Catholic World News

Leading African prelate responds to CDF statement on condoms

January 28, 2011

Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg, one of Africa’s leading prelates, addressed the bishops of South Africa, Botswana, and Swaziland on January 25.

Archbishop Tlhagale said that the three nations are “characterized by graft, violent crimes, corruption, the serious lack of service delivery, and self enrichment by those in positions of responsibility … To the majority of the ordinary citizens, the promises of democracy and rule of law are not only dreams that have failed but in many a reminder of the painful experiences of the past.”

In this context, the prelate introduced “some pressing questions”:

If our Christian morality is based on our faith in God and if faith is a matter of choice (personal), is morality also not a question of personal choice? There is such a thing as a secular morality? How does Christian morality face up to it? Can Christian leaders discuss moral issues with non believers without reference to God? Is it a fair assumption that our countries are Christian Countries? If so, does this allow Christian leaders to impose on the people Christian moral principles or threaten them with the fires of hell? What about African Traditional morality, de we as Christians simply dismiss those who believe in traditional morality pagans (levirate, polygamy etc)?

Archbishop Tlhagale then reacted to the recent statement by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the immorality of condom use by prostitutes. In the statement, the Congregation noted that “some commentators have interpreted the words of Benedict XVI [in his recent book-length interview] according to the so-called theory of the ‘lesser evil.’ This theory is, however, susceptible to proportionalistic misinterpretation. An action which is objectively evil, even if a lesser evil, can never be licitly willed. The Holy Father did not say – as some people have claimed – that prostitution with the use of a condom can be chosen as a lesser evil. The Church teaches that prostitution is immoral and should be shunned.”

Reacting to the Congregation’s statement, Archbishop Tlhagale said:

The second issue concerning morality which I wish to raise flows from the statement released by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith explaining the context of the statement of the Holy Father concerning the use of condoms by gay men. The statement points out that the real challenge is to focus on behavior change rather than on condom use.

My question is: What the status of the principle of a lesser evil in Catholic moral theology today? Is casuistic moral thinking still in vogue? Again here I sense a stagnation, a poverty of moral thinking in Africa and a dependency on American-European thinking. HIV & AIDS is not a North Atlantic problem. It is an African problem. It is a disease Africa shares with gay people in Europe and North America. When Europe thinks about moral issues around HIV &AIDS, they think of gay people. In Africa, we think about millions of ordinary men, women and youth, it is high time we challenge our moral theologians to assess the moral challenges of HIV &AIDS. It is high time for the conference to invest in the training of moral theologians in a more systematic fashion. Cynics would say, what more is there to think about? We have the Ten Commandments! We have a duty not to allow the imaginative genius of the human spirit to stagnate or die.

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  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Jan. 29, 2011 3:27 PM ET USA

    Eustachius234--does Hebrews tell us that God chastises his sons? You were spot on. Jesus told us that many of those who will be left out of the Kingdom will protest that they ate with Him, to which he will reply, "Amen, I know you not." We should rejoice in our chastisements.

  • Posted by: Kathie - Jan. 28, 2011 6:51 PM ET USA

    I totaly agree with eustachius234. We are losing Catholics and these Catholics are losing their souls in part because some of our priest, bishops, archbishops and cardinals are not teaching the Word of Our Lord. They have lost their way; perhaps they should have never been ordained. I hope our Holy Father will remember that he once said that perhaps the Catholic Church will be smaller but stronger. I am paraphrasing her words. It is time to remove some of these dissentersin our Church.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 28, 2011 6:08 PM ET USA

    It is distressing to read that such standards as chastity are CATHOLIC standards? One might as well say that honesty is a "Catholic" standard. They are far more than that. They are standards for our human condition. The world tries to fuzz them, to connive at exceptions. Socrates described all this, as recorded in THE SOPHIST. In the modern world, it is only the Church - the Catholic Church - which repeats and insists and reiterates that the human race will not survive without these standards.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 28, 2011 5:46 PM ET USA

    Just because Africa is a big place and it's very hot, does not mean that African's are not equally subject to the Laws of God as the rest of us. It beats me how some people think of Christian morality as a cultural thing. Self-control, chastity, and purity, are the same thing wherever you are, as is the opposite, licentiousness, which seems as popular in Africa as London.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 28, 2011 11:30 AM ET USA

    This is completely mysterious to me. Is the Archbishop a teacher of the faith in his diocese or is he an undergraduate student asking (leading) questions? And what's this about "imposing" Christian moral principles? And "casuistic moral thinking" - is that directed at the Holy Father? This is one of the muddiest "statements" from a Bishop I've seen in some time, and where there's mud I think the faithful are in trouble.

  • Posted by: samuel.doucette1787 - Jan. 28, 2011 9:09 AM ET USA

    I bet the National Catholic Distorter's favorite dissenting bishop on the African continent (Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, South Africa) favors the proportionalistic response.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 28, 2011 8:58 AM ET USA

    I truly don't understand why Rome doesn't retire prelates that don't hold firm to the doctrine of the Church. What are they scared of??? Souls are being lost!!! It seems as if only those who are faithful get disciplined ...