Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Remarks of Benedict XVI Regarding Condoms

The world is currently much exercised by the remarks of the Holy Father in his interview book Light of the World, to the effect that although condom use is not a "moral solution" it may nonetheless for some be a beginning of an awareness of responsibility for the consequences of one's action on others that could eventually lead to genuinely moral reflection. To consider the English translation:

There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way towards recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can only really lie in a humanization of sexuality.

Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement towards a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.
This is often portrayed as though the Pope is saying that the disordered sexual act of sodomy is morally bad, but condom use, as something incipiently responsible and moral, is nonetheless good. That is precisely what the Pope is not saying. That is why he says the Church does not regard it as a moral solution. He well realizes that condom use introduces no new species in a homosexual act, because no contraception takes place. Rather, the condom use is wholly predicated upon, and willed as a function of, the intention of sodomy, and condom used participates the species of the sodomitic act. Hence the condom use is morally evil, and indeed gravely evil. Janet Smith, who has written penetratingly about this, notes that all that condom use does is make an already gravely evil act slightly less evil, but that the Church is not in the business of directing people to perform grave evils in a slightly better way.

But what, then, of the papal language? Can a gravely evil act really be such that "there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement towards a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality"? Certainly in the epistemic order, a person who is morally coarse and living sinfully, may in beginning to reflect on the consequences of his action for others and beginning to take responsibility for these, move in such a way that were it to continue he would eventually enter into genuinely moral considerations. If this is what the Pope means, then it is surely defensible, although the language even so seems somewhat rhetorically over-freighted: simply doing an evil act in a way that prevents infection does not necessarily suggest anything other than that the homosexual prostitute does not wish his customer to die, which frankly could be from venal or vicious motives; and if it is from a better motive, the act is still similar to a strangler who gives all his victims the opportunity to make a good act of contrition, and whom he calms and kills in as gentle a fashion as possible: all of which hardly seems to count as "a first step in a movement towards a different way, a more human way" of living. The Church is not in the business of endorsing grave evils when they are "lesser"--because grave moral evil may never rightly be done by anyone. The rhetoric of "first step" towards "a more human" sexuality makes the epistemic motion seem more proximate to the good of a more human sexuality than in fact it is. The "first step" is, in the epistemic order, toward a moral awareness generally speaking, which must be developed and enriched far more in order to constitute any specific movement in the practical moral order toward a "more human" sexuality.

Nonetheless one must give due credit to the "can" of the Pope's formulation--something that expresses raw possibility. And it is true that those who do move from moral evil to moral good, must epistemically at some point begin to be aware of their responsibility, and such a beginning might be found in someone who before had cavalierly exposed others to infection whilst sodomizing, who then tries to minimize the occasion for giving infection. But "first step"? Normally the first step toward a purpose partakes of the genus of that purpose. If the end is genuinely moral, then the use of the condom is not a "first step" any more than the gentler strangler is taking a first step toward a moral way of living and honoring the good of life. The "first step" of the Pope's example must be understood as nakedly epistemic, not in the least moral, but with the possibility that it could lead at some point to the genuinely moral. All the efforts to speak of the instance to which the pope refers as an exceptional case or circumstance for which the Holy Father has distilled the right moral theological understanding seems thus utterly wrong, because the Pope is not saying that condom use is morally good.

Given the refined nature of these reflections, one may also think that the Holy Father perhaps placed too great a weight upon a fragile medium which cannot sustain it--but from the best of motives, the desire to manifest the true nature of the papal service to the world, and openly to engage common questions and inquiries. Further, his words appear far better than Lombardi's explanation of them, which tries to render the entire matter a function of moral theology, whereas part of the Holy Father's treatment is simply and purely epistemic, something that the media probably will never be able to grasp.

Given the massive misunderstanding and malappropriation of the pope's words, a brief clarification from the Pontiff himself would be inestimably helpful, making clear a) that condom use in sodomitic sex partakes of the evil species of the disordered act, and is not morally good but morally evil--not because it introduces a new species, since there is no contraception, but because the condom use is wholly and formally predicated on the willing of the evil act and so is contained within the species of that act; b) that the sense in which the use of a condom might signal an awareness that could become moral, is epistemic not moral, but that some such an awareness can and indeed must be occasioned by something in those who recover moral equilibrium. Surely the cognitive pre-history of such development from immoralism to moral responsibility has unexpected sources having to do with awareness of the nature of responsibility and of the consequences of one's action for the good of others. Hence concern to minimize infection could be such a factor for someone.

