In a soon to be released book entitled, “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times,” Pope Benedict has apparently said, “the Catholic church is not fundamentally against the use of condoms” especially when they are used to prevent the spread of HIV. In what seems to a complete reversal of his previous opinion, Benedict says that while condoms are not “the real and moral solution” to HIV/AIDS, it is nonetheless the case that “where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality.”
What great news!
P.S. This new position would seem to have far-reaching implications for the entirety of Catholic sexual ethics, as, since Humane Vitae, the magisterium has insisted that the procreative and unitive functions of sexual intercourse (this latter aspect was identified for the first time at Vatican II) can never intentionally separated for any purpose. The Pope’s recent statement would seem to suggest that there are exceptions to this rule.
Also, I have heard some commentors describe this move (if it is in fact true) as a recognition of the applicability of the principle of double effect to the case of condoms and HIV prevention. However, I think this statement is in fact a more radical development of church teaching than that. The principle of double effect rests upon the three following conditions:
- the nature of the act is itself good, or at least morally neutral;
- the agent intends the good effect and not the bad either as a means to the good or as an end itself;
- the good effect outweighs the bad effect in circumstances sufficiently grave to justify causing the bad effect and the agent exercises due diligence to minimize the harm.
However, previously, contraception of any kind, or any act that sought to separate sex from procreation (like coitus interruptus) was considered to be intrinsically evil; in other words, it was always wrong no matter what the circumstances, effects, or intentions. For this reason, the principle of double effect did not apply precisely because “the nature of the act itself” in this case the use of condoms, was not “itself good, or at least morally neutral.” In fact, it was considered to be intrinsically evil.
Logically, then, it would seem that this latest statement by the pope implies that condoms are no longer intrinsically evil, but instead circumstantially so. If my thinking is right here, this is a HUGE change/development in magisterial sexual ethics.
P.P.S. Many of you have also rightly pointed out the unfortunate nature of Benedict’s decision to illustrate his point with the example of a male prostitute as opposed to a married woman seeking to protect herself from the consequences of her husband’s infidelity. However, even this suggests provocative possibilities for Catholic sexual ethics as even if Benedict means only to endorse condoms in the case of homosexual sex (which I do not think he does), this would seem to suggest that the criterion for evaluating the morality of actions pertaining to homosexual sex are not identical to those for evaluating the morality of actions pertaining to heterosexual sex. Even if Benedict’s revision were interpreted in a more limited manner as applying only to homosexual sex, it nonetheless implies that something that is not permissible in the case of heterosexual sex (the severing of the sexual act from procreation via condoms) is permitted in the case of homosexual sex. In other words, this would seem to suggest that at least in one area, people engaged in “homosexual sex” are permitted to separate the sex act from procreation.