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What Pope Benedict really said about condoms


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#1 SDG

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Posted 20 November 2010 - 06:54 PM

Jimmy Akin, as usual, has the best analysis.

So Benedict reiterates that [condom use] is not a real (practical) solution to the AIDS crisis, nor is it a moral solution. Nevertheless, in some cases the use of a condom displays “the intention of reducing the risk of infection” which is “a first step in a movement toward . . . a more human way of living sexuality.” He thus isn’t saying that the use of condoms is justified but that they can display a particular intent and that this intent is a step in the right direction.

Janet Smith provides a helpful analogy:

If someone was going to rob a bank and was determined to use a gun, it would better for that person to use a gun that had no bullets in it. It would reduce the likelihood of fatal injuries. But it is not the task of the Church to instruct potential bank robbers how to rob banks more safely and certainly not the task of the Church to support programs of providing potential bank robbers with guns that could not use bullets. Nonetheless, the intent of a bank robber to rob a bank in a way that is safer for the employees and customers of the bank may indicate an element of moral responsibility that could be a step towards eventual understanding of the immorality of bank robbing.

There is more that can be said about all this, but what we’ve already seen makes it clear that the Pope’s remarks must be read carefully and that they do not constitute the kind of license for condom use that the media would wish.



#2 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 21 November 2010 - 11:05 AM

It sounds to me like this kerfuffle is kind of reminiscent of previous kerfuffles, except where the media vilified Benedict for his statements about Islam or whatever, they are now praising him for what he supposedly said about condoms. What I mean is this: the Pope is an academic and apparently likes to make statements that aren't all that shocking or surprising when you consider them in a sort of abstract way, but the media and the public tend to take those statements and strip them of nuance and amp them up into something sensational.

At any rate, before I came across Jimmy's blog post, I had already begun to suspect what was going on here when SOME of the news reports mentioned that the Pope had made these remarks in the context of discussing what "male prostitutes" -- not just prostitutes, but specifically male (and thus presumably homosexual) prostitutes -- might do. If the Catholic approach to sexual matters is guided by a belief that sperm needs to go in a certain place, then obviously, a gay male prostitute's sperm is going to go in the wrong place no matter what.

#3 gigi

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Posted 24 November 2010 - 02:57 PM

Actually, he didn't specify male prostitutes. That was an error in translation.

Guardian story here


There are obvious concerns with the idea that exceptions should be made for prostitutes with AIDS in that, really, that is a tiny proportion of where the disease exists. In particular, the statement carries an implicit suggestion that straight men not involved with prostitution are safe and therefore need not worry about the health/moral implications. Of course, this is reading into the statement, but then it is so exclusive in its focus that it becomes occlusive and encourages such readings.

#4 SDG

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Posted 24 November 2010 - 03:25 PM

Actually, he did specify male prostitutes. There was, indeed, an error in translation -- by L'Osservatore Romano, which rendered Benedict's clear reference (in German) to male prostitutes as female prostitutes (in Italian).

L'OR's bungling of the situation forced Benedict's hand, though, and he has since clarified that the point could also be made of prostitutes generally, i.e., not only in a homosexual context.

It's an interesting clarification, because it may pin the issue directly on the Church's understanding of the conjugal act, i.e., the marital act. The Church's understanding is that if a married couple uses a condom, they aren't really engaged in the conjugal act at all. The reason is that true conjugal union always has a unitive and a procreative dimension, neither of which is compatible with a condom. The spouses don't really become one flesh in condom-sex because they're physically separated by a latex sheath, and they don't share their reproductive faculties (such as they may be).

The Church's teaching against contraception has thus always been in the context of the marital act. Lots of coverage of this story has bandied around words like "exception," "change," "permissible" or "allowed," none of which is accurate. Benedict hasn't proposed an "exception" to the Church's teaching on condom use, because that teaching was always directed to the marital act, never to prostitution (whether hetero- or homosexual).

The example of male (i.e., gay) prostitution is a particularly clear counter-example, because the contraceptive issue is off the table to start with. A man using a condom with another man is not withhold his reproductive potential, because he has no reproductive potential to share with another man.

The example of a female prostitute servicing male clients delimits the issue more narrowly, since there is a reproductive capacity there to be shared. The question then becomes, within the context of coitus as a nonmarital business transaction, does condom use create a further moral issue? Benedict's comments could be understood to say that it does not. (Best analysis out there: Jimmy's latest post.)

It seems likely to me that the point could be extended to nonmarital sex in general, including fornication and adultery. If so, this would be because the Church's concern is for the marital act specifically, which is seen as incompatible with condom use. In cases where the marital act is not involved at all, condom use might not add a further moral issue; indeed, it might represent a step toward a more moral view of sex, while still falling short of a truly moral view.

Edited by SDG, 24 November 2010 - 03:39 PM.


#5 gigi

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Posted 24 November 2010 - 03:39 PM

And yet the 'morality' of it is a non-sequitor in that marital or non-marital sex with someone with AIDS that isn't a prostitute, without a condom has much more substantial consequences. Especially as procreation is more likely the result. Anyway. It's a never-ending discussion that I personally think belongs outside of abstract discussions on the theological dimensions of sexual behaviour. But that's me. I just wanted to highlight the other article.

#6 SDG

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Posted 24 November 2010 - 03:45 PM

And yet the 'morality' of it is a non-sequitor in that marital or non-marital sex with someone with AIDS that isn't a prostitute, without a condom has much more substantial consequences. Especially as procreation is more likely the result.

I'm not sure I follow this. But if the Catholic understanding is right that true conjugal union can't happen with a condom, then the Church's objection to condoms within marriage can never admit of any exception, and outside of marriage it may be a moot issue. HIV-positivity could be a reason to refrain from marital relations; it could never be a reason to accept marital pseudo-sex.

#7 gigi

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Posted 24 November 2010 - 03:59 PM

Yes, but the church does not talk only of marital sex in that it talks about abstention as its solution to the AIDS problem. It may position that discussion within its own framing device of marital sex, but actually, they are talking about individuals that do not accept that framework - i.e. they have sex outside of marriage and do not think of it as a moral problem - and that annuls their framing of it within their own theological terms, and it takes their discussion of condoms into a wider arena. To see it as solely a theological position is to avoid the political, social, and individual repercussions of the discussion, and therefore, surely a non-ethical way of being in the world.

Anyway... this is the discussion that I didn't want to get into. As I said, I dislike talking about this abstractly, especially online where it becomes a virtual problem of ideas as opposed to a lived reality of millions.

Edited by gigi, 24 November 2010 - 03:59 PM.


#8 SDG

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Posted 24 November 2010 - 04:00 PM

Follow-up thought: Looking more closely at the article you linked, Gigi, it actually reports correctly on the translation issue:

According to the German original and the English translation, Benedict said the use of a condom by an HIV-positive male prostitute could be a good thing, in that would represent a first step towards an assumption of responsibility; in the Italian version, however, the word for a female prostitute was used.

What it gets wrong, along with incorrectly using language like "approved," is missing the whole marital dimension of the Church's teaching.