FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Condom Morality

by DIANE CHRISTIAN

The present Pope Benedict XVI has made headlines by changing his moral position on the use of condoms. Where he before said such use was always ‘an intrinsic evil,’ he last week said that use of a condom by a male prostitute might be the beginning of moral responsibility if it were used to prevent the spread of AIDS. Health workers rejoiced; strict Catholics charged him with error and accommodation to moral relativism.

The comment was defended by papal spokespersons and enlarged to include condom use by women and transsexual persons. The controversy might seem odd to outsiders, but it locates a critical issue of sexual morality for Catholic Church believers.

The Church defines the sexual act between men and women as organized for procreation. Nothing should impede the possibility of the act producing children. So forty-two years ago when Pope Paul VI decided the contraceptive pill was immoral, any medicinal or mechanical barrier to conception was denied to the Catholic faithful. Abstinence or the rhythm method of calculated abstinence during times of fertility was the sole method of morally acceptable birth control. Abortion was defined as radically sinful, grounds for excommunication. Sterilization for contraception was also proscribed.

Studies indicate that huge numbers of sexually active Catholics, married and unmarried, ignore the teaching and practice contraception by all the available methods.

The Church’s absoluteness on this issue has been framed as reverence for life. The doctrine is that human life is sacred, a seamless garment controlled by God and not open to human interference in beginning or ending it. This also led the Church to oppose the death penalty in the latter half of the twentieth century, though opposition to abortion far outweighed opposition to state execution and war.

Catholic opposition to abortion and contraception has marked commitment to a radical sexual morality. The Pope commented that condom use by a male prostitute might signal the beginning of his moral development by his taking responsibility for stopping disease and by realizing he cannot exercise unlimited, selfish pleasure-seeking. But the Pope skirted the contraceptive dilemma because he seemed to address a homosexual rather than heterosexual context. There’s no possibility of life being blocked in his example as women are the site of fertilization. No doubt the Vatican spokesperson, Fr. Federico Lombardi, who said the Pope’s words were meant to apply broadly, beyond gay sex workers, realized this problem. He said “This is if you’re a man, a woman or a transsexual. The point is it’s a first step of taking responsibility, of avoiding passing a grave risk onto another.” That reasoning has not previously been allowed to women, to protect them from rape, pregnancy or disease.

The Church idea that the sexual act is primarily for procreation is usually traced to Aristotle via Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas argues that the end of the sexual act is procreation and that anything obstructing the end of the act is unnatural and thus immoral. It’s not unrelated to Aristotle on usury. Aristotle said money wasn’t living and couldn’t reproduce naturally so the making of money on money was unnatural. It was forbidden and a mortal sin in medieval practice.

This prohibition against the ‘unnatural’ is usually extended in Catholic morality to homosexual practice and to all sexual acts outside of marriage which are not open to fertilization. So the Pope’s exception of the male prostitute’s use of a condom was quickly affirmed not as an endorsement but as an allowed secondary evil, utilizing the principle of double effect: an action with bad moral element—condom use— is acceptable because of a more primary action which has a good end, as in stopping the transmission of AIDS.

Allowing this condom morality jars the resolute imposition of completely controlled heterosexual sex because it takes the sexual act out of the procreation business. The Pope says it may lead to better sexual control because it limits pleasure and thinks of another; the Pope morphs the evil into an imagined ascesis. (Paul VI made the same move in his encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968. He said the sexual control imposed by Catholic strict conscience would help men not forget the reverence due to women and not let them turn women into instruments of pleasure.)

To outsiders this celibate analysis may look addled and outrageous. Medical workers want to end the sexual plague of AIDS. Social workers want to teach birth control as a human necessity. Sexual liberationists want to challenge religious control of sex. All people want to figure out how to be sexually responsible people.

Pope Benedict XVI, who repents the terrible predation of clerical sexual abuse of children and the Church coverup thereof, says here he hopes to open a dialogue. It’s about time.

DIANE CHRISTIAN is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at University at Buffalo and author of Blood Sacrifice. She can be reached at: engdc@acsu.buffalo.edu

 

 

DIANE CHRISTIAN is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at University at Buffalo and author of the new book Blood Sacrifice. She can be reached at: engdc@acsu.buffalo.edu

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

December 06, 2016
Anthony DiMaggio
Post-Fact Politics: Reviewing the History of Fake News and Propaganda
Richard Moser
Standing Rock: Challenge to the Establishment, School for the Social Movements
Norman Solomon
Media Complicity is Key to Blacklisting Websites
Michael J. Sainato
Elizabeth Warren’s Shameful Exploitation of Standing Rock Victory
David Rosen
State Power and Terror: From Wounded Knee to Standing Rock
Kim Ives
Deconstructing Another Right-Wing Victory in Haiti
Nile Bowie
South Korea’s Presidency On A Knife-Edge
Mateo Pimentel
Some Notes and a Song for Standing Rock
Bill Fletcher Jr – Bob Wing
Fighting Back Against the White Revolt of 2016
Peter Lee
Is America Ready for a War on White Privilege?
Pepe Escobar
The Rules of the (Trump) Game
W. T. Whitney
No Peace Yet in Colombia Despite War’s End
Mark Weisbrot
Castro Was Right About US Policy in Latin America
David Swanson
New Rogue Anti-Russia Committee Created in “Intelligence” Act
George Ochenski
Forests of the Future: Local or National Control?
December 05, 2016
Bill Martin
Stalingrad at Standing Rock?
Mark A. Lause
Recounting a Presidential Election: the Backstory
Mel Goodman
Mad Dog Mattis and Trump’s “Seven Days in May”
Matthew Hannah
Standing Rock and the Ideology of Oppressors: Conversations with a Morton County Commissioner
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
#NoDAPL Scores Major Victory: No Final Permit For Pipeline
Fran Shor
The End of the Indispensable Nation
Michael Yates
Vietnam: the War That Won’t Go Away
Michael Uhl
Notes on a Trip to Cuba
Robert Hunziker
Huge Antarctica Glacier in Serious Trouble
John Steppling
Screen Life
David Macaray
Trump vs. America’s Labor Unions
Yoav Litvin
Break Free and Lead, or Resign: a Letter to Bernie Sanders
Norman Pollack
Taiwan: A Pustule on International Politics
Kevin Martin
Nuclear Weapons Modernization: a New Nuclear Arms Race? Who Voted for it? Who Will Benefit from It?
David Mattson
3% is not Enough: Towards Restoring Grizzly Bears
Howard Lisnoff
The Person Who Deciphered the Order to Shoot at Kent State
Dave Archambault II
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Statement on Dakota Access Pipeline Decision
Nick Pemberton
Make America Late Again
Weekend Edition
December 02, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
The Coming War on China
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The CIA’s Plots to Kill Castro
Paul Street
The Iron Heel at Home: Force Matters
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Timberg’s Tale: Washington Post Reporter Spreads Blacklist of Independent Journalist Sites
Andrew Levine
Must We Now Rethink the Hillary Question? Absolutely, Not
Joshua Frank
CounterPunch as Russian Propagandists: the Washington Post’s Shallow Smear
David Rosen
The Return of HUAC?
Rob Urie
Race and Class in Trump’s America
Patrick Cockburn
Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could be Wrong
Caroline Hurley
Anatomy of a Nationalist
Ayesha Khan
A Muslim Woman’s Reflections on Trump’s Misogyny
Michael Hudson – Steve Keen
Rebel Economists on the Historical Path to a Global Recovery
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail