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

March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS’s Losses in Syria and Iraq Will Make It Difficult to Recruit
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer Bernie Morphs Into Public Option Dean
Dave Lindorff
Budget Goes Military
John Heid
Disappeared on the Border: “Chase and Scatter” — to Death
Mark Weisbrot
The Troubling Financial Activities of an Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate
Robert Fisk
As ISIS’s Caliphate Shrinks, Syrian Anger Grows
Michael J. Sainato
Democratic Party Continues Shunning Popular Sanders Surrogates
Paul Bentley
Nazi Heritage: the Strange Saga of Chrystia Freeland’s Ukrainian Grandfather
Christopher Ketcham
Buddhism in the Storm
Gregory Barrett
Can Democracy Save Us?
Thomas Barker
Platitudes in the Wake of London’s Terror Attack
Mike Hastie
Insane Truths: a Vietnam Vet on “Apocalypse Now, Redux”
Binoy Kampmark
Cyclone Watch in Australia
Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail