Adding Fuel to the Fire: Church Authorities on Condom Use Feed Media Uproar Against the Holy See

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In the present media uproar against the Pope and the Catholic Church for their moral stand condemning condom use as intrinsically immoral, it is shocking to see Catholic prelates making statements that add even more wood to the detractors’ bonfire.

Members or representatives of the episcopates of France, Portugal and South Africa have actually made statements contrary to the Pope’s position, which is nothing but a defense of traditional Catholic morals.

Portugal and South Africa

That is why the statement by Father Chris Townsend of the South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) is shocking: “In South Africa it’s our approach that we will teach people about condoms. We don’t encourage them but we don’t discourage them.”1

Furthermore, the disagreement displayed by several Portuguese bishops regarding condom use is extremely grave. This is all the more lamentable when one considers the feckless position of the Portuguese episcopate when abortion was approved in their country two years ago.2

When asked by the Lusa News Agency about previous statements he had made disagreeing with the Pope, the Bishop for the Armed Forces, Most Rev. Januário Torgal Mendes Ferreira declared: “Everyone knows what I think about it. Clearly, there are circumstances, and from the medical standpoint I have no doubt whatever, when to forbid condoms is to consent to the death of many,” and in this sense “those advising the Pope should be better informed.”3

The Bishop of Porto, Most Rev. Manuel Clemente, was less emphatic but also showed disagreement. He said that while the real solution must be behavioral, condom use “is a resource” that “can be justified in some cases.”4

The Bishop of Viseu, Most Rev. Ilídio Pinto Leandro, goes even farther by saying that “condoms are not only advisable but may be ethically obligatory.” In a note posted on the diocesan web site and widely disseminated in the press, he attempts to give his stand a doctrinal justification.

The note begins in a provocative tone: “The Pope’s statement, often repeated as Church teaching, that condoms are not a solution to fight the AIDS virus, has caused some scandal. What did they want him to say?”

He goes on to say that the Pope speaks in general terms, as he “cannot make doctrine for individual situations and concrete cases.” Descending from the general to the particular, he affirms that “when an infected person does not refrain from sexual relations and induces his or her partner to have intercourse (whether knowing about the illness or not) there is a moral obligation to avoid causing the illness in the other person. In this case, condoms are not only advisable but may be ethically obligatory.”

This statement is fundamentally opposed to Church doctrine.

Law of Gradualness

The bishop attempts to justify his pro-condom position using the so-called law of gradualness, according to which “while a general law affirms, demands and promotes values, these should not crush a concrete person in very particular situations…” Thus, a moralist must have patience, “tolerance and understanding so that the ‘specific’ person will understand, accept and agree to move forward at the pace of a liberating ideal defended by a direction-giving law,” “even if [the person] takes some time to attain it or never does.”5

Here the “law of gradualness” is used by Bishop Leandro in the sense condemned by Pope John Paul II in his speech closing the 5th General Assembly of the Bishops’ Synod (October 25, 1980). His Holiness affirmed: “And so, 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.”6

Not only does His Excellency’s argumentation run counter to natural and revealed morals, it also destroys their very foundation, as it denies the general character of the moral law, which is applicable to all individuals in all situations. With this, the objectivity of the law disappears, being replaced with a purely subjective interpretation modifiable by the “situation” one finds oneself in.

The Old Error of “Situation Ethics”

This is the so-called situation ethics condemned by Pope Pius XII in a famous speech of April 18, 1952. The Pope first summarizes the principles of this new “morality”:

“The distinctive sign of this morality is that it is not based on universal moral laws such as the Ten Commandments but on real and concrete conditions and circumstances in which one must act, and according to which an individual conscience must act. This state of affairs is unique and valid only once for every human action. This is why, for the defenders of such ethics, a decision of conscience cannot be commanded by ideas, principles and universal laws.”

Pius XII condemns this view: “Expressed in this way, the new ethics is so far removed from the faith and from Catholic principles that even a child who knows his catechism will realize it. It is not difficult to recognize that these morals derive from existentialism, which abstracts from God.”

The Pontiff also explains that individual cases are contained in universal laws. “Precisely because of its universality, the moral law necessarily and intentionally encompasses all the particular cases to which its concepts apply.”7

Does the Fifth Commandment Justify Condom Use?

The words and actions of Philippe Cardinal Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon and Primate of France, follow the same line as the three Portuguese bishops.

On Sunday, March 29, a group of homosexuals of both sexes demonstrated before the Basilica of Fourvière, in Lyon, during the evening masses. The demonstration could not have been more offensive to Catholics. In a rhythmic chant, they cried: “Benedict assassin. Barbarin accomplice”; and using vulgar language they shouted a slogan, which essentially said: “Down with the clergy, long live the condom!”8

Cardinal Barbarin, who celebrated mass at the Basilica, was asked insistently if he was for or against condom use. His answer was evasive: “I am for love.”9 He also invited a delegation of the protesters to dialogue with him in the Archdiocesan offices. During the dialogue, the Cardinal was a little clearer, but still enigmatic. After telling the protesters about love in the plans of God, he concluded: “If one is not in agreement with the path proposed by God, let one not kill himself and others.” According to the Archdiocesan web site, “The cardinal recalled the primary and non-negotiable character of this commandment: ‘Thou shalt not kill.’”10

The most likely meaning of these words is that if a person “is not in agreement with the path proposed by God” regarding the sexual act (that is, he will commit sins against the Sixth Commandment, sins which, in the dialogue’s context, are ones of homosexuality) and he may place his or someone else’s life in danger due to the risk of AIDS contamination, this person should use a condom in the name of the Fifth Commandment (“Thou shalt not kill”). This interpretation of the Archbishop’s words appears plausible, as the same argument has already been used by other prelates.11

At first sight, the argument appears to be grounded in commonsense. However, it leads to the destruction of morals.

