On Condoms: Did Pope Benedict Change Church Teaching?
By: Paul Murano – December, 2010
As the secular media falls over itself in a frenzy spinning a leaked passage from a new book that interviews Pope Benedict XVI, we ask the question: Has the Pope changed Church doctrine on the matter of contraception? Three questions first need to be asked: What did the Pope say? What did he mean? Can this teaching be changed?
Here is the passage in question: “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 discovering 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,”
Perhaps the first mistake the Pope made is to assume the public will think like adults. Critical thinking does not include taking a passage out of context in an attempt to justify sin, nor does it include reducing everything to simplistic black and white concrete poles. It does include making subtle distinctions, in this case between the objective and subjective realms.
The Pope seems to be conversing about a hypothetical person’s conscience, not the objective moral law. Respected moral theologian Dr. Janet Smith says it this way: “If the Pope were to say, ‘If you’re going to rob banks, using a gun without bullets would be a first step towards morality,’ would you think that the Pope was approving of using guns without bullets to rob banks? Would the headlines read “Pope Approves Bank Robbery – In Certain Cases”’?
Even if the Pope was talking about objective morality, using a condom during an act of sodomy is not contraception. Acts of sodomy themselves are contraceptive, for they preclude both the unitive and procreative potentiality of sexual union, its teleological ends. Adding a condom to sterile acts in an attempt to stave off disease is at least displaying some semblance of conscience, or as the Pope said a first step toward moralization.
But pointing out a positive movement within one’s subjective conscience does not mean that it is in line with the objective moral law. The Pope was not condoning acts of prostitution, sodomy or contraception.
To address the general question of contraception (chemical or barrier) in relation to the moral law we must think clearly and without selfish bias. The natural moral law cannot be changed by any human power, nor could even God change it, for He can not contradict Himself. We are created for love and designed in a way that brings about optimal happiness. The intentional thwarting of the permanent union and potential procreation that is natural to sex, which contraception accomplishes, violates the truth of our being, the moral law of the Creator, and is literally sexual abuse. Of course this truth is lost to the contemporary mind so conditioned by the secular-humanist media and academia who preach that consenting adults can do whatever they want; but the degradation of persons that contraception imposes can never be made good or freely condoned by a rightly formed conscience.
In short, there are two dimensions of our being that need ethical consideration – nature and person, natural law and personal meaning; because our common human nature and our unique personhood must be respected. With contraception WHAT we are in our nature is violated by a form of sexual bulimia and WHO we are as persons is degraded by objectification. Bulimia is to eating what contraception is to sex because from the standpoint of nature they are similar disorders: Both begin the natural process but violate its proper end. Both objectively seek pleasure but negate purpose. Both seek love but block life. Love is inherently life-giving, for it is ordered to the sustentation of life for the individual (food) and the species (sex) that includes spouse and family. Contraception violates persons inasmuch as it reduces the other to an object and means of pleasure, depersonalizing both parties while transforming an act of love and union into one of selfishness and disunion. It is no small wonder that while 50% of marriages now end in divorce only 1% that practice natural family planning instead of contraception do.
To answer the original question of whether the Pope changed the Church’s constant teaching on contraception, he did not. But perhaps more importantly, he can not.
Paul Murano taught theology and philosophy at Assumption College and Northshore Com. College. He is also former co-host of The Paying Attention! radio program on WHAV and Host “Beneath the Surface” on Burlington Cable Access. You can E-mail Paul at PJDM@aol.com