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.