We need to seize the moment. The pope’s recent comments on condom use present to us an excellent opportunity to learn, to reflect and to expose one of the most misunderstood ethical issues of the Church.
We must not seize the moment, as often happens, to create confusion or to profit from the sought attention, but for clarification.
The words of the pope in the book, Light of the World, regarding condom use by a male prostitute do not allow for exceptions regarding the teaching of contraception. They simply fall in a soil of misunderstanding.
In a world where the Church is viewed as stubbornly and irrationally sticking to an obsession against condoms even in the case of preventing the spread of HIV, the statement of the pope regarding the special case of a “male prostitute” comes as surprise, even a “liberal” surprise. In fact, to those familiar with the teachings of the Church, it is nothing new.
Between the choice of engaging in unprotected or protected sex, a prostitute would do better using a condom than not using it, and so the pope calls this “a first act of responsibility”, “a first step on the road toward a more human sexuality”.
This is a choice of conscience, which has no bearings on the teaching of the Church regarding contraception among spouses.
The teaching of the Church regarding contraception intends to protect something precious, namely, the marital act, from its deterioration. A sexual act against marital love (such as marital rape) or against offspring (such as contraception) cannot be a true marital act but its counterfeit.
So the Church calls couples to “humanize” their sexuality through the avoidance of a rejection of procreation.
In the same vein, that a prostitute regards condomised sex as a more moral option and whether promoting condoms is a true and effective way to battle the pandemic of HIV are two different issues all together.
One is a case of particular conscience, the second a case of public policy.
When safety is at stake, there is no room for compromise. Where fires are serious national hazards, public policies do not teach people how to build “safe fires”, they just prohibit fire-building. Where speeding is a common cause of traffic accidents, governments do not invest in aggressive campaigns to teach citizens how to drive safely at high speeds; they forbid driving at “dangerous” speeds.
Even in the case of such zero-tolerance approach, fires and speeding happen. They would undoubtedly be rampant if public policies send a confusing or inconsistent message by encouraging risky behaviour.
The same applies to the spread of AIDS. The realistic policy is “avoid risky behaviour”, whether it is engaging in extra-marital sex or sharing hypodermic needles.
Condoms are certainly effective in reducing the contagion of HIV, but should their use be promoted as a remedy against HIV?
One thing that we do know about condoms is that they do nothing for people’s chastity. If anything, condoms promote sexual promiscuity by giving a false sense of security against pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. In fact, it is the idea that condoms are the solution to unwanted pregnancies and sexual transmitted diseases that has been greatly responsible for the de-humanization of sexuality in our societies. The consistent answer to the spread of AIDS is to make sexuality more human.
The Church and the pope are often accused of being obsessed about condoms. If all this turmoil is about condoning condom use, the pope’s statements in Africa and in the book Light of the World sound contradictory.
But, what if it is not about condoms after all? What if the Church does not care about condoms but about humanising sex? Who is really obsessed with condoms? The Church or the press?
By Fr David Garcia, OP
Spanish Dominican priest Fr David Garcia, who is based in Singapore, holds a licentiate in moral theology.
• Page 22: Review of Light of the World