uganda were dramatic and rewarding. Most encouragingly, the best results were obtained among the youth (Cf. Edward C. Green, “Moving Toward Evidence-Based AIDS Prevention,” in Thickstun and Hendricks, eds., Evidence that Demands Action, [Austin, TX: Medical Institute for Sexual Health, 2005] p. 18).
- Cf. Jennifer Oriel, “Sexual pleasure as a human right: Harmful or helpful to women in the context of HIV/AIDS,” Women’s Studies International Forum, Sept.-Oct., 2005, pp. 392-404, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6VBD-4H103M2-2&_user=10&
&_userid=10&md5=54fa94634dfddc4ce8bbb823ebbdd8a5&searchtype=a; Declaration of Sexual Rights,
- Cf. Answer of the Holy Office (under Pius IX), Apr. 6, 1853 regarding “De usuonanistico matrimonii”: Question 1: “Is the imperfect use of matrimony licit in some case, whether through Onanism or condom (the wicked and impious instrument commonly called ‘condom’”)?… Answer: 1. No; because it is intrinsically evil.” (Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolorum, n. 2795, in lingua latina. Available at http://catho.org/9.php?d=byg#c4z>). Our translation.
- “The Church is in no way the author or the arbiter of this norm.…[T]he Church interprets the moral norm and proposes it to all people of good will, without concealing its demands of radicalness and perfection.” John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, n. 34; cf. Paul VI, Encyclical Humanae Vitae, nos. 4 and 11.
- In his 1968 study on the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, Fr. M.R. Gagnebet, O.P., summarizes the continuity of the supreme Magisterium of the Church on this matter: “On the same topic, Pius XII specifically stated… ‘this question is no longer open to the free discussion of theologians.’ Furthermore, Paul VI [in Humanae Vitae] is not innovating in this matter. Without wishing to go further back into history, from the time of Pius VI [d. 1799] the teaching of the Holy See has never varied in this matter. In a particularly solemn manner, Pius XI propounded it in the Encyclical Casti Connubii; Pius XII, as well as John XXIII, taught it consistently. … Finally, the document in which the Pope expounds his teaching is an Encyclical; it is an authentic interpretation of the natural law which declares the use of marriage which is conformable to the law and that which is not.” “The Authority of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae,” at www.ewtn.com/library/Theology/AUTHUMVT.HTM.
- St. Thomas Aquinas, De Malo, q. XV, a.2-14. Our translation.
- Canon McCarthy, an Irish moralist, explains: “[The] argument of sterility… is worthless. If it were not, we should no doubt conclude that all sterile women—for example, the aged—could employ onanistic preventive means for health reasons, which is absurd.” John Canon McCarthy, D.D., D.C.L., Problems in Theology, (Dublin: Bowne and Nolan Limited, 1960), V. 2, p. 257.
- St. Thomas Aquinas, De Malo, q.I-II. Cf. Question XV.
- Denzinger, n. 2795. Available at http://catho.org/9.php?d=byg#c4z.
- Cf. Msgr. Vincent Foy, “A response to Fr. Michael Prieur’s defence of the Winnipeg Statement,” Catholic Insight, Sept., 2005, p.37, quoted in John B. Shea, “Why do some clergy question abstinence in the fight against HIV/AIDS?” Catholic Insight, Oct., 2005, http://catholicinsight.com/online/church/family/article_624.shtml.
- St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 94, a. 2. Cf. Msgr. Giuseppe Graneris, s.v. “Effect, Double,” p. 448; Fr. Ludovico Bender, O.P., s.v. “Lesser Evil, Choice of,” p. 705; and Msgr. Pietro Palazzini, s.v. “Tolerance,” pp. 1236-1238, all in Francesco Card. Roberti and Msgr. Pietro Palazzini, Dictionary of Moral Theology (Westminster, Md.: The Newman Press, 1962); Antonio Lanza and Pietro Palazzini, Principios de Teologia Moral (Madrid: Ediciones Rialp, S.A., 1958), Vol. I, pp. 152-153.
- Arianne Rollier, “Rome and the Condom: A case of Media Intoxication?” quoted at http://catholicactionuk.blogspot.com/search?q=cafod%3A+dossier&updated-max=2008-02-21T14%3A20%3A00Z&max-results=20. (Our emphasis.)
- John Paul II: “What is known as ‘the law of gradualness’ or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with ‘gradualness of the law,’ as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations.” Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, n. 34, Nov. 22, 1981. Cf. Pontifical Council for the Family, Vademecum for Confessors Concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life.
- Ps. 51:3-4.