Indeed, the basic rule of morals is that good must be done and evil avoided;12 thus, one cannot have recourse to an intrinsically evil means or action to obtain something good. Now then, both natural and revealed morals consider the use of condoms intrinsically evil. In the heterosexual act, condom use is evil because the condom acts as a contraceptive. In the homosexual act such use is evil because obtaining a condom for sexual use is a moral evil and it encourages sodomy by dispelling fear of contagion, thus encouraging the repetition of the sinful act, and helping to create the habit of perversion.13 From the medical standpoint it is also an evil because it increases the risk of contagion through behavioral lack of inhibition. Normal 0 14
Thus, no moralist can recommend to anyone ready to practice a morally bad act to add yet another bad act, in this case, condom use. Even if the intention were good (avoiding for oneself or another the contagion of an incurable and eventually mortal disease) the desired good would come through and be a consequence of an evil act, making it illicit.15

The Fifth Commandment Has No Precedence Over the Sixth and Ninth

It is also well to remember that the Commandments constitute a single whole and express the wisdom and will of God, Who is the ultimate moral norm of human behavior. The Fifth Commandment holds no precedence over the Sixth and Ninth. In situations of risk to one’s life or that of others, the Fifth Commandment does not render sinless the violations of the law on sexual morality. 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.

Catholic morals on condom use and homosexual sin are clear and immutable. Thus, in spite of these voices at variance with good doctrine, we must remain faithful to the principles of natural law and Revelation as taught by the Church.



  1. Mara Kardas-Nelson, “Catholics, condoms and confusion,” Mail & Guardian Online, Mar. 27, 2009,
  2. Cf. Luiz Sérgio Solimeo, “After Holy Week, Portugal Approves Abortion Law,” Apr. 12, 2007,
  3. “Preservativo: Proibir ‘é consentir em muitas mortes’ – D. Januário Torgal Ferreira,” Agência Lusa, Mar. 21, 2009,
  4. “Bispo do Porto: preservativo tem ‘cabimento nalguns casos,’” Tvi24, Mar. 29, 2009,
  5. Ilídio, bispo de Viseu, “A viagem de Bento XVI a África—A propósito dos preservativos…”
  6. Apud Pontifical Council for the Family, “Vademecum for Confessors Concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life,” no. 9, note 43.
  7. Pius XII, “Nel Congresso della Federazione Mondiale delle Giuventu Femminili Cattoliche,” in Discorsi e Radiomessaggi di Sua Santità Pio XII (Vatican: Tipografia Poliglota Vaticana, 1961), vol. XIV, pp. 74-75.
  8. “Non à la calotte, vive la capote.”
  9. Agence France Press, “Lyon: manifestation d’associations gaies et lesbiennes contre les propos du Pape,”;
  10. “Eglise catholique à Lyon, ‘Que personne ne soit jugé, que tous soient aimés,’” Mar. 29, 2009,
  11. Cf. Luiz Sérgio Solimeo and Raymond Drake, “The Church’s Infallible and Immutable Doctrine on Contraception Stands Amid Growing Opposition,” .
  12. “Hence this is the first precept of law, that ‘good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided.’ All other precepts of the natural law are based upon this.” St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 94, a. 2. Cf. Rom. 3:8.
  13. “Msgr. Vincent Foy of Toronto…states that in considering the question of the lesser evil, some distinctions must be made between homosexual intercourse and heterosexual intercourse and also between intrinsic and extrinsic factors. ‘Homosexual intercourse: It is true that, intrinsically, homosexual intercourse with or without a condom are equivalent moral evils, even though they are not precisely the same act. In both there is sodomitical intent. Extrinsically, sodomy with or without a condom is not a moral equivalent. A condom must be obtained and obtaining a condom for sex is a moral evil, both in itself and by support of the condom industry. Obtaining a condom may or may not give scandal. Obtaining a condom makes the sin of sodomy more likely and its repetition more probable. Repetition can lead to a habit of perversion and greater likelihood of loss of faith and damnation. It also leads to greater danger of the physical evil called AIDS. When one is told that condom use is the lesser evil, the advice may be perceived as undue toleration of evil and neglect of proper spiritual direction.’” John B. Shea, M.D., FRCP, “Why do some clergy question abstinence in the fight against HIV/AIDS?,” Catholic Insight at
  14. Michael Cook, “African AIDS: the facts that demolish the myths,” March 21, 2009,, Cf. Luis Sergio Solimeo, Behind the “Pro-Condom Media Uproar:” The Old Struggle of Rationalism and Secularism against the Church,
  15. Explaining the law of double effect, moralist Graneris says that it is necessary that “the two effects are not so interrelated, objectively, that the good effect flows from an evil act.…The reason for this is that, in the latter case, an evil would be willed in order to obtain a good, which it is not licit to do.” Msgr. Giuseppe Graneris, s.v. “Effect, Double,” p. 448, in Francesco Card. Roberti and Msgr. Pietro Palazzini, Dictionary of Moral Theology (Westminster, Md.: The Newman Press, 1962). Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2069.

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