James Martin, S.J.December 06, 2010

Will this put an end to those who say that the pope (a) doesn't know what he's talking about, when he's talking about condoms and AIDS; (b) should be ignored when he talks about condoms and AIDS; (c) couldn't possibly mean what he meant when he was talking about condoms and AIDS; or (d) is in no way endorsing moral casuistry when he was talking about condoms and AIDS? 

We'll see, but this CNS story certainly seems to imply that the answer to the above questions are: yes, he knows what he's talking about; no, he should not be ignored; yes, he meant what he said; and yes, he is endorsing the long tradition of moral casuistry. 

Papal comments on condoms reflected pastoral concern, theologian says

By John Thavis Catholic News Service 

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI's recent comments about condoms represented a "normal and traditional" pastoral application of moral theology, according to a theologian who advises the Vatican on doctrinal matters. The pope's comments reflect the principle that there can be "intermediary steps toward moral awareness" that allow for some flexibility in how church teachings are applied, Franciscan Father Maurizio Faggioni said Dec. 3.

Father Faggioni, a moral theologian and a consultant to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke to Catholic News Service about the reaction to the pope's statement on condoms in the book, "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times."

In the book, the pope repeated his view that condom campaigns are not the way to stop the AIDS epidemic, but he allowed that in some specific cases -- for example, a prostitute who tries to diminish the risk of spreading infection -- use of a condom could be a first step toward taking moral responsibility for one's actions. Father Faggioni said the pope's comments should be seen in the light of traditional principles of moral theology, including gradualism, which understands moral decision-making as a path that involves a series of progressions.

"The Holy Father recognizes that there is a path of growth in responsibility," Father Faggioni said. By saying condom use may mark a step along that path, he said, the pope is allowing for a "wise and prudent" application of church teaching to individual cases. "This is nothing more than a normal and traditional application of some principles of pastoral teaching and of moral casuistry," Father Faggioni said. Moral casuistry refers to a method that tries to determine appropriate moral responses to particular cases and circumstances.

Father Faggioni said the pope's comments do not place in question the church's teaching against birth control, but recognize that there can be different ways of applying the general law to specific situations. "One could ask to which other cases this would extend. This is something that will be seen. One should not force the words of the Holy Father, either," he said.

Father Faggioni noted that the Vatican's doctrinal congregation began studying the morality of condom use in disease prevention at a time when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- now Pope Benedict -- was the congregation's prefect. He said the pope had chosen an informal medium, that of a book-length interview, to discuss the issue. In the strict sense, then, his words do not have the weight of official church teaching, he said.

But at the same time, Father Faggioni said, the pope knows what he's talking about, having followed the theological discussion on this issue for many years. He said commentators should remember this when suggesting, as some have, that the pope may have strayed outside his field of expertise. "This is the pope speaking, after all," Father Faggioni said. "He is the supreme teacher."  --CNS

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Peter Lakeonovich
10 years 10 months ago
Fr. Jim,

Kudos on linking this piece by Fr. Faggioni, which puts to bed the notion of justified condom use (i.e., although it may be a "first step toward taking moral responsibility for one's actions"). 

For a thorough and inspired discussion of this topic, see: http://catholicworldreport.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=222:did-the-pope-justify-condom-use-in-some-circumstances&catid=53:cwr2010&Itemid=70

And, kudos also, Fr. Jim, on acknowledging that if what the Pope taught is, indeed, "normal and traditional," then by definition nothing has "changed" by what the Holy Father said.
david power
10 years 10 months ago
Fantastic! A Jesuit who speaks of casuistry ,I feel like I am participating in a commentary on the Provincial Letters. The Pope did a good thing that his predecessor would never have been capable of.He put the gospel above morality! Condoms will always be like a clean syringe.What father would look at his new-born child and  wish that they always have a clean syringe?Not One.Life intervenes and the beautiful baby is an addict.The Father like that of the Prodigal son only wishes to eat once more with his child.Clean syringe is a start. Morality as Nietzsche said is a power structure and a fine Bavarian mind has seen beyond it. This Pope found himself with 99 sheep missing and despite all of the negative commentary he is capable of leaving the 1 and going in search of those lost.  
The question is are we more interested in the morality of condoms or the encounter with Jesus Christ?
Thank You Fr Martin.          
10 years 10 months ago
The ban on condoms is counterproductive, as it was in the State of Connecticut in the 1940s. The need for a right conscience must override the establishment of pro forma prohibitions on birth control in general. In the case cited by the pope, it is z practical approach, although not ideal, to the grievous problem of HIV/AIDS. Right conscience would dictate the protection of the innocent( i.e., uninfected)  partner in any relationship.

Education is the preferred answer to both problems (birth control and infection prevention). The greater good, however, is prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS and its both overt and insidious effects on populations.
Michael Barberi
10 years 10 months ago
Kudos for Pope Benedict XVI.  The next step is to allow the use of condoms in marriage where one spouse has AIDS but the other does not. By the same pastoral advice, it would be a step in the right direction of moral responsibility.

However, this will open the birth control issue again to debate. In these circumstancs, the principle of moving in the right moral direction is grounded in the theory of the greater common good of neighbor, spouse, et al. The male prostitue takes one step toward moral responsibility by using a condom, preventing the high probability of infecting his neigbhor, thus he does not do harm to his neighbor....the external action of the male prostitute is good because it is directed toward the greater common good.
Aquinas said that there are many goods but that one should prefer the greater common good. It can be easily argued using Aquinas's moral specification of external action to prove that under certain circumstances the greater common good of spouses and their children can justify contraceptive marital acts.

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