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Pope Benedict XVI's recent statements on the use of condoms to spread AIDS signals an important shift in the church's approach to this vexed issue. In 2000, two Jesuits--a doctor and a theologian--wrote an article for America detaling what they perceived to be tolerant signals coming from Rome on the use of condoms. Citing an article in L’Osservatore Romano, they argued that the Roman Curia was more tolerant on the matter than individual bishops:

While many readers may be surprised by the article’s tolerance, we are not. Admittedly, the Vatican has intervened otherwise, as in 1988, when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith raised questions about the U.S. Catholic Conference’s pastoral letter The Many Faces of AIDS: A Gospel Response (1987), and again in 1995, when the same congregation acted against a resource pack on H.I.V. education published with an imprimatur by the archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh. However, health care workers and moral theologians have encountered an implicit tolerance from the Roman Curia when they have first asserted church teaching on sexuality and subsequently addressed the prophylactic issue. For instance, more than 25 moral theologians have published articles claiming that without undermining church teaching, church leaders do not have to oppose but may support the distribution of prophylactics within an educational program that first underlines church teaching on sexuality. These arguments are made by invoking moral principles like those of “lesser evil,” “cooperation,” “toleration” and “double effect.” By these arguments, moralists around the world now recognize a theological consensus on the legitimacy of various H.I.V. preventive efforts.

Without known interference, the Vatican has allowed theologians to achieve this consensus. Vatican curial officials now seem willing publicly to recognize the legitimacy of the theologians’ arguments. Hesitant local ordinaries will in turn, we hope, note Monsignor Suaudeau’s tolerant signals and more easily listen to the prudent counsel of their own health care and pastoral workers and their moral theologians.

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Michael Barberi
13 years 8 months ago
The pope's comments do reflect compassion. However, it opens the long intransigent debate over sexual ethics in general and Humane Vitae in particuliar. The moral species of the external act of using condoms is its proximate end and an act of the will, namely to prevent the spread of disease to another person. The moral species defines whether the act is morally right or wrong. In the case of the male prostitute, the moral justification is clear. In the case of a spouse who has AIDS and wants to prevent the spread of this disease to the other spouse, the moral justification is the same. However, the Church considers the case of the prostitiute licit and the case of the married spouse illicit. This is contradictory. The Church confuses the proximate end of sexual intercouse (in the case of the married couple) to be the procreation of life, something that the condom prevents. However, Thomas Aquinas says the the remote end of an action (e.g., the prevention of disease as a greater common good and the motive and act fo the will in this case), can be the moral species of an action and not its proximate end (e.g., preventing procreation in the case of a married couple who uses condoms). The Church likes to "pick and choose" its moral premise for doctrine from the various teachings of its greatest moral teacher, Thomas Aquinas. In this case, it loses an important perspective and errs when the married couple cannot use condoms for preventing the spead of a deadly disease. This is truly marital love that the Church also ignores.

The same can be said of the two principles of marriage. The Church says that a couple can be closed to procreation on a marriage level, after children are had for good reasons. However, after a couple satisfies their procreative responsibilites they must be open to procreation during each marital act. This is counter-intuitive and contradictory as well. The remote end of sexual intercourse, under these circumstances, is the greater common good of the family. This reorders or replaces the proximate end of sexual intercourse (where condoms or contraception prevents procreation during fertile periods).
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9 years 5 months ago
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David Smith
13 years 7 months ago
The use of a condom in this whole discussion may be a bit off target, since a condom doesn't reliably prevent the spread of disease.  In the cases of both the prostitute and the married couple, the moral decision would be to abstain.
Andrew Russell
13 years 7 months ago

To clarify (not to take sides) I believe that B16 said that condom use was a step toward taking responsibility.  That is a little different than a total acceptance of condom use.  It says more about his pastoral approach than it does about the theology of the issue. 

mike giffin
13 years 7 months ago
Could someone clarify (for a relatively recent convert) what the theological significance might be of separating the pastoral from the theological, or the pastoral significance of separating the theological from the pastoral?
Michael Barberi
13 years 7 months ago
Great Question Mike Griffin:

The morality of an action is its moral species, which is determined by its object and end. This is a debate about morality, not pastoral theology. Benedict XVI did not specify that this was simply a pastoral suggestion. He said it was licit to use condoms under certain circumstances and sigthted the male prostitute as an example. He also said it was a step towards taking responsibility!  The only responsibility here was to stop the very high possibility of spreading a disease such as AIDS. It was about the greater common good of love thy neighbor.

As for pastoral suggestions; consider the Vatican's way of dealing with contraception. Contraception is intrinsively evil according to the Vatican, yet priests grant absolution to those who practice contraception as "habitual sinners" under the principle of gradualization. In other words, it is expected that they will eventually become aware of their evil ways and stop sinning after much prayer and receiving the sacraments. For many theologians and bishops, this seems like a contradiction since those that practice contraception have no real intention of stopping (they have no firm purpose of amendment). Once absolved, there is no reason to go to confession again for contraception. This is likely one of the reasons why 90% of Catholics don't confess contraception as sin. The other is that they don't think it is a sin.

13 years 7 months ago
HOW INTERESTING THAT TO THIS POINT ALL THE COMMENTS HAVE BEEN FROM MEN, and addressed generalities. What seems to be missing is the point that women are being infected by their male partners who do not use condoms. And if the women also happen to get pregnant, the likelihood is that the woman and the child/fetus will also be infected. Thus, the women and the child/fetus are each condemned to a long lingering death.

How is this point lost on men who address the abstract?

And that, by the way, is the difference between the pastoral and the theological - the difference is between the the concrete lived experience of real human persons, and the abstract ideas of disinterested persons.

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