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Have the Spanish bishops approved condoms?

By Diogenes (articles ) | Jan 19, 2005

Spain's Catholic Church backs condoms to fight AIDS screams a Reuters headline. This seems to be something of an overstatement, but how much?

The General Secretary and spokesman of the Spanish Bishops Conference, Fr. Juan Antonio Martínez Camino, met with Spain's health minister yesterday to discuss the bishops' position on the government's AIDS program. The Reuters story in question is stingy with direct quotes from Martínez Camino, none of which justifies the conclusion of the headline.

To get a better take on the matter, I looked at several on-line Spanish papers for the story, and found fuller accounts here and here. The reporting is somewhat less sensational (Bishops soften their rejection of condoms, says one headline), but also ambiguous:

Meeting at his own request with Health Minister Elena Salgado yesterday, the bishops' spokesman wished to clarify the Catholic Hierarchy's rejection of the recent Government-initiated campaign against AIDS. Even though he insisted that "sex with condoms is not safe, it is less unsafe," the spokesman for the Church's hierarchy made his own the so-called ABC Strategy that advocates abstinence, fidelity, and, as a last resort, the use of condoms, as means of preventing the spread of HIV.

If you offer the sexually incontinent two options that are tough and, as a last resort, an easy third option, it means that the soft option becomes the first resort. We read further:

The ABC Strategy, published in the magazine The Lancet, and endorsed by 150 experts from 36 countries,"has played an important role in the reduction of AIDS in the world", according to the bishops. According to Martinez Camino, the proposal intends to mark out "common ground" in the fight against the disease.

Again, it's hard to see how two morally praiseworthy actions and one mortally sinful utilitarian expedient can constitute a common ground that includes Catholics.

Referring to the document in question, [the bishops' spokesman] assured [reporters] that the notion of "fidelity, abstinence, and condoms" proposed in the text "is in basic agreement" with the Church's opinion. ... From this point of departure, the representative of the Spanish Church recalled the need "to try to work together to solve this problem."

So once again we have the question before us: Are the bishops bending over backwards to show compassion to sinners, or are they bending over forwards?

In his implied concessions, Fr. Martínez Camino (a priest currently on leave from the Society of Jesus) may be expressing his own opinions and not those of his episcopal employers. Or his statements may have been garbled by reporters. Or again, it may be case that the bishops are merely agreeing not to oppose a governmental "policy package" that contains elements it condemns. So we still have room to doubt that the situation is as dire as that trumpeted by Reuters. What is not in doubt is that the media (including much Catholic media) are desperately eager to find in such capitulations a sign that the Church herself -- not just this flakey theologian or that twisted bishop -- has changed God's mind on the question of pseudo-sex.

It matters.

Update: I spoke with a Spanish priest in Rome who has followed this story closely and who claims that the Spanish Bishops Conference remains resolutely convinced that condom use is always sinful and did not concede anything to the contrary -- BUT (he claims) the position of the Conference is that, for persons determined to sin, use of a condom may be a lesser evil. I am unable to grasp the theology according to which God's will is that, if we are determined to expose ourselves to everlasting damnation, we should do so through the mortal sin that causes least bodily harm to ourselves and others.

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  • Posted by: - Jan. 24, 2005 10:02 AM ET USA

    In the late 1950s, Marcelinno Zalba, leading Spanish moralist, raised a question: An engaged couple get carried away into sexual coitus six months before their marriage. The man withdraws and ejaculates outside her body for fear of his fiance's getting pregnant with all the distress that will bring on them and both families. Does that withdrawal make their sexual involvement more evil or less? "MINUS MALUM," Zalba replied - "LESS EVIL" He later assisted Paul VI in writing Humanae Vitae.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 24, 2005 9:13 AM ET USA

    Those who see evil in the use of condoms by unmarried persons are correct. But the evil is in their immoral sexual acts themselves, not in a perhaps self-centered effort to reduce the evil. Example: a couple enter a medical center to achieve an in-vitro fertilization. The man ejaculates into a dish (in vitro). But the woman is Catholic, and her conscience moves her at the last minute to reject having her ovaries fertilized this way. Is this "contraception"? Of course! Sinful? Of course not!

  • Posted by: - Jan. 20, 2005 5:34 AM ET USA

    To me, the bottom line is that condom use dramatically reduces the chances of spreading AIDS and other STDS. It could save your life, your partner's life and potentially the lives of hundreds or thousands of others, born and unborn. The reckless endangerment of life is, in my opinion, a far more serious sin than having sex or using artificial contraceptives. I understand the Church can't condone condoms but it should aid rather than hinder the effort to enure people are thoroughly educated.

  • Posted by: opraem - Jan. 19, 2005 10:42 PM ET USA

    sounds like the spanish bishops have caught american influenza from our shepherds.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 19, 2005 7:09 PM ET USA

    First, you have to look at the reporting media. Reuters is systemically liberal and guaranteed to spin things in that direction. But this headline is a reach even for Reuters.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 19, 2005 4:38 PM ET USA

    "I am unable to grasp the theology according to which God's will is that, if we are determined to expose ourselves to everlasting damnation, we should do so through the mortal sin that causes least bodily harm to ourselves and others." Well, let's look away for the moment from the "harm to ourselves." The theology that says we ought not to harm others is well founded; and that is the basis of the "lesser evil" argument. I agree though that the Church ought not to promote condom use.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 19, 2005 11:28 AM ET USA

    As once Catholic Spain plunges deeper and deeper, some say another Francisco Franco is very much needed !

  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Jan. 19, 2005 10:43 AM ET USA

    The idea that the Church offers guidance as to choose among a menu of mortal sins is morally and theologically repugnant.