US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The condom conundrum

Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint |

Pope Benedict's remarks on the use of condoms in the prevention of HIV continue to reverberate, both in the blogosphere and in the printed Catholic press. The UK Tablet has this analysis from Austin Ivereigh, who concludes--correctly in my mind--that:

The breakthrough is the Pope’s mention of a condom as a positive first step – impossible were it “intrinsically evil”. It is a rejection of the misuse of church teaching by self-appointed guardians of orthodoxy. There is no doubt what he meant, and he has articulated the mind of the Church. Agencies on the front line can breathe more easily now.

Ivereigh sees the statement as another step in a progression that began in 2006, though a doctrinal ruling has been held up due to Vatican politics and concern that any move will open the floodgates on contraception.

The editors of Commonweal respond more directly to the criticisms coming from the rightward end of the church spectrum:

What really seems to disturb such critics is that the pope has stepped outside their comfort zone by discussing the real-world applications and limitations of the church’s teaching on contraception. But this is certainly not the first time a prominent theologian has spoken about the permissibility of condoms in preventing disease, and it is not even the first time Joseph Ratzinger has signaled a less-than-rigid perspective on contraception.

Commonweal goes on to note that as far back as 1996, Ratzinger had signalled a less rigid approach to the issue of contraception.

Regardless, as I have argued in on this website (here, here, and here) and in my February column on the issue, this teaching is open to further development and change, and Benedict himself has signalled that it is by open to an exception. The manner of the statement's release--in a papal interview that was surely reviewed before publication, previewed in both English and Italian (in the Vatican newspaper), along with clarifications from the Vatican press office and the CDF--has "Vatican" written all over it. In other words, it was intentional, and it demonstrates that the man some called "God's Rottweiler" is more flexible than thought.