In a book to be published this week, Benedict XVI said there could be “justified individual cases” in which condoms could be used, softening Rome’s blanket ban on contraception, one of the most controversial issues facing the Church.
“In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality,” the head of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics said, giving as an example a male prostitute having sex with a client.
But he gave no guidance on the long-standing moral and religious question of whether it would be permissible for a married couple, in which one partner is HIV positive, to use condoms in order to prevent the other partner from becoming infected.
Oddly enough I can see where the Pope is er… coming from here. It’s sort of the reason that soldiers have been issued with johnnies in various wars. It’s got nothing to do with preventing the pitter-patter of tiny feet but preventing the army literally getting “clapped-out” (which is where that phrase comes from). Different countries have had different policies as to the children of soldiers fathered in foreign lands. The British (perhaps due to a long era of colonialism) have tended to be more humane but the USA hasn’t. A great many children fathered by GIs in ‘nam had to suffer terribly after the USA withdrew in the ’70s* because they were denied entry** to the USA despite their persecution by the Viet Coms.
So, it’s a right dilly of a pickle. Artificial contraception is wrong by Catholic mores but if it’s two geezers doing it then contraception clearly isn’t an issue so… Yet it just feels wrong doesn’t it? A rent boy can insist on the use of condoms but a practising Catholic heterosexual couple can’t even if the reason one of them is HIV+ is infected “innocently”*** (dodgy blood transfusion or whatever).
Intellectually and theologically, if you accept orthodox Catholic doctrine, this bizarre ruling almost makes sense though morally and emotionally it does not.
Essentially this demonstrates the eternal conflict between the letter and the spirit of the law. Whilst this ruling is unimpeachable in terms of deductive logic from the basic axioms of Catholicism it’s result is ludicrous. It is a reductio ad absurdam that demonstrates that the axioms themselves are wrong.
It was ever thus that the tree of knowledge is not that of life. All the great religious traditions have (at times) fostered philosophical inquiry partially because of their legalistic nature and the subsequent debates have sharpened the wits of those involved but essentially this is a debate about angels dancing on the head of a pin with the ghastly cowled figure of AIDS lurking and sharpening his scythe****.
Ultimately it is a stark demonstration that whilst the Catholic church has enriched civilization in so many ways it’s sexual mores are built on sand. It goes like this. If you take an axiom set and deduce results from that set and those results don’t have any relationship to reality then either your working is wrong or the axioms are. In this case I thing it is clear the axioms are at fault.
And no, I’m not arguing we can’t help ourselves from “the sins of the flesh” either. That is a different issue from attempting to discern what they are by the over-use of reasoning above sense.
*In some cases nowhere near quickly enough.
***Please make no mistake here. I am not moralising – that’s the Pope’s job – nice bloke, gets a bit preachy at times, mind. I’m trying to present it from the official Catholic viewpoint. I’m not saying there is “good” AIDS or “bad” AIDS or anything like that because I regard such thinking as morally vile.
****If only it was sharp. It isn’t, it’s a horrible way to go. I choose “misadventure”.