By Diogenes ( articles ) | Feb 28, 2007
I've lost count of the number of news stories that, over the past decade, have breathlessly predicted the Holy See was on the verge of approving condoms. All were groundless. All served their purpose, though, inasmuch as they created a public expectation for the change their instigators wished to see occur. Framed as a medical crisis (the AIDS epidemic), the change campaigned for is a change in moral teaching.
Ruth Gledhill of the London Times, who's had a rough couple weeks of it herself, puts up a post in extenuation of a recent floater by the Financial Times, which reported on February 19th that the Pope would green-light marital condoms on February 22nd. He didn't (John Allen has some astringent remarks on the journalistic shoddiness involved). Take a look at the following snippets from Gledhill:
Overseas aid agencies are watching closely. John Coventry of ActionAid told me: "The possibility that the Vatican could soften its position on the use of condoms is potentially a very exciting development in the fight against HIV and Aids. The Catholic Church does some outstanding work on the front line of HIV care and treatment in countries like Mozambique, where 16 per cent of the population live with HIV and there is just one doctor to each 30,000 people."
To borrow Mark Steyn's epidemiological vocabulary: for whom, exactly, would it be "a very exciting development" for the Catholic Church to switch to the Dogs-in-Heat model of the human prerogative: uninfected Mozambicans, or anglophone professors of gender studies with pec implants? Back to Coventry:
"But what matters is what works. For too long anti-condom ideology has got in the way of pragmatic approaches to preventing the spread of the disease."
Got that? Christian moral doctrine has been reborn in disease-control jargon as "anti-condom ideology." Note that Coventry's pragmatism doesn't extend to urging the unsurpassably pragmatic anti-infection strategies of chastity and monogamy.
"The truth on the ground is that this disease hits young women hardest -- in some parts of Africa young women are six times more likely to be infected as young men in the same age group. Young women need to know that it is morally acceptable to use condoms as part of their anti-infection armoury. ActionAid research shows that the more educated a girl is the longer she will wait before having sex, when she does have sex she is more likely to use a condom and is consequently less likely to contract HIV."
Take a minute to re-read that last sentence (and call to mind Oscar Levant's crack about Doris Day: "I knew her before she became a virgin"). Education is a process effected over time. HIV infection occurs in a single moment and lasts as long as its host. By the reasoning of ActionAid, the less-educated the girl, the more potential moments of infection; whence the chances of a lass's employing her full "anti-infection armoury" vary inversely with the likelihood that it will be early enough to be worth bothering about.
Of course, any person capable of understanding the connection between copulation and death, and acting thereon, is capable of understanding the connection between human dignity and sexual morality, and acting thereon. It's the latter connection that's the embarrassment to Western élites and it's the latter connection that's broken by condom use, whence it's hardly a matter of indifference to the élites (and the journalists they employ) whether or not the Holy See sells the pass.
Are these recurring Vatican U-turns simply made up out of thin air by pro-condom journalists? Perhaps, from time to time, they are. But let's not kid ourselves. There's no shortage of Catholic clergymen, including those with excellent media contacts, whose interest in the mechanics of AIDS transmission is -- how shall we put it? -- not matched by a comparably profound concern for the five million cases of malaria reported annually in Mozambique. One imagines their alacrity in vindicating the sub-Saharan nuptial bond (Bishops Reggie Cawcutt and Kevin Dowling spring to mind) is so great that it momentarily tends to eclipse their passions for swamp drainage, insecticide spraying, and the greater availability of sulfadoxines. Doubtless it happens now and again that the media personnel with whom forward-thinking ecclesiastics consort become infected by these enthusiasms and unwittingly convert them into news stories.
They're contagious, after all.