Of course, there are many who wish to use the lines of the Holy Father to promote a different agenda, the agenda of permitting condom use in all sorts of "exceptional" cases, including, according to Sandro Magister, the use of condoms by spouses who are HIV positive. Hence he writes "A use that Catholic moral doctrine already acknowledges--on a par with recourse to condoms by spouses when one of them is infected with HIV--but is publicly approved of by a pope for the first time here." But the Church has never "approved" of such a "recourse to condoms by spouses when one of them is infected with HIV". This is pure fiction, albeit fiction which some in the Church would like to manipulate into the Church's teaching. Would it be a mistake to see those at L'Osservatore Romano who made this small part of the Pope's book public before the date of the coordinated release with other publishers that they had agreed to honor, as consciously seeking to promote an agenda?

Lombardi speaks of the Pope as clarifying what appears to be a problem in moral theology, as addressing: "an exceptional situation in which the exercise of sexuality may represent a real risk to the life of another person. In such a case, the pope does not morally justify the disordered exercise of sexuality, but maintains that the use of the condom to diminish the danger of infection may be 'a first assumption of responsibility', 'a first step in a movement toward a...more human sexuality', as opposed to not using the condom and exposing the other person to a fatal risk."

Lombardi then goes on to speak of "numerous moral theologians and authoritative ecclesiastical figures" who "have maintained and still maintain similar positions". He is, in other words, reading the Holy Father as providing a casuistry of an exceptional case, and then pointing toward unnamed but authoritative figures whose ineffable nimbus of authority seconds the papal motion. This seems to me neither close to the meaning of what the Holy Father actually wrote, nor in the least helpful. Indeed, if in the interview he gave, this is what the Holy Father intended, then I would be inclined to say: this is an interview, not an act of the magisterium, and this is an error. But I do not believe that the Holy Father thought of himself as developing a moral theology of condom use, nor addressing condom use in general--he says expressly the contrary, which Fr. Lombardi acknowledges. Further, the Holy Father says that condom use is "not...a real or moral solution". Why, then, does Lombardi depict the Holy Father as addressing the morality of an exceptional situation--"an exceptional situation in which the exercise of sexuality may represent a real risk to the life of another person"--when nowhere does the Pope present himself as providing a casuistic treatment along these lines?

Lombardi also notes that the Holy Father has said to him that his example could have extended to a female prostitute:
I asked the pope personally if there was a serious or important problem in the choice of the masculine gender rather than the feminine, and he said no, that is, the main point — and this is why I didn’t refer to masculine or feminine in (my earlier) communiqué — is the first step of responsibility in taking into account the risk to the life of another person with whom one has relations.
Here, of course, there is a contraceptive species added to the act; and this makes all the clearer why the Pope's point is directly epistemic and only remotely moral. It also shows how dangerous it is to start speaking of these as "exceptional" situations and promulgating dubious moral judgments of them. Nonetheless, the same point obtains: epistemically, a female prostitute too might become more aware of consequences to others and responsibility, which followed all the way out lead toward moral modes of engagement. But it alters nothing of the moral evil that constitutes the acts being performed. To treat the lesser evil as a moral good, to speak of it in terms of an "exceptional situation" in which somehow because of its epistemic implications for possible moral consciousness it is therefore good, is a great mistake. This is a mistake toward which Lombardi's comments seem to verge.

Finally, was it prudent, given all that we know about the media, for the Holy Father to have given such an answer? In one sense, perhaps not, because the antecedent understanding of basic elements of Catholic life necessary in order not to read the prose wrongly, is predictably too great for the journalistic medium--or for the average reader, even the average academic reader--to bear. Further, such interviews can, given the difficulty in delimiting positions comprehensively in such a format, set off accidental depth charges affecting the magisterium. And, in fact, books of papal interviews are not acts of the magisterium. Yet the answer in question is part of the Holy Father's effort to engage genuine questions, and the book is profound and beautiful. It is a shame that those with agendas other than that of the Church should contrive to make the book known first and most universally solely in terms of a difficult formulation easily misunderstood. But the more general witness of the book will still be given. We should be thankful for a Pontiff who is willing to take risks in witnessing to the truth. Especially if he issues further clarification, this will indeed have proven a "teachable moment". But it is also instructive to consider how much wider the frame of reference of Benedict the XVI is by comparison with most of our contemporaries, and how essential this is both for the task of understanding what he has to say and for fathoming the gravity of his words.


