Recent statements by Cardinals George Cottier and Javier Lozano Barragán that condom use is legitimate in certain circumstances to prevent the spread of AIDS are creating confusion among Catholics worldwide and causing enormous scandal.
Unfortunately, these high-ranking prelates, both holding important posts in the Roman Curia, have joined a growing number of prominent Church figures around the world who affirm publicly that use of condoms is sometimes permissible.
Such statements are particularly unfortunate in the context of an eroticized society where sexual obsession imbues the whole culture and a powerful and active homosexual movement seeks to impose its ideology on every nation.
It is with great consternation that we find ourselves obliged to oppose the public statements of such eminent cardinals. However, we cannot ignore the continuous infallible teachings of the Supreme Magisterium of the Church in such a delicate matter as the use of contraceptive devices in conjugal relations.
Part of the Global Effort Against AIDS?
The scandal and confusion actually began on January 18, 2005, with statements by Father Juan Antonio Martínez Camino, S.J., spokesman and secretary-general of the Spanish Bishops Conference.
Upon leaving a meeting with Spanish Health Minister Elena Salgado, the spokesman said the Spanish Bishops Conference had pronounced itself in favor of the use of condoms, since, together with abstinence and fidelity, these “have their context in a full and global prevention of AIDS.” Father Martínez Camino insisted that the Church envisions use of condoms by people “who do not abstain, or are incapable (of achieving sexual abstinence), or cannot be faithful in a sexual relationship with a stable partner.” World media quickly picked up on Father Martínez Camino’s statements.
A press release posted the following day on the Spanish Bishops Conference’s website contradicted the spokesman, stating that “it is not true that the doctrine of the Church on condoms has changed."
The bishops’ clarification did not stop the confusion from spreading.
Cardinal Lozano Barragán Uses the Right to “Self-defense” Argument
Addressing Father Martínez Camino’s statements in a January 20, 2005 interview with the Italian daily La Repubblica, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, affirmed that “one cannot accept the use of condoms to avoid contagion with AIDS.”
The Vatican cardinal added, however, that a condom could be used where one spouse has AIDS: “In this case I consider that there is a right to ask [the husband] to use the condom.” He explains this “right” at greater length in a subsequent February 4, 2005 interview with Zenit:
How can we, from this dicastery, address the pastoral care of AIDS? The answer is with the Commandments. In particular, this challenge affects two specific Commandments: one is the fifth, “Thou shalt not kill”…the other is the sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
By the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” we are obliged not to kill anyone but, at the same time, not to let ourselves be killed, that is, to protect our life. So much so, that it is a traditional doctrine of the Church, which has never changed, that, to defend one's own innocent life, one can even kill an aggressor. If the aggressor has the Ebola virus, flu, or AIDS and wants to kill me, I must defend myself. If he wants to kill me with AIDS, I mustdefend myself from AIDS. How do I defend myself? With the most appropriate means. I must decide. If it is a club, with a club. If it is a pistol, with a pistol. And with a condom? Yes, if it is effective in defending me, in this case of unjust aggression.
Cardinal Lozano Barragán’s declarations clearly refer to condom use only in conjugal relations.
Cardinal Cottier Stresses the Importance of Defending Life
On January 29, 2005, during an interview with Italian news agency APCom, Cardinal George Cottier, Pro-Theologian of the Pontifical Household, weighed in, saying that “in some specific circumstances (but only some) the use [of a condom] is licit.”
According to Cardinal Cottier, the situations that justify condom use include “where there is much drug use, much promiscuity, where promiscuity is compounded with great misery, such as regions of Africa or Asia, where people are prisoners of this condition.”
The cardinal argues that condom use is licit for two reasons. First because it is difficult in these situations to rely on the normal means of containing the AIDS epidemic, which would be “educating people on the sacrality of the human body.”
Secondly, because “the virus is transmitted through a sexual act; and thus there is a risk of transmitting death along with life. And it is at this point that the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ becomes applicable. Above all, one should respect the defense of life.”
The Swiss cardinal concludes: “Only in this case can the use of this method be morally justified, because it protects life. Clearly, what is being encouraged in this context is not sexual permissiveness, rather one tends to preserve life from death.”
Cardinal Cottier did say that his position – based on the “protection of life” – is accepted by some but not all theologians. This reservation does not diminish the scope and gravity of his words, since, besides being a cardinal, he is popularly known as “the Pope’s theologian.”
Again, Cardinal Cottier is clearly referring to heterosexual acts when he says, “there is a risk of transmitting death along with life.” Only heterosexual acts can transmit life.
