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Benedict XVI on Condoms

Continuing on the religion theme, the media seems especially breathless in reporting the Pope's confirmation that Church teaching may permit condom use to prevent the spread of STDs. There is an obvious desire for a "gotcha" moment, to be followed by the customary litany of demands for social and doctrinal change. But Pope Benedict XVI's pronouncement isn't actually radical in the least.

First, here's the statement (link provides commentary):

There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants.  But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.

Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.

While the statement is among the most direct and on-point with regard to condoms, the Pope's opinion (it was spoken in an interview, not officially) is not new. Abortions are allowed within Catholic morality if necessary to save the life of the mother (e.g., in the case of ectopic pregnancies), and the1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae explicitly approved of birth control pills and hormonal contraceptives as licit means to "cure bodily diseases" (i.e., endometriosis). Contraceptives are licit "even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from - provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever." As in criminal law, intent is critical to discerning moral justification.

Further, the Pope reiterated the Church's opposition to the "banalization of sexuality" threatened by wide-spread condom use, and criticized the "fixation" on condom use in the fight against AIDS.

The learning moment here regards the knee-jerk proclivity of the media to reduce moral questions to "yes/no" criteria - a consequence of their aversion to discussions of morality and condescension of religious moralists as anti-philosophic automatons reciting Scripture on blind faith.

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Discussions - 7 Comments

Yes . . . twelve year-olds in debate class is the thing that comes to mind. Such a moral universe is a pretty unimaginative and boring. Would that it were that simple . . . but, finding it not so, they capitulate to rather than grapple with its complexities.

One only needs to look at uber-Catholic Poland - with condoms every bit as available, if not more so, than in the US - to see what the reality of the situation is. Nobody, including the vast majority of Catholics, really cares what the Pope has to say about condoms. On that score, the market imperative of supply and demand trumps the moral dictates of the Holy See quite handily.

Has there been any pronouncements on condom usage by deviant priests?

Who sees the Vatican as "anti-philosophic automatons reciting Scripture on blind faith"? I certainly don't. It seems pretty clear that much of the time they're just making it up as they go along.

I care what the Pope says on condoms as my wife and I are Catholics in harmony with Catholic teaching on natural family planning and respect the natural law. We also know many young Catholic families who are practicing the same because of their fidelity to the Pope, the Magisterium, and their intense reading on the issue. The fact that many Catholics are out of harmony with the teaching does not mean that the teaching is untrue, but that the modern world has taken a utilitiarian and individualistic approach to morality. As for all the sophmoric pot shots, I think they speak for themselves.

Jonah Goldberg demonstrates the skill of understanding the Church as she understands herself (even if he isn't part of her or entirely in line with her thinking) in today's LA Times column. It is a skill more ordinary commentators ought to acquire if they wish to contribute in any meaningful way to a serious critique. http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-goldberg-pope-20101123,0,3984015.column

Oh yes, Julie, I'll work at understanding the Church as "she" understands "herself" (oh brother! or is that oh, sister?), right after I come to understand Jonah's lame cop-outs (e.g., he was a new dad!!!) for not personally participating in the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan (which he cheered on with such ecstasy).

Would it help if I, like Goldberg, made frequent, inept pop culture references to show the kids that I watch the Simpsons and Lost?

Oh, someday, maybe someday, I can be half the commentator that Lucianne's boy is - but it's hard to set one's goals so darn high!!

Mr. Jonah Goldberg was a finalist in a recent competition!!!

http://www.salon.com/news/war_room_hack_thirty/index.html?story=/politics/war_room/2010/11/24/hack_list_7

I love this recent quote from him:

"In today's syndicated column I trot out the cliche that "hindsight's always crystal clear." Several readers have already reminded me that I wrote a column arguing exactly the opposite in June of 2002. This is the danger of cliches. I was trying to make a general point which everyone understands but also ended up communicating an even more general falsehood. Like saying violence never solves anything, people understand what I mean even when in reality what I'm saying isn't true."

He's so right.

It does seem to me that the ultra-secular media and academics are more likely to be the "anti-philosophical automatons" of which Mr. Paulette speaks. I, as an observant Jew, of course have my disagreements with Catholics and Catholicism, but I will always make the best attempt to understand anyone's words in the manner in which they were uttered or written rather than stupidly or maliciously take them out of context. Hanlon's Razor may or may not be appropriate here. (Never attribute to malice that which can be attributed to stupidity.)

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