  1. I am smiling as I read this, because as soon as this business blew up in the press I had the thought 'I wonder what Steve thinks.' And now I know!

    Of course, what bothered me about the remark was the invocation of the phrase "in the intention of reducing the risk of infection", as this invites the dubious idea that my inner intention magically changes the material reality of what I'm doing. But as the road to hell teaches us, this just can't be right. And this language cannot be correct anymore for the male prostitute than it was for Anscombe's devout Catholic bomber, who tells himself that he isn't out there incinerating children but "winning the war" or "following orders" or whatever else might create psychological cover for the manifest evil of what the bomber is actually doing.

    If we take the act of putting on a condom as part of the act of sodomy (and by part, I just mean it is considered as a means to the execution of a further intention--viz., the sexual act itself) then it seems to me that what the Pope says is correct. For a prostitute might not give a fig about whether he physically harms his clients or puts their very lives at risk--he might be completely indifferent and possess a cavalier indifference to human life. Such a person is surely worse than one who considers his client's life and decides to use a condom in order to prevent infection in his client as a side effect of his action. Then we could say that his intention in doing what he was doing qua part--putting on the condom--was to prevent this foreseen side effect of the action qua whole. But this good intention (preventing disease) is found nested within a larger intentional order that itself is, as you say, intrinsically evil. And so the act itself is still gravely wrong, as the species of the act is taken from the end, and to be condemned. Of course, this only works in the case of the male prostitute, since putting on a condom cannot be a contraceptive act in this case, but only as a means of disease prevention. (Here I am ruling out pleasure or other possible characterizations). So, the condom use isn't moral, because of the immorality of the action in which it is only a part. Nevertheless it does seem to paint our other regarding prostitute in a slightly better light.

    The problem so many seem to have with the Catholic position, is that they (wrongly) think that the Church cannot say that the conscientious prostitute is better than the callous prostitute. But it seems to me that the Church can make this distinction, and should, and that making the distinction does NOT in any way amount to approval for condom use--because, as you say, the Church is not in the business of endorsing the lesser evil. And so the lesson here isn't that a group of Franciscans should set up condom distribution centers in red light districts, but rather to show that Church teaching does square with common sense moral intuition about the difference in character of our two imagined prostitutes.

    As for the "first step" remark, it seemed to me what the Holy Father was saying was just that, in putting on a condom, the prostitute recognizes that *something* about his action is potentially harmful to the other, and the act of putting on the condom in order to prevent harm in the other can be the first step to treating the other as a human being and not just an object of pleasure or a source of income. And this can be the first step to realizing what is further wrong with the act itself. Of course, not many will take the second or third step--but that's just an empirical fact that does not take away the truth of what the Holy Father is saying. I think he meant that it may be the first step in seeing his actions in a different light. The second step would be rethinking the question of whether to engage in those sorts of actions at all.


  2. "condom used participates the species of the sodomitic act. Hence the condom use is morally evil, and indeed gravely evil... all that condom use does is make an already gravely evil act slightly less evil."
    This does not seem to follow. How does it follow?

  3. The condom use is predicated upon the sodomy, in that the only reason for using the condom is that sodomy has been chosen: if someone decides to put on a condom in St. Paul Minnesota because it is too cold outside, there is no problem. But the very ratio for the condom use is formally and actually and entirely a function of the sodomy: no sodomy, no reason for the condom use. Likewise, the gentle strangler, who chooses no longer to torment and instill fear as much as possible, and who permits the victim to make an act of contrition, and who tries to gentle and still the victim and to strangle as gently as possible: all that is predicated on the evil species of the chosen act. The lesser grave evil is still grave evil and not a recondite species of good.

  4. I should add, that in the case of the female prostitute (which Lombardi says is covered by the papal comments) of course there is an added species of contraception: all the more reason to read the Holy Father's words as pertaining to the epistemic/psychological order with respect to a first step toward recovering awareness that can lead to a moralization...

  5. Thanks for this post. I don't understand why 'preventing transmission of disease' cannot be conceived to be a separate function or use of condoms with its own moral calculus. My hands have many uses, ranging from washing the dishes to beng used as weapons of strangulation: they are no more intrisincally destined to those two uses than they are to being joined in prayer, nor do I see why the analogy with the strangler strangling 'works': the intention to murder and the fact that one does murder don't necessarily preclude the actor from having other intentions or performing other acts...? Probably I need to study some authentic philosophers, eh.

