at the floodgates

By Diogenes (articles ) | May 04, 2006

Here's how the argument shapes up:

Side A (the "Progressives") argues that the Church must allow the use of condoms by married couples if one is infected with the HIV virus. It's a matter of life and death, they say.

Side B (the "Conservatives") argues that the use of condoms destroys the integrity of the marital act, and since a couple could guard against AIDS by abstention, there's no need to violate the natural law.

Side A, now exasperated, counters by saying that for pete's sake, we aren't talking about contraception. The couple would be using the condom not to prevent conception, but to prevent disease: to save a life. We're not asking the Church to change the ban on contraceptives; we asking only for consideration of these very special circumstances.

That line of argumentation took a hit yesterday, when approximately 145 newspapers in the US alone carried stories with a headline like this:

Vatican Re-Examines Contraception Ban

Ooops! No mention of "special circumstances" there. No mention of AIDS, even. We now know exactly how the mass media would play a Vatican concession on condoms from HIV-prone married couples: it would be interpreted as an acceptance of condom use-- perhaps only in "special circumstances," but doesn't every amorous young man hope there will be some "special circumstances" tonight?

But wait. I only quoted the headline. In the text of the AP story there was some discussion of the moral issues-- of double effect and lesser evils and all that. Then a Jesuit moralist, Father James Keenan, put things back into the sort of terms anyone can understand. If the Vatican allows condom use in this one special case, he said:

It would finally take the stigma off the condom. Then it's all over. The condom will be freed of this whole, heavy moral debate.

And Yes, in case you were wondering, this is the same Father James Keenan who testified in favor of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, and who still instructs impressionable young students in moral theology at Boston College.

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  • Posted by: - May. 05, 2006 11:25 AM ET USA

    "The couple would be using the condom not to prevent conception, but to prevent disease: to save a life." Is is not possible that the couple could practice some self control to save a life? The vows I took said: "For better or worse, in *sickness* and in health...." If one of the spouses were dying of cancer, or having back surgery, or any number of medical conditions, would that not require abstaining from the conjugal act? Most of those are not communicable diseases like AIDS.

  • Posted by: jbrown629 - May. 04, 2006 8:42 PM ET USA

    Duns, The definition of sodomy is unnatural intercourse. Using a barrier, or otherwise not consummating a marital act in an integrally natural way is sodomitical in that it is a mutual perversion of intercourse. Self abuse is a different sin, not considered as grave (at least according to Aquinas) simply because it involves only one. Mutual abuse is different from sodomy, per se, only by degree and not by "species" of act. It's still unnatural sex with another.

  • Posted by: - May. 04, 2006 7:58 PM ET USA

    It seems that Fr. Keenan is more concerned that both parties, not just the innocent party, be allowed to sue a condom to facilitate sexual congress. Strictly an emotional issue the way I see it. The wronged person is the aids free spouse. Sympathize with that person, but no moral concessions are warranted. Maybe a moralist could argue for an annullment. The punishment seems to fit the crime. Let the innocent one go free. Well, if one is make exceptions, at least that makes some sense.

  • Posted by: Duns Scotus - May. 04, 2006 7:36 PM ET USA

    To jbrown: The question is not whether use of a condom in this circumstance constitutes marital sodomy, because, clearly, it does not. The question is whether sex with a condom, in this circumstance, is masturbatory (or, more accurately, mutually masturbatory) rather than conjugal. A fine distinction perhaps, but, if we are going to call for linguistic precision, then let's be linguistically precise.

  • Posted by: Duns Scotus - May. 04, 2006 7:28 PM ET USA

    Is Side A's position, like a medically necessary hysterectomy, vindicated by the Principle of Double Effect? It's not so clear, because the consensus orthodox view has always been that the husband's completion in the wife's body is essential for a genuine conjugal act; hence, permanent impotence is an impediment to marriage. Pulling on one thread of the Church's rich teaching on human sexuality might unravel yards of the tapestry. I trust in Pope Benedict and the Holy Spirit Who guides him!

  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - May. 04, 2006 7:07 PM ET USA

    Another good reason why when one of my students suggests he might want to attend Boston College, I am routinely unsupportive.

  • Posted by: - May. 04, 2006 2:14 PM ET USA

    To correct this wrong assumption being circulated, 2 things are needed. 1) Clear thinking 2) Direct clear expression. The Church is superb always in #1 and often weak in #2. To achieve #2, find the writer of that statement about the phony episcopal ordinations in China and have him explain it. There wont be any doubt. Saint Pius X, pray for us!

  • Posted by: jbrown629 - May. 04, 2006 9:17 AM ET USA

    There is little difference between allowing a condom to prevent STD's and allowing a condom to prevent complications due to pregnancy ("it's not the pregancy, but the complications we're avoiding"). If this is allowed, other forms of marital sodomy (let's drop the semantics and admit this is a sodomitical practice, ok?) would be allowed, if indeed it needs to remain "marital", i.e., involving both spouses as opposed to only one, since sodomy is only different from self-abuse by degree.