re: The Pope & Condoms

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

More on the now infamous male prostitute example

This is a situation that is obviously extra-marital and already immoral — and likely homosexual as well, in which using a condom obviously wouldn’t be dissociating the unitive and procreative dimensions of the sexual act. Presuming that the prostitute wouldn’t give up his behavior, the question becomes one of prudence, trying to eliminate the possible damage of the man’s immoral act and inch him toward conversion and genuine concern for himself and others. Pope Benedict suggests that the use of a condom might be a “first step in the direction of a moralization” with the prostitute’s preoccupation with receiving or passing on diseases to his clients. It wouldn’t make moral his immoral act of prostitution, but this “assumption of responsibility” might be the beginning of a “humanization” of his interpersonal behavior that could eventually lead to his deciding to refrain from it altogether. 

Pope Benedict in his response also states that, while in an individual case the use of a condom in an immoral circumstance may open someone up toward moral progress, at the general level, the promotion of condoms is “not a real or moral solution” to the problem of AIDS. Dr. Edward Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Center at the Harvard Center for Population and Development,” has repeatedly affirmed, against the Pope’s critics on the issue of condoms and AIDS, that there is no evidence that the promotion and ubiquitous availability of condoms have decreased HIV infection rates in Africa. Multiple studies have shown that the only programs that have been successful have encouraged the reduction of the number of sexual partners, and the promotion of condoms generally has led to the opposite result, a promiscuous expansion of the number of sexual partners. This is why many non-ideological AIDS experts in Africa are now promoting the ABC plan to which the Pope alluded, focusing on abstinence before marriage, monogamous fidelity within marriage, and condom use only when people have determined to be reckless, in order to lessen the consequences of that reckless behavior.

The Pope doesn’t specifically address the often-asked question of whether it would be moral for a married couple to use a condom to engage in sexual activity when one of the spouses has AIDS. The answer, however, should be obvious: it is absolutely incompatible with love and “making love” for one with AIDS to risk passing on a fatal disease to a loved one by engaging in sexual activity with or without a condom (since the condom may fail). In the tragic and not uncommon context of marital rape in Africa, when husbands with AIDS insist on their supposed “marital rights” to sexual activity with their uninfected wife, the wife’s insistence on her husband’s using a condom while he forces himself upon her would not be sinful on her part, since we would not be dealing with a true conjugal act.

The solution to the problem of AIDS transmission, the Pope said, lies ultimately in remedying the “banalization of sexuality” with its “humanization.” This is what the Church’s teaching on sexual morality has always sought to emphasize.