  6. I toddled over here from Ignatius blog and at the first “epistemic” I knew I was out of my depth. Could you please explain for me meaning of “epistemic” and what you mean when you refer to “epistemic order” a “epistemic motion” etc

    Having said all that is it possible that the Holy Father did indeed mean what Magister, Thompson and others have said; what appears to be the plain meaning of the text? When he wore that little red hat in winter a few years ago interpretations of his action ran to pages in the blogs whereas, the Holy Father when asked said that he wore it because it was cold.

  7. Steve,

    You wrote: "The condom use is predicated upon the sodomy, in that the only reason for using the condom is that sodomy has been chosen: if someone decides to put on a condom in St. Paul Minnesota because it is too cold outside, there is no problem. But the very ratio for the condom use is formally and actually and entirely a function of the sodomy: no sodomy, no reason for the condom use."

    But as I understand the basis upon which speciation within acts is determined, the matter of the exterior act (in this case condom use) must be INTRNISIC to the formal intention (in this case the intention to have homosexual intercourse) in order that the matter be subsumed under the form such that only one moral species exists.

    The thing is, I cannot see how condom use is INTRINSIC to sodomy as your comment attempts to establish. One can engage in sodomy without recourse to condom use - and many do. The choice for condom use in this situation is directed at preventing HIV spread since, as you say, it adds no contraceptive potency. Hence, it seems to me that you are discounting a very real additional moral species because the condom use is NOT materially intrinsic to the formal intention of sodomy as you suggest; but rather intrinsic to the intention of disease spread prevention. In fact, condom use seems accidental and beside the sodomistic act per se. Consider if the condom were placed over a cut finger during sodomistic intercourse to prevent disease spread. Such would seem to be an independent act traveling beside the choice for sodomy. Because the application of the condom in sodomistic sex adds nothing by way of obstruction to the teleological end of male genitalia (already obstructed by the homosexual nature of the intercourse), and because condom use is not intrinsic to the act of sodomy per se; it would seem to constitute an independent moral species. Of course, even if I am correct about this; that leaves the sodomistic act itself gravely sinful as it ever was. But, it may, in that case, constitute more than an epistemic approach to moral behavior.

    The situation is different in heterosexual acts, because the application of the condom must always entail an evil contraceptive species because it obstructs the natural teleology embedded in the generative faculties (even if the condom use simultaneously entails a prophylactic intention on the part of the agent). But even here, I don't see how the use of a condom would be intrinsic to the choice for heterosexual sex per se. Such sex can (and should) be carried on without the condom. The condom in this situation is a means to avoiding conception (a goal which can in some cases be licit). But it is an evil means for achieving this goal because it militates against the nature of human generative faculties, where NFP does not.

    Hence, if condom use is not intrinsic to heterosexual sex per se, but rather some other formal intention (avoiding conception); likewise, it is not intrinsic to homosexual sex per se, but to some other intention(disease spread prevention). In the former case it is an evil means for achieving the associated intent; in the later I cannot see how it is an evil means – even though it takes nothing away from the immorality of sodomy.

    I agree, then, with much of what you say; I just cannot see how condom use forms one species with the sodomistic choice/act per se.

    I would be grateful for correction in this regard.



  8. Steven,

    Thank you for your commentary on this latest controversy. Just a note that this post is also the subject of discussion at The American Catholic.

  9. To respond to the following quotation, I first provide it: "One can engage in sodomy without recourse to condom use - and many do. The choice for condom use in this situation is directed at preventing HIV spread since, as you say, it adds no contraceptive potency. Hence, it seems to me that you are discounting a very real additional moral species because the condom use is NOT materially intrinsic to the formal intention of sodomy as you suggest; but rather intrinsic to the intention of disease spread prevention."

    Respondeo: The gentle strangler could strangle roughly, and many stranglers do. But this does not make strangling more gently to be other than wholly predicated upon the evil of strangling, even though the gentle strangling is for the purpose of avoiding some increment of harm. Now, likewise, many may not use condoms while sodomizing, whereas some do wear condoms hoping to avoid some increment of harm. But the condom use in the homosexual instance serves no purpose with respect to disease whatsoever save as a function of the intention to perform sodomy. Condom use is not thought to function, e.g., totemically, but only functions as a particular manner in which sodomy may be performed: like the intention to murder a victim under anaesthesia to avoid undue pain to the victim, it is a mode of performing a grave evil (it is only willed as accidentally modifying the grave evil one is performing). The act of sodomy is not an act of disease prevention, and the condom use is willed as a manner of performing sodomy and in no other way is it pertinent (how does the use of a condom have any effect for a homosexual who abstains from sodomy?).

