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Ordo Fratrum Minorum

Weighing in on Aids, Condoms, Church Teaching

imagesDiscussion around sex and sexuality always arouses, so to speak, attention. The latest news out of the Vatican, of all places, has got everyone, especially young people, talking about the subject. I for one, have no desire to debate the moral implications of particular sexual acts but will stand with the Church and say two things:

“Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person” (CCC #2332) and such is indeed “a source of joy and pleasure” (CCC #2362). I hope I need not explain why sex and sexuality, inseparable from our human nature, is absolutely good.

The news that has everyone excited (one way or another) is Pope Benedict XVI ‘s new book. In it, he tackles the African Aids epidemic and condoms as a means to slow its increase. In a poor English translation, the Pope writes:

“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”. To use a condom is, in other words, somewhat responsible. He goes on to suggest the obvious, that abstinence is by far the best means to prevent STD proliferation, but it is the suggestion that condoms can, in albeit specific cases, perform a positive (morally good) function that has rightly peeked our interest.

In response to what has been released in Pope Benedict XVI’s new book, Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J. writes:

“the pope takes into consideration an exceptional situation in which the exercise of sexuality may represent a real risk to the life of another person. In such a case, the pope does not morally justify the disordered exercise of sexuality, but maintains that the use of the condom to diminish the danger of infection may be ‘a first assumption of responsibility’, ‘a first step in a movement toward a … more human sexuality’, as opposed to not using the condom and exposing the other person to a fatal risk.”

As much as onlookers might view these as a reaffirmation of what has always been taught, these statements represent the greatest shift in moral theology since allowing Catholics to eat meat on Fridays. Actually, that’s not true. This is a much bigger deal.

Throughout his reign on the papal throne, Pope John Paul II insisted that the use of condoms for any purpose was no less than evil. Despite cries from ground level Church people who fight the thankless battle with Aids in Africa (Wikipedia states that 88% of Africans are affected with HIV) and beyond, JP II was unwavering. His Aristotelian mind, using a logic that starts with ideas and only later moves to reality, could not rationalize the goodness of protected sex.

More could be said on this subject, but the history books can now record that JP II did not, under any circumstances, condone condom use, and Benedict XVI did.

To these facts react as you wish, but realise this. If there was any hope before of eradicating the evil disease called Aids, that hope has just multiplied. Congratulations to the many Priests, Religious, and lay People who have for years handed out condoms to prostitutes and others at risk of HIV. Thanks to a courageous pontiff, you have been vindicated. And for those who have been victimized by the disease itself, prayers from around the world are with you now.