Pope’s Condom Comment: A Pastoral Insight, Not Permission
Pope Benedict’s comment in “Light of the World,” a recently released book by Peter Seewald, that “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 step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, or the way toward recognizing an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants,” has caused some to perceive an opening in the Catholic Church’s long standing condemnation of condoms as a prophylactic against the spread of HIV AIDS.
It is, however, a pastoral insight of a possible awareness on the part of a hypothetical “male prostitute,” or by extension anyone involved in illicit sexual activity, that how the human body is employed has both personal and social consequences.
The use of a condom is judged by the church to be evil because the intention of the persons sexually involved violates the natural law. In conjugal relations between a husband and wife it prevents conception which is the primary purpose of the marriage act.
In extra-marital sex, both heterosexual and homosexual, the use of a condom is in effect superfluous to the evil for which it is used.
Therefore, under no circumstances can the church or the Pope give permission for their usage since it would implicitly condone the immoral act for which the condom is being used. And, to be sure, the Pope did not do so in his interview for the book.
Then, what did Benedict say?
As pastor of souls, the Pope realizes that a serious component in assessing a human action is the intention of the person. He also knows that personal righteousness is a process. Like any moral teacher, he looks for signs indicative of a growing awareness of an individual’s responsibility for their behavior. Sin, by its very nature, is self-centered.
Thus, while there is no doubt that the objective action of using a condom is always wrong, the use of a condom by a male prostitute to protect a client from a deadly disease may signal the beginning of a moral sense that goes beyond the self.
The Pope says that this may be “a first step on the road towards a more human sexuality.” The sought after end of this process in Benedict’s mind is fully moral behavior within marriage and abstaining from illicit sexual relations─ outside of marriage.
Some groups are touting the Pope’s remarks as a revolutionary shift in the church’s approach to AIDS prevention. This is either wishful thinking or downright manipulation of his words to promote an agenda which advances a belief that human sexual activity is amoral or simply mechanistic and designed for pleasure.
The Pope has continually reiterated that the church is opposed to widespread use of condoms that “implies a banalization of sexuality.” Government and extra-governmental organizations such as UNAIDS, the United Nations’ AIDS relief agency that distribute condoms do just this.
Further, the Pope’s words cannot be taken as concession to those who believe that the spread of AIDS can be reduced by condom usage. Those who make these claims are using data which is at best tenuous if not wishful since they presume ideal conditions for effectiveness.
Reasonable people, like the Pope, recognize that all sex outside of marriage is irresponsible. It is often dangerous physically, harmful emotionally and always deadly spiritually. This being so, the Pope could never give permission for condom usage in any circumstance. Pope Benedict’s words, if anything, reflect the hope that a person’s concern for another human being may eventually develop into a fully moral way of living.