Summarizing the Arguments of Cardinals Lozano Barragán and Cottier
In short, these cardinals argue as follows:
1) Since what is directly intended is not to prevent procreation but to avoid contagion, one may apply the principles of double effect and the lesser evil:
a. Double effect: although the condom is a contraceptive, it also serves to avoid AIDS contagion; therefore, it is legitimate to use the condom for the latter, though it causes contraception, a necessary but not directly sought effect.
b. Lesser evil: placed between two evils, the use of a contraceptive device condemned by natural and revealed morals, and the deadly risk of contagion with AIDS, an incurable and lethal illness, it is licit to choose the first evil (condom use) to avoid the second and greater evil (death).
2) To knowingly infect someone with HIV is tantamount to murder, prohibited in the Fifth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” Hence, the infected person has an obligation to use the condom to avoid committing murder.
3) According to natural law there is a right to legitimate self-defense, which allows one to defend himself with adequate means from an aggressor. The adequate means to defend oneself from AIDS contagion is condom use; therefore, the spouse in danger of becoming infected has the right to demand use of the condom.
This argumentation is flawed and contradicts the constant and infallible moral teaching of the Catholic Church, as will be seen.
Double Effect and Lesser Evil Do Not Apply to Condom Use
Moralists present a series of conditions that justify the use of these two principles, but 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.”
Moreover, one would be rejecting the explicit teaching of Revelation that one may not do evil in order to draw some good from it. Saint Paul teaches: “And why not say – as we are accused and as some claim we say – that we should do evil that good may come of it? Their penalty is what they deserve” (Rom. 3:8).
Choosing an action as the lesser of two evils is not licit if it means choosing between two moral evils, two sins. In the case of physical evils, one may opt for the lesser.
Thus, the principles of double effect and lesser evil do not apply to the use of condoms, such use being “intrinsically evil.”
No Contradiction Between the Fifth and Sixth Commandments
Moreover, one cannot view earthly life as the supreme value or attach a kind of preeminence to the defense of life over virtue as is implied in the cardinals’ statements.
There is no superiority of the Fifth Commandment over the Sixth and Ninth permitting one to violate the law on sexual morality without sin in situations where there is risk to one’s life or that of others. Such preeminence makes no sense since the Commandments form a “coherent whole” leading to the practice of the essence of God’s law: to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
The Decalogue forms a coherent whole. Each “word” refers to each of the others and to all of them; they reciprocally condition one another. The two tables shed light on one another; they form an organic unity. To transgress one commandment is to infringe all the others (cf. Jas 2:10-11). One cannot honor another person without blessing God his Creator. One cannot adore God without loving all men, his creatures. The Decalogue brings man’s religious and social life into unity.
Condom Use Is Not Legitimate Self-defense
The argument of legitimate self-defense likewise does not apply to condom use. Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church and Prince of Catholic Moralists, says the following regarding legitimate self-defense in sexual matters:
In case of physical aggression, it is lawful to kill the aggressor of someone’s chastity (pudicitiae). . . . When, however, the woman consents, or at least does not resist in a positive manner, it is not licit to kill the assailant, for that would not be countering the use of force with force.
The Example of Saint Maria Goretti
Saint Maria Goretti (1890-1902) stands out among the legions of martyrs who gave their lives in defense of purity. Forced by her assailant to choose between submitting to him or dying, she heroically chose death. Her example, and not a search for ways of sinning without health risks, should be proposed to all.
The Church, Faithful Guardian of Natural and Revealed Morals
The Church has often been pressured to forsake a point of Her doctrine on faith or morals. Through the ages, millions of Catholics have been martyred for refusing to deny the immutable doctrine of Christ. Many others have had to face the cruel if bloodless persecution of ridicule and scorn by the “wise” of this world for the same reason.
Particularly over the last decades, the Church’s teaching on sexual morals – based on natural law and divine revelation – has been the object of direct attacks, incomprehension, and indifference.
“Birth control” has long been used as a pretext to pressure the Church to change Her doctrine on the purpose of the sexual act. The AIDS epidemic is now used in a similar fashion. It is said that the Church should accept a separation between the sexual act and its natural effect – procreation – and thus admit as morally licit the use of artificial means to prevent the act’s fecundity, at least in some circumstances.