    One might go further and point out that given the failure rate of condoms that the choice of a condom still involves even at the merely hygienic level the willingness to expose the homosexual partner to a deadly disease: so that, even at that level, one cannot characterize condom use objectively speaking as the description I quote above does--as "disease prevention"--since one who seeks principally to avoid communicating disease will, when choosing between the impossibility of communicating it and the real possibility of communicating it, choose the former, whereas to choose a condom is to choose the latter. Since the failure rate of condoms is known, choosing to use the condom is thus choosing to perform an act that may communicate a deadly illness to the partner, an act which accordingly is not even merely or hygienically good. Is playing Russian Roulette an act that serves the good of life? It is a lesser evil than outright suicide, but should we characterize it as "prevention of shootings" as though its practitioners were law enforcement personnel? And of course, if one plays Russian Roulette, this partakes of the grave malice of suicide: the accidental difference in mode does not alter that. Does a murderer who takes his automatic rifle off full automatic mode to fire single shot while killing innocents, do something good? Or is he merely doing something gravely evil more slowly? Does the homosexual who commits sodomy with a condom do something good, or only something evil whose potential destructiveness is merely possibly (not certainly) and to an unknown degree accidentally lessened (unless it is falsely held that the essential evil of sodomy is merely hygienic and not moral)?

    An accidentally less evil act that remains a grave evil, is not a species of good. The lesser evil is not a recondite species of good.

  10. I agree with you Steve that "the lesser evil is not a recondite species of good". This must be correct. However, I do believe that I dissent from your position that it makes no difference to our assessment of the agent's character that he puts on a condom with the intention to prevent disease, as you seem to suggest in your last post here. It seems to me that the prostitute who puts on a condom is not like a murderer who takes his automatic rifle off full mode to fire single shots while killing innocents. For one thing, "killing more slowly or more gently" is not a description of an action that anyone would be inclined to think is good, whereas "disease prevention" is. Nor would the Holy Father be inclined to say that one who did such a thing is taking a "first step" towards a more fully human understanding of the value of life. And yet he does think that the prostitute is taking a first step towards a more human understanding of sexuality.

    As mentioned, one can obviously perform an act of sodomy without putting on a condom beforehand. But in the case we are all imagining, the prostitute, once he has chosen an act of sodomy, decides to put on a condom in order to prevent disease (he buys into the massive amounts of literature out there who tell him that this is the best way to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted disease). So now he believes that he is performing an act of sodomy "safely", as he has taken the means he believes is necessary in order to safeguard the life of the other. Is the "safely" here, just like the "gently" of the strangler, or the "slowly" of the marksman? I think not, precisely because the prostitute believes he is taking the means necessary to protect the other's life, whereas the marksman and the strangler know themselves to be taking the life of another, and for them it is just a question of how they go about doing this. The person I call the conscientious prostitute displays a genuine regard for the other's life that the callous prostitute--one who knows that putting on a condom is possible, and that this would help protect the other, but just doesn't care and can't be bothered to trouble himself with it--entirely lacks. A gentle strangler shows no regard for life, and thus no genuine "care" for the other. Hence the gentle strangler, insofar as he thinks he is doing a service to the one he strangles, is just deluding himself. Likewise for the marksman who kills more slowly. But it doesn't seem that the conscientious prostitute, in the act of putting on a condom, is just deluding himself when he thinks he is doing something in order to protect the other. For while condoms are far from perfect with respect to disease protection, it is an empirical fact that they have a decent shot at preventing disease, and the conscientious prostitute puts on the condom with that empirical fact in mind.

    Your main point stands without recourse to this kinds of examples you use. They are helpful insofar as they make us see the structural point at stake about the end being the most formal specification. But they are unhelpful insofar as they make what the Holy Father said look pretty weird. After all, if these cases really are the same, then it looks like the Holy Father should say that the person who strangles more gently is taking a "first step" towards a more humane understanding of the value of life. But that seems preposterous, right? So that makes me think that something here cannot be quite right as it stands.

