Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
May 8, 2006
Counsel needed on condom use
The Vatican is in the early stages of an investigation which might lead to a statement on the morality of the use of condoms as a means of preventing AIDS. The Church is understandably hesitant about issuing a nuanced statement which might be distorted in the popular press to sound as though it were changing Church teaching and giving a blanket endorsement to the use of condoms.
Nevertheless, the world needs the Church's moral guidance. The Catholic Church is the only major institution in the world that has consistently pointed out the immorality of contraception, that contraception is, by its very nature, an act against the good of life.
To say that this is an unpopular teaching in today's world is to engage in gross understatement. The Church has, however, remained faithful to this teaching despite the scorn this fidelity has brought. Protestants also long accepted that contraception was immoral. But now the Catholic Church stands alone. It maintains that stand not because it is obstreperous, but because the teaching is correct.
Although the Church has never condemned the use of condoms as a means of protection against HIV/AIDS, it has often been criticized for having done so. Church spokesmen have recommended abstinence as the only sure protection against HIV/AIDS. But given the mortal threat this disease - and other sexually transmitted diseases - presents to millions of people today, it is important that the Church provide moral guidance.
In his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI defined contraception as "any action which either before, at the moment of, or after marital intercourse, is specifically intended to impede procreation - whether as an end or as a means" (n. 14).
In other words, the pope defines contraception not in terms of specific devices or drugs, but in terms of intention. Is the intent of an action to prevent conception? If so, it is an act against life and thus morally wrong.
However, this opens the question of whether a husband and wife - one of whom has a sexually transmitted disease - might use a condom (or some other barrier method) intentionally to prevent, not conception, but the transmission of the disease. Indeed, this would seem to be a morally acceptable use of a condom . . . if that device really does prevent transmission of the disease.
Given all the controversy over the effectiveness of condoms, that is a big "if." Should the Church say it is acceptable to use a device that is 95 per cent effective in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS? Or 99 per cent? And, if it does, what will it say to those who fall into the unfortunate five per cent, or one per cent, who still do contract the deadly disease?
"Ooops! Sorry. I guess you lost the game of roulette" does not really cut it as an acceptable response.
If every single married couple in which one partner is afflicted with HIV/AIDS used condoms all the time, the spread of the disease would most likely be reduced. Lives would be saved. But lives would also be lost, the lives of people who were seduced by the myth of safe sex.
Is there some better advice these couples can be offered? Well, yes. It is the advice the Church offers all young people: Do not have sex before marriage. After marriage, remain true to your spouse. Never commit adultery. If you have already been afflicted with an STD, never do anything that might harm your spouse. If you love him or her, you would never take the risk of giving that person a deadly disease.
Such advice might sound too idealistic. But love is idealistic and it can be demanding.
The Church calls us to the demanding idealism of love. That's why we need the Church's counsel on this delicate, controversial issue.
- Glen Argan
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