Forsaking a Single Moral Teaching Would Destroy Morality
However, the truth about the procreative purpose of the sexual act was established not by the Church but by the Author of nature Himself. Thus, the Church has no authority to change this teaching, since She is the guardian and interpreter of natural law, not its author. John Paul II emphasizes this in his document on the Christian family in the modern world:
The Church is in no way the author or the arbiter of this norm. In obedience to the truth which is Christ, whose image is reflected in the nature and dignity of the human person, the Church interprets the moral norm and proposes it to all people of good will, without concealing its demands of radicalness and perfection.
Furthermore, were the Church to abandon even one principle of the natural or revealed law, She would be rejecting the very foundation of moral law, which is the authority of the legislator, in this case, God, of whose wisdom and will every law is but a reflection, be it through nature or through Revelation. “All laws, in so far as they partake of right reason, are derived from the eternal law,” explains St. Thomas Aquinas. “The eternal law is nothing else than the type of Divine Wisdom, as directing all actions and movements.”
The Church Never Accepted Any Form of Contraception
Thus, the Church never accepted, and can never accept, contraception even for prophylactic or therapeutic purposes. Such a possibility has always been rejected by the Magisterium, and the most recent popes, from Pius XI (1922-1939) to John Paul II, have insistently reaffirmed this teaching amid growing opposition. (See Appendices I and II.)
These popes teach that, according to the natural law established by God when He created man and woman, the primary purpose of the sexual act is procreation. Accordingly, any attempt to detach the sexual act from its natural effect – procreation – violates nature itself and constitutes a grave sin. One cannot separate the unitive aspect of the conjugal act – love between the spouses – from its procreative nature.
The popes have always condemned the use of contraceptives – both chemical (e.g. oral contraceptives) and mechanical (e.g. the condom) – as gravely illicit whether the intention is specifically to avoid offspring or to avoid the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. (See Appendix I.)
Some argue that condom use is licit in a sterile marriage, as a protection against AIDS, since the couple would not be preventing a fertilization that is not going to happen anyway. This subtle argument is without merit, since sterility – temporary or permanent – is an accident that does not alter the nature of the conjugal act, which remains potentially fertile. Because of this, the Church and natural law recognize that sterile individuals have a right to marriage, and with it the right to the conjugal act. On the contrary, condom use interferes in the natural course of the conjugal act, rendering it sterile not accidentally, but in the very manner in which it is carried out. In other words, condom use is illicit because it robs the conjugal act of its potential fertility, thus going against the very nature of the act.
The Church’s Condemnation of Contraception
Is Unchangeable and Infallible
Liberal Catholics argue that the Church should change its position on contraception. This is not possible. As Bishop Glennon P. Flavin, then bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska, explained in his pastoral letter In Obedience to Christ: A Pastoral Letter to Catholic Couples and Physicians on the Issue of Contraception,
The ban on contraception is not a disciplinary law of the Church, like abstinence of Friday, which the Church can enact and which the Church can dispense for good reasons. Rather, it is a divine law which the Church cannot change any more than it can change the law of God forbidding murder…. Because contraception is intrinsically evil, it may never be practiced for any reason.
This teaching of the Church condemning contraception is infallible through the ordinary pontifical Magisterium of the Church, that is to say, the common and constant teaching of the Popes.
Had the Church taught a false doctrine over the centuries, She would not be infallible. Neither would She be an adequate instrument for salvation, since She would have led the faithful to sin, to the non-observance of the natural and revealed moral law.
As for the condemnation of contraception by Pope Paul VI in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968), some theologians state that it is infallible not only by the continuity of the ordinary Magisterium but also by papal infallibility itself.
The Condom’s Effectiveness Is Contested
Were condom use a guarantee against the spread of AIDS, it would still be illicit, because the end does not justify the means. However, its effectiveness is contested in scientific circles, rendering the cardinals’ statements all the more incomprehensible. (See Appendix III.)
From a scientific standpoint, the surest means to avoid the spread of all sexually transmitted diseases – including AIDS – are sexual abstinence and fidelity in marriage.
Conversely, researchers have found that the easy availability of condoms statistically increases promiscuity and the risk of HIV contagion. In fact, many studies claim that the promotion of the “safe-sex” message has increased the numbers of multiple partners.
Called to a Supreme Fidelity
At Baptism, God adopted us as His children. Through the officiating priest, the Church urged us to keep alive the flame of faith in our souls and to preserve our baptismal innocence until called to judgment.
At Confirmation, we were made soldiers of Christ, armed with special gifts and graces from the Holy Spirit to confront the enemies of our salvation.
We are called to battle for the Faith. In this battle, sometimes we must face scandal and confusion. It was such painful encounters that the Apostle Paul had in mind when he taught
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema. As we said before, so now I say again: If any one preaches to you a gospel, besides that which you have received, let him be anathema. (Galatians 1:8-9)
In these tempestuous times, as always, we are called to a supreme fidelity to Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Church. May the Immaculate Conception, Patroness of the United States, help us to stand firm in the storm.
Pius XI: Contraception is “shameful and intrinsically vicious”
But no reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good. Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.…
Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition some recently have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question, the Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her, in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, raises her voice in token of her divine ambassadorship and through Our mouth proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.
Pius XII: “This precept is in full force today, as it was in the past, and so it will be in the future also, and always”
In his Encyclical Casti Connubii of December 31, 1930, our predecessor, Pius XI, of happy memory, solemnly restated the basic law of the conjugal act and conjugal relations. “Every attempt on the part of the married couple during the conjugal act or during the development of its natural consequences, to deprive it of its inherent power and to hinder the procreation of a new life is immoral. No ‘indication’ or need can change an action that is intrinsically immoral into an action that is moral and lawful!” (AAS, vol. 22, pp. 559 seq.)
This prescription holds good today just as much as it did yesterday. It will hold tomorrow and always, for it is not a mere precept of human right but the expression of a natural and Divine law….
But it will be objected that such abstinence is impossible, that such heroism cannot be attained…. In order to convince yourself of this, invert the steps of the argument. God does not oblige people to do the impossible. But God obliges married people to abstain, if their union cannot be fulfilled according to the laws of nature. Therefore, in this case abstinence is possible. In confirmation of this argument we have the Council of Trent which…teaches us that as St. Augustine said, “God does not command impossible things, but when He commands He warns us to do what can be done and to ask what cannot and gives you help so that you can.”
Paul VI: The sexual act is intrinsically linked to procreation
The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.
Paul VI: Law of lesser evil does not apply to contraception
Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these. 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 (Rom 3: 8) — 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.
Paul VI: Contraception is illicit both as an end and as a means
Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.
Paul VI: Contraception is illicit even when reasons for it may seem upright
The Church…condemns as always unlawful the use of means which directly prevent conception, even when the reasons given for the later practice may appear to be upright and serious.
John Paul II: Intrinsically evil acts remain irremediably evil
If acts are intrinsically evil, a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it. They remain “irremediably” evil acts; per se and in themselves they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person. “As for acts which are themselves sins (cum iam opera ipsa peccata sunt), Saint Augustine writes, like theft, fornication, blasphemy, who would dare affirm that, by doing them for good motives (causis bonis), they would no longer be sins, or, what is even more absurd, that they would be sins that are justified?”
John Paul II: “Real-life difficulties” do not justify contraception
It is true that in many cases contraception and even abortion are practiced under the pressure of real-life difficulties, which nonetheless can never exonerate from striving to observe God’s law fully.
Pontifical Council for the Family: “The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception”
The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception, that is, of every marital act intentionally rendered unfruitful. This teaching is to be held as definitive and irreformable. Contraception is gravely opposed to marital chastity; it is contrary to the good of the transmission of life (the procreative aspect of matrimony), and to the reciprocal self-giving of the spouses (the unitive aspect of matrimony); it harms true love and denies the sovereign role of God in the transmission of human life.
Just days after the condom statements by the Spanish bishops’ spokesman, Fr. Juan Antonio Martínez Camino, Pope John Paul II reaffirmed Church doctrine. Commentators interpreted his statement as an intervention in the debate that had begun in Spain. Upon receiving the new Dutch ambassador to the Holy See, Monique Patricia Antoinette Frank, the Pontiff said, referring to AIDS:
The Holy See...considers that it is necessary above all to combat this disease in a responsible way by increasing prevention, notably through education about respect of the sacred value of life and formation about the correct practice of sexuality, which presupposes chastity and fidelity.
More recently, in a message read by Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán himself as papal envoy to the 13th World Day of the Sick, celebrated in Yaoundé, Cameroon, on February 11, 2005, Pope John Paul II exhorted:
As for the drama of AIDS, I have had the opportunity in other circumstances to stress that it is also symptomatic of a “pathology of the spirit.” To fight it responsibly, it is necessary to increase its prevention by teaching respect for the sacred value of life and the correct approach to sexuality.
Indeed, if there are many contagious infections passed on through the blood especially during pregnancy – infections that must be combated with every possible means – those contracted through sexual intercourse are by far the most numerous and can only be avoided by responsible conduct and the observance of the virtue of chastity….