  11. Thanks for responding but I don't think you really answered my question about how you are not contradicting yourself in saying that the condom use is "gravely evil" itself, and also that it makes the particular sodomic act being undertaken less bad.
    Don't you want to say this: putting on a condom in order to engage in sex (whether homo- or hetero-)is bad.
    Engaging in sodomy is bad.
    Therefore there are two bad acts, not one whose badness is mitigated by doing a second bad act.

  12. A brief effort to respond to the interesting criticism of Jennifer, above:

    As for the character of the prostitute, I would deny that the act of fornication performed by the agent is properly identified as "disease prevention" owing to the use of a condom. The condom use is not a separate act unless one is merely wearing it as clothing, in which case it also does nothing to affect disease transmission. One does not commit fornication or sodomy in order to prevent disease. Regarding the parity of gentle strangler vs. the female prostitute with the condom: the prostitute with the condom is committing a grave evil of fornication and that grave evil remains what it is irrespective the hygienic effects; she is also committing the evil of contraception. Granted that there is a reduction of one species of accidental harm proceeding from the willed evil, that reduction is predicated upon willing the grave evil of fornication and is (in the case of the female prostitute) itself a grave contraceptive evil. For this reason it isn't clear to me how it differs from the case of the gentle strangler (save in the way that fornication is different from murder). The gentle strangler evinces no concern for life--as the female prostitute evinces no concern for chastity--but does reduce the accidental species of harm that flows from denying victims the occasion to make a final act of contrition, and from terrorizing the victim and torturing the victim, and denying the victim any chance to compose himself. But all that is predicated upon willing the evil of murder and that grave evil persists. Likewise, the unchastity and contraceptive evils persist despite the concern to constrict an accidental bad effect of the prostitute's action. I would agree that consideration of the well-being of others is something that may eventually bear moral fruit if it is one day permitted genuinely to govern action rather than merely accidentally modifying vicious action. The Pope's "first step" is a step toward recovering moral awareness, which is itself a necessary condition for moral action: so this "first step" may be found in persons who are still doing evil and amidst their doing it. This is not weird unless one thinks "first step" must be in the moral order, which actually seems impossible here: if someone lacks moral awareness, it would seem that something must precede and condition the achievement of moral awareness… I take this to be the root of the confusion, since for Americans to speak of morality is always practical, whereas the Pope is pointing out that there are epistemic/psychological pre-conditions of moral awareness and that moving toward attaining these is in one sense "good" even though, in and of itself, it is insufficient to bring about moral action (the beginning of recovering moral awareness is not yet full moral awareness).

  13. A brief sed contra in regard to Peter Ford & "contradiction"--there is nothing "bad" merely about putting on a condom. One can wear it all day if it helps one to stay warm. But there is something bad about using it to perform a gravely disordered act of sodomy that one is nonetheless immorally willing despite its grave evil. Condom use, whether for homosexual or female prostitute, isn't like an immunization or an antibiotic, it is something that is not a separate act unless it can be claimed that it functions to impede disease transmission apart from modifying a willed venereal act. Does it cancel the moral evil of that act? No. It only impedes one accidental set of bad effects. And of course, the one using the condom is not placing a truly effective impediment even to this accidental bad effect, owing to the failure rate of condoms, and so is even in this order willing to do more harm. So: there is no "condom use itself"--there is only some type of venereal act--in the homosexual case, sodomy--that the agent wills to perform condomitically as constricting one accidental zone of consequences (if we speak of the homosexual; for the female prostitute, it also impedes the procreative nature of the act, which removes it even further from any natural good, manifesting the act as disordered pursuit of pleasure separated from any natural norm).

    Should one commit sodomy in a way to constrict certain bad hygienic effects? Well, one ought not perform sodomy at all. The Pope says plainly that condom use is not a moral solution. He merely lauds the concern for the other, not as already moral, but as perhaps the beginning of a motion toward a restored moral awareness. But it is not morally good because it is not yet connected to correct action--it is an epistemic/psychological point being made, which can be true even at the moment that what one does is bad… We are looking at the cognitive pre-history of the return to moral equilibrium...

  14. Dr Long, thanks for your comments here.

    I had a note in NCBQ's Colloquy last Winter (2009) in which I suggested that on the face of the text of Humanae vitae N12, strictly construed, condomitic intercourse can never be a marital act, regardless of intention.

    I'd be grateful for your comments as to whether you think this is a viable argument and whether it is relevant to this discussion.

  15. I'll also toss in a further thought that I posted on Fr Z's great site, but which sank without trace (possibly with justification).

