Monday, November 22, 2010

Benedict XVI, Catholic Morality, and Condoms

Much has been made over Pope Benedict's response to questions posed in the book, The Light of the World, about the use of condoms in the prevention of the spread of HIV.  Unfortunately, much of the friendly commentary has not been very illuminating and the secular press seems to have completely missed the point.

Here is my analysis.

The Holy Father himself has always insisted on the freedom of the individual or individuals faced with a moral choice about engaging in sexual intercourse. This is the first consideration. Therefore, the Pope was speaking hypothetically of an immoral act resulting from the abuse of the person's freedom to refrain from engaging in immoral sexual intercourse. The Church insists that a human person has the capacity in freedom to choose to avoid immoral behavior, even though in a particular case it could be a long road to self-mastery.  This could be the case for the hypothetical male prostitute. The moral context of the growth in freedom and overcoming sins cannot be overlooked in understanding the Holy Father’s statement. The Pope speaks of this in referring to the recovery of the moral sense in the man.

Having acknowledged that self-mastery is not an immediate accomplishment in many cases, the Pope has not in any way diminished the moral and scientific analysis of the immoral actions of the male prostitute according to traditional Catholic morality. In his acts of intercourse, the male would always be compounding the immorality of an act by adding the element of the unnatural if he uses a condom while engaging in sexual acts with a female (though with another male, the act is already an unnatural one). The addition of the prophylactic does not lessen the degree of the offense against chastity and it adds the distinct aspect of an offense against nature to the act. However, as in all moral cases, the intention, even the mistaken one associated with the protection afforded by condoms, is an element or circumstance which permits an assessment regarding the degree of the subjective responsibility of the agent in the traditional analysis and, in this case, the specific intent of the prostitute for the possible infection. This is what the Pope is referring to, generally.

The Holy Father’s statement clearly demonstrates that the intention associated with condom use which shows some concern for another does not change the immoral act of sexuality and the unnatural character of the act attributable to the use of the condom. With regard to the infection of his sexual partner, the man with his intention to avoid infecting that person would be seen differently, however, than the one who either carelessly or intentionally chose to infect a sexual partner. Thus, the specific intent for the crime associated with the infection would not be there. That is simply a statement of legal and moral fact. In the Holy Father’s analysis this is not an indication that the sexual act or the use of a condom is moral or natural. The distinction the Holy Father makes in the statement is analogous to the difference between degrees of homicide distinguished by specific intent. The Pope denies the effectiveness of the condom in fighting HIV infection. His position is that to risk the infection of another with HIV is always immoral and the only real moral response is to refrain from engaging in sexual intercourse.

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