I encourage international organizations to promote initiatives in this field that are inspired by wisdom and solidarity, and always to strive to defend human dignity and to protect the inviolable right to life.
For twenty years, government efforts against AIDS have focused primarily on the widespread promotion of condoms. During this same period, the sexual abstinence and conjugal fidelity promoted by the Church have been ridiculed as “unachievable.”
Today, the scientific verdict is clear: sexual abstinence and conjugal fidelity, not condoms, are the surest ways to stop the AIDS epidemic.
Catholic Medical Association: Condom education is ineffective
In its masterful paper Homosexuality and Hope, the Catholic Medical Association mentions several studies on the ineffectiveness of condoms in preventing AIDS transmission:
Teachers in Catholic institutions…should continue to resist pressure to include condom education in the curriculum to accommodate homosexually active adolescents. Numerous studies have found that such education is ineffective at preventing disease transmission in the at-risk population. (Stall 1988a; Calabrese 1987 ; Hoover 1991).
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Condom use cannot guarantee absolute protection”
Though favorable to condom use, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions against seeing it as an absolute protection against AIDS:
The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases is to abstain from sexual intercourse, or to be in a long term mutually monogamous relationship.… No protective method is 100 percent effective, and condom use cannot guarantee absolute protection against any STD. The more sex partners you have, the greater your chances are of getting HIV or other diseases passed through sex.
Condom Campaigns Have Not Stopped the AIDS Pandemic
On January 8, 2004, world-renowned AIDS researchers Edward C. Green, Rand Stoneburner and Norman Hearst discussed the effectiveness of AIDS prevention strategies in a briefing at the Department of State for Randall Tobias, Global AIDS Coordinator. Based on the presentations, the Medical Institute for Sexual Health published the study Evidence that Demands Action: Comparing Risk Avoidance and Risk Reduction Strategies for HIV Prevention.
While the three world-renowned AIDS experts continue to recommend the use of condoms – thus clashing with Church teaching – their converging testimony highlights the lack of results for AIDS prevention strategies based on the promotion of condoms. In the words of Dr. Hearst:
Contrary to popular belief, there is little evidence to show that all this condom promotion we’ve been doing all these years in African countries with generalized epidemics has made any difference.…
We have to admit that, to date, there are no clear examples of a country that has turned back a generalized epidemic primarily through condom promotion.
Dr. Greene concurred with Dr. Hearst and cited another study:
A similar conclusion was reached in a 2003 USAID-supported study – no decline in national HIV infection rates has been achieved through condoms alone.
Misinformation and Misconceptions on Condom Effectiveness
Those who believe that condom use eliminates the risk of AIDS infection are grossly mistaken, as Dr. Greene points out:
The premise that condoms have “close to 100% effectiveness” was discredited by a 2000 NIH work group which concluded that consistent condom use decreases the risk of HIV transmission by 85%….
Moreover, a recent meta-analysis of condom effectiveness suggests that when condoms are used consistently, they reduce HIV infection rates by only 80% not 98% or 99%, as is widely believed and often cited.
In other words, these studies suggest that there is a 15 to 20 percent risk of HIV infection.
Dr. Greene also notes with concern that condom campaigns in Africa may actually “backfire,” resulting in the creation of a false sense of security that leads people to engage in higher risk sexual behavior than they otherwise would.
Sexual Abstinence and Conjugal Fidelity Are the Answer
Dr. Greene points out that, contrary to the majority of AIDS prevention strategies in the U.S. and around the world, government efforts in Uganda emphasized risk avoidance, not risk reduction. 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.
Uganda’s experience is a twofold lesson for the rest of the world. First, it shows how right the Church is to insist on sexual abstinence and conjugal fidelity. Second, it shows that sexual abstinence and conjugal fidelity are indeed possible, whatever the disbelief and opposition of the “wise” in our secularized world.
Dr. Greene explains:
Contrary to what most western experts believed until recently, people can change their sexual behavior….
The main advantage is that [in Uganda] abstinence and faithfulness are in accord with prevailing cultural and religious norms and ethics.
Many, however, refuse to accept Uganda’s lesson. At the 15th International AIDS Conference in Bangkok on July 12, 2004, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was criticized for stressing the need for abstinence over condom use. “I look at condoms as an improvisation, not a solution,” he said. And he went on to call for a true solution: “optimal relationships based on love and trust instead of institutionalized mistrust, which is what the condom is all about.”
GreenTestimony030519.pdf+Edward+C.+Green+PhD+Testimony+U.S.+Senate&hl=en. (Our emphasis.) ↑