    I’m more convinced every day that, (as you say) the Pope was making a very restricted, epistemic point about a positive shift towards (but not attaining) morality in a hitherto totally selfish person to a less selfish position – notwithstanding his adopted solution – condoms – is (according to the Pope) immoral.

    But I’m thinking now that even this seemingly obvious point of the Pope’s is itself problematic, insofar it's not clear how restricted his remarks are.

    Bracketing all other considerations concerning the prudence of the Pope’s speculation let’s look more closely at the substance of the claim, irrespective of who made it and in what context.

    There are three conditions for mortal sin: grave matter, full knowledge, and full consent of the will.

    Let’s focus on “full knowledge”.

    Now, as we know, with an increase in moral awareness, and in proportion to that increase, there comes an increase in the culpability regarding the original act.

    Does it not mean this: that insofar as the Aids-infected(eg) male prostitute (eg) elevates himself to thinking re. his client (eg): “Hey, this is a human I’m dealing with here” - which prompts him to consider modifying his act so as not to pass on disease (in itself, all other things being equal, a virtuous move, as Pope Benedict XVI rightly points out) it also means that the recommitment to the “nevertheless I’ll go ahead with my (non-marital) sexual act” decision becomes more vicious ??

    Now, no commensuration here is possible or meaningful. In other words, no-one can say that, the “move towards responsibility” manifested in the determination of the prostitute not to pass on disease is not offset by the graver culpability involved in his resolution to proceed with the illicit sexual act with this human, newly-evaluated by the prostitute.

    So: I think Pope Benedict's remarks (as I understand them) may well be correct as far as they go. But they do not canvass - and are perhaps not intended to canvass? - the full moral dimensions of this situation.

    Or, to put it another way: Perhaps we should understand His Holiness here to be saying something like: "Look, the only positive feature of this morally deplorable situation is this ...."

  16. Dr Long @ 10.52 pm

    “ “Does it [condom use to prevent disease] cancel the moral evil of that act? No. It only impedes one accidental set of bad effects. “

    Re "cancelling" and incommensurables:

    This is a complex moral situation. I’m only speculating: but I think there is a possibility that a prostitute using a condom out of a concern for the physical well-being of his/her client is possibly more culpable with respect to the act (extra-marital sex, of whatever description) considered in itself – that is, apart from the qualification that it is now being performed in a way to prevent infection.

    Simply because, as we know, there are three things going to the degree of sinfulness in any act: gravity of matter, degree of knowledge, and degree of consent.

    Focusing on the knowledge element: someone who has moved from total moral blindness with respect to their acts and their consequences to a position whereby they are beginning to consider the good (within albeit restricted parameters) of their partner in immoral sex, is now, morally speaking, acting with greater awareness, or knowledge.

    [This is why Adam’s sin, which may seem to many today as not such a big deal, was so bad: he, being hitherto sinless, was possessed with awareness & insight that no mere human had after him except for Our Lady.]

    But surely this means that any recommitment at this new level of awareness to the original act is more culpable?

    So: Pope Benedict’s remark about a move towards morality in one for the first time considering the physical well­ being of their client/partner may be true. But if I’m correct, it’s a partial description of the situation. To make a judgement as to whether or not the move from total selfishness in that determination is or is not offset by the move to recommit to the sexually immoral act from a vantage point of higher moral awareness, is another task altogether.

    As an instance; consider the gentle strangler discussed in posts above. Suppose he’s been moved to the position of strangling-with-gentleness because the victim is his mother, and someone has just made him aware of how wonderful his mother was to him all his life. Great, but, doesn’t this make his decision with this new awareness to recommit to killing her as such a more culpable decision? And who is to say with confidence that this additional culpability is more than offset by his decision to do it with “gentleness”?

    Not Pope Benedict last month, who restricted himself, I’m sure, to the perspective Dr Long (and Janet Smith, et al) suggests.

    Nor anyone else, I suspect, who has an inkling for the incommensurable nature of these realities.

  17. Hugh, your second comment on Dec. 4 (I believe it was that one) got caught in our spam filter. I don't know why. I just saw it there and "released" it. Sorry about that. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

  18. Many thanks, Joe -

    so, just to clarify for the confused: the Dec 7 comment is just a restatement/slight expansion of the point of Dec 4 comment.

    Cheers all, and thanks for the quality discussion - a bit of a rarity around the blogs on this topic at the moment.


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