By now, many of you have probably seen the headline that Pope Benedict has “declared condom use acceptable ‘in certain cases’”, or something to that effect. I’ve seen some people really fretting about it on my Facebook news feed, but a closer look at the pope’s actual words, which come from an interview that was published in a book called Light of the World: The Pope, The Church and The Signs Of The Times coming out on Tuesday, in context reveals that that is not exactly the case. First of all, he is more than likely talking about condom use during a sex act in which there is no possibility for conception. In which case it is not a change in or departure from Church policy on contraception (which is that it is morally wrong in every circumstance). Second, he never says that the use of a condom, even in such a circumstance, is ever “acceptable”, but that it might indicate a ‘first step’ towards realizing that what they are doing is wrong.
Many thanks to The Catholic World Report for providing the entire context of the Pope’s words, which are part of a discussion on his remarks about condoms and AIDS prevention during his visit to Africa last March. A piece:
In my remarks I was not making a general statement about the condom issue, but merely said, and this is what caused such great offense, that we cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms. Much more needs to be done. We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help them; and we must do this both before and after they contract the disease.
As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work. This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.
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 recovering 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.
Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?
She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality. (Light of the World, Chapter 11, “The Journeys of a Shepherd,” pages 117-119)
Dr. Janet Smith provides the best analysis so far:
The Holy Father is simply observing that for some homosexual prostitutes the use of a condom may indicate an awakening of a moral sense; an awakening that sexual pleasure is not the highest value, but that we must take care that we harm no one with our choices. He is not speaking to the morality of the use of a condom, but to something that may be true about the psychological state of those who use them. If such individuals are using condoms to avoid harming another, they may eventually realize that sexual acts between members of the same sex are inherently harmful since they are not in accord with human nature. The Holy Father does not in any way think the use of condoms is a part of the solution to reducing the risk of AIDs. As he explicitly states, the true solution involves “humanizing sexuality.”
Anyone having sex that threatens to transmit HIV needs to grow in moral discernment. This is why Benedict focused on a “first step” in moral growth. The Church is always going to be focused on moving people away from immoral acts towards love of Jesus, virtue, and holiness. We can say that the Holy Father clearly did not want to make a point about condoms, but wants to talk about growth in a moral sense, which should be a growth towards Jesus..
Read more from Smith
Others offering clarity:
Jimmy Akin The Pope Said WHAT about Condoms???
Jeff Miller Ginger Factor: The Pope approves of condoms!!!!
The Anchoress and Deacon Greg are providing links to further analysis as it comes in. Stay tuned!
Also worth reading: Condoms, HIV-AIDS and Africa: The Pope May Be Right