21 November, 2010

Condoms May Be Used to Prevent AIDS, Pope Says

A press release by Reuters News yesterday at 1:10 PM EST announced that in a new book-length interview of Benedict XVI by Peter Seewald, that the Pontiff has approved the use of Condoms to prevent AIDS in special circumstances. The full interview will be published as, Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times.
The book is to be published Tuesday 22 November and will be available on Amazon on 24 November, 2010
The Pope does not say that the use of condoms is moral, but that their use is able to be justified in limited circumstances, for example use by prostitutes to prevent AIDS, “as a first step toward moralization” but that they are, “not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection.” The Holy Father says that a focus on condoms is in danger of becoming, “… a sort of a drug that people administer to themselves” and loss of attention to sexuality as an expression of love.
I have not read the full text of the interview or even the entire section on condom use, but the official Vatican newspaper has already published significant excepts of the interview and given direct quotes from the Pope himself. What does all this mean? Why is the Pope’s statement making such a stir? It seems to me that:
  1. The announcement itself signals a development in papal teaching about condom use. Previously the popes have taught that condom use could never, ever be justified. In that teaching, the assumption was made that condom use was essentially a method of “artificial birth control.” The development here relates to the realization that condoms can help prevent AIDS, a fatal disease.
  2. It is interesting that the example of condom use was by prostitutes. (edit: Further investigation shows that the Pope was speaking of male prostitutes, contrary to what I posted yesterday). No mention was made of the use of condoms by a heterosexual married couple where one partner already has AIDS. This may well have been to avoid a facing off of procreative intercourse against against the fact that even when used to prevent AIDS, condoms are considered artificial birth control when used by a married couple.
  3. we can rest assured that confessors and spiritual directors will seek “pastoral solutions” for a wide variety of cases. Although it has nothing to do with sex or disease, Once communion under two forms was allowed only in very limited cases, the custom has grown and is now tolerated or accepted as something to be available at all Masses with a congregation. The gay community that is still plagued by AIDS will believe and realize that it could be possible that the regular use condoms during gay sex might be moral, at least where there is a permanent, monogamous relationship.
  4. It certainly will increase debate over the “new” allowance for use of condoms in special cases to prevent AIDS. There have been years of debate among Catholic moral theologians over whether the justification for the use of condoms can be based on the “principal of double-effect..” This argument never won the day with Church leaders. There was solid teaching, that all use of condoms was always immoral. The late Cardinal O’Connor said that suggesting condoms as a preventative of AIDS was “The Big Lie.” The Holy Father himself, on his trip to Africa said that condom use might help spread AIDS rather than prevent it.
  5. The Popes “new” position can be seen as an instance in which Church leaders are actually taking into account the “historical circumstances” when dealing with personal moral issues. A historicist and personalist approach approach to moral decision-making has grown and been accepted in the area of “Social Ethics.” This may well be another step toward its application in individual / personal ethics (as was recently discussed at a worldwide meeting of 600 theologians in Trent Italy).
  6. Some conservative / traditional / traditionalist theologians and similar-minded laity will be concerned that, “the Church is changing (not developing a deeper understanding); and in a way that appears to damage or destroy the assurance that the Church is always correct in its teachings. There might be a fear that this is just a hole in the dike leading to more secularism. On the other hand liberals or progressives, will be encouraged to press for continued developments in seeking to discern, “the signs of the times” and the search for greater insight into Truth through open dialog with other groups, not the least of whom will be gays, women, and immigrants.
It is no wonder that this apparently simple statement by the Holy Father may, in fact, be a blockbuster statement that will cause ripples through the whole Church and the whole world. But all depends on how this moral declaration is understood and implemented. Personally, I wonder if the the Vatican bureaucracy will desire or attempt to block this meaningful development and implementation of the Holy Fathers insight.
Please note that this post is subject to revision and/or editing once the entire text is available.
The interview / book is published by a conservative press and has been praised by Fr. Fessio, a very well-known conservative priest. Although much of the book will seem conservative to many, I urge all thinking Catholics to read and ponder what is in these pages. I can’t wait to read the entire book.

I encourage you, dear reader, to comment, raise questions, make suggestions or initiate a dialogue over the acceptability or unacceptability of the Pope’s position on condom use and the implications it raises for Church understanding of it’s relationship to this increasingly post-modern world.