Madigan on the Pope on HIV/AIDS

Daniel Madigan, SJ, an associate professor of theology at Georgetown and senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center, is an Australian Jesuit and a distinguished scholar of religions.  Here he is on addressing the pope's recent comments on the use of condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS, a good thing to think about today, on World AIDS Day.

The pope was not asking himself whether it's OK to use condoms. He was addressing the following question: "If someone has already decided to have sex outside a married relationship (perhaps even outside a heterosexual relationship), is it better to do it with or without a condom?" It's obviously better to do it with a condom because, as the pope pointed out, the person is obliged in that situation not to risk infecting a partner or being infected. If the intercourse is heterosexual, the person is further obliged not to risk conceiving a child that will not be brought up in a stable family and might not see the light of day at all.


Though the Roman Catholic Church has always been clear in its position on the immorality of intercourse outside of marriage, Pope Benedict has done us all a favor by observing publicly that the use of a condom in such circumstances can be understood as a sign of a burgeoning moral awareness. It is this issue of responsibility that has always been the sticking point. People have presumed that in its condemnation of condom use, the Catholic Church is somehow encouraging irresponsible, unprotected sex. But in fact it's been discouraging everything except faithful monogamous sex. Its teaching about artificial contraception has only ever been about marriage; it has never had anything to do with any other kind of sexual activity.

Intercourse between husband and wife should always be open to conceiving new life; therefore, contraception was considered wrong because it was seriously unnatural. The problem is that all condom use came to be thought of as absolutely wrong, not just wrong in marriage. If using condoms were absolutely wrong, then it must be wrong for gay men to use them, too. If it were absolutely wrong, then it must be wrong for fornicating teens to use condoms, too. A disastrous misunderstanding!

However, church authorities have usually avoided the more complex explanations -- no "maybe," no "in certain conditions." That's because they believe that the public just wants a simple "yes" or "no" -- and preferably a "yes." They fear that anything other than an absolute "no" will be interpreted as an absolute "yes." And, it should be added, they have unjustly censured highly qualified moral theologians who have dared to say "maybe."

That a pope has now introduced a "maybe" has evoked a flustered reaction. Official clarifications are given that then need further explanation. Churchmen argue over whether what he said is anything new, whether it represents a major policy change or whether it is just really the same old line. In many respects, it is an old line. But the old line was never the simple "no" it has so long been thought to be. The Catholic moral tradition has always been much more sophisticated than that.

Read the rest here.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Kay Satterfield
7 years 10 months ago
The 'life' of the marriage relationship should be the primary concern, what is best for the marriage.  I also think the emphasis is misplaced.  If couples are encouraged to prayerfully discern the number of children they are called to have it still makes Christ part of their marriage whether they use artificial birth control or not.  There comes a time when practically you just can't stretch yourself anymore in having more children for the health of the marriage and the family; to abstain from sex after that is not good either.  With the divorce rate among Catholics marriages at 50%,  I wish the emphasis was more on what will help the couple grow in their relationship and not always about the sins of birth control.  It's very frustrating.
David Cruz-Uribe
7 years 10 months ago
I find it quite amazing the amount of fire that the Pope is taking from the right.  A good summary is provided by Sandro Magister on his blog in Italy:

There is an old canard that conservative Catholics want everything reduced to black and white and reject any shades of gray.  In most cases I have dismissed this as an ad hominem attack, but in this case I am less sure.  Given the number of conservatives who hang on every word Benedict XVI utters on, say, the liturgy, this response is very surprising and suggests that there may be some truth to this claim.
Brian Killian
7 years 10 months ago
Right where the article says:

"The pope was not asking himself whether it's OK to use condoms."

Just to the left there is a CNN Ticker that says:

"Condoms to prevent AIDS may be OK"

Which just shows how hard it is for the MSM to grasp the distinction that Madigan is making. 
Jack Barry
7 years 10 months ago
Father Madigan is commendably distinguished by paying attention to the other person involved, who might, for example, be a woman who is or is about to become pregnant.  Without attention to the other participant, discussions about the notional male prostitute are significantly incomplete. 
His argument falters with the conventional assertion that ''intercourse between husband and wife should always be open to conceiving new life''.  Nature, where we read the natural law, guarantees that, for a healthy fertile woman, conceiving new life is absolutely impossible roughly 80% or more of the time in any month, year, and decade.  The unitive end can be pursued nearly any time.  The procreative end does not exist most of the time.  The logical consequences are to forbid intercourse outside of the short period when the transmission of life is humanly possible or clean up the argument.  This smacks of the black-and-white problem David Cruz-Uribe SFO mentions above. That's life, literally.  
david power
7 years 10 months ago
To sum up, a green light to contraception to everybody except married couples.        


The latest from america

The tête-à-tête between Paul Krugman and Nancy Pelosi in Manhattan was like a documentary about a once-popular rock band. (Rod Morata/Michael Priest Photography)
Speaking in a deep blue stronghold, the Democratic leader of the House calls for “civility” and cautiously hopes that she will again wield the speaker’s gavel in January.
Brandon SanchezOctober 16, 2018
The lecture provoked no hostile reaction from the students who heard it. But a media firestorm erupted.
John J. ConleyOctober 16, 2018
Though the current synod appears to lack the sort of drama and high-stakes debates of the previous two, the role of conscience appears to be a common thread.
Michael J. O’LoughlinOctober 16, 2018
When Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists on the Olympic podium, their act drew widespread criticism. Now Colin Kaepernick is the face of Nike.
Michael McKinleyOctober 16, 2018