FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Condom Morality

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

 

 

More articles by:

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

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Peter Crowley
Outsourcing Still Affects Us: This and AI Worker Displacement Need Not be Inevitable
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
David Yearsley
Bass on Top: the Genius of Paul Chambers
Elliot Sperber
Eddie Spaghetti’s Alphabet
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail