US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Pope on condoms, part 2

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Now comes the spin: Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Dish says that B16's remarks opens a can of worms for the Vatican when talking about same-sex sexual activity; because by using the example of a male prostitute (presumably with a male client), the pope is recognizing gradations in the moral gravity of sexual activity among same-sex partners. The pope reportedly said, the use of a condom by an HIV-infected prostitute would be "a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way of living sexuality."

I think Sully's overstating his case here, though he is right to point out that the point did not use the most obvious situation of possible HIV transmission, the case of a heterosexual couple in which one partner is HIV-positive, which most often endangers women and their children, and is reason enough to change the policy, as I have argued elsewhere. That's the situation in which the church through its catechists/priests/relief workers could have the most effect, that is, in giving women some help in getting their HIV-positive husbands to use condoms.

It's hard to say why the pope chose this specific example--though avoiding the "contraception problem is as good a guess as any--and already there is pushback from the "intrinsically evil" school of condom use. That group has a point that I made in my Saturday post: Put simply, an interview with the pope is not a teaching document, it's just a conversation with Joseph Ratzinger, who happens to be the pope--a point today's Vatican statement on the matter seems to support. The big news would be if there was document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or the Pontifical Council for Health Care saying that Catholic relief agencies could promote the use of condoms in their educational and other prevention efforts. That would be news; this is just an interesting turn of events.

At the same time, this pope says nothing without thought. I think one could see his remarks as a bit of a trial balloon, or at least as an acknowledgment that there may be another Catholic way of approaching the HIV epidemic that could be more open to condoms without jettisoning the Vatican's traditional position that abstinence is the weapon that will defeat the HIV pandemic.