Saturday, November 27, 2010

Popes can be confusing. Not that I am rarely confused by the proclamations of significant people.  Anyone has the capability of confusing me.  But I do not remember ever being as confused by a pope as I am now because of a statement of the Pope’s in an interview, made public this past week. There have been six Popes in my lifetime so far, and only two of them never confused me.  One died within a month of his election; the other has been beatified.
The headlines reported that Pope Benedict said it is ok for male prostitutes to use condoms.  Later, a clarification stated that his statement was meant to cover all prostitutes; the use of a condom to thwart procreation is not moral, but the use to thwart infection where there is no possibility of reproduction is ok.
He said what?  Does this mean that prostitution is more moral than a married couple’s use of contraceptives?  Is this a change in Church teaching?  The statement received very wide dissemination and caused a lot of befuddlement.  The World Health Organization’s boss “welcomed a statement by Pope Benedict XVI that condoms can help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.” –Associated Press
Isn’t this the same Pope who said in Africa that condoms are NOT the solution to the AIDS pandemic?  Does he not lead the same Church whose teaching has been that contraception is intrinsically evil, meaning that any sexual behavior that is not open to conception is immoral?  Did not Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, write a book called “Theology of the Body,”  among the tenants of which is that condom use is a sin because it closes the door to the possibility of creation?
And now that same Church is saying that sexual acts that close the door to procreation are only immoral when practiced by a married couple, but ok when practiced in the course of prostitution?  That is what the news stories seem to suggest.  Thus, my confusion.  I’ll reveal how I resolve that confusion next week. Meanwhile, give me your thoughts or confusions about this here!


  1. Great topic, Fr. Steve -- thanks for posting this question. As a person who is inquiring into the Catholic faith, I heard this news with great interest. I was encouraged.

    The whole "Catholic view of sex" has always confused me. In fact, that very idea you mention -- "condom use is a sin because it closes the door to the possibility of creation" has always been one of the barriers (no pun intended) to me considering full participation in the Catholic community.

    Although it was pretty funny to joke about, what I read in Benedict’s statement was not that sexual acts that close the door to procreation are OK. In fact, I don't even think his statement was primarily about sex. I am pretty sure he (and the Church) share the moral view -- and I have to pray for willingness to wrap my head around that notion.

    Benedict's statements which are personal opinion - not doctrine support an idea that's always been clear to me about the moral theology of the Catholic church — always in the defense of life. I think the Catholic Church is one of the biggest providers of antiretroviral medication to HIV positive patients in Africa. I think his statements about the use of condoms "in the intention of reducing the risk of infection" supports this defense.

    I actually agree that condoms are NOT the answer to the AIDS pandemic -- but a more relaxed stance on the "sin of condom use" may encourage people to make decisions that may protect them or their sexual partners from spreading HIV.

  2. I think the Church finally said what most people think: if you have AIDS and are going to have sex, use a condom.

    At the same time, you can still say it's better to be open to life and in marriage--and that's about all we can take from this.

    And that's it. Benedict will tell us if he has anything else to say; until then, it's speculation, obsession and joining the media frenzy.

  3. The Catholic Church’s stance on sex only for procreation has always confused me. Does that mean that once a woman is past her child-bearing years, that she and her husband not have intercourse? If so, would the Pope’s statement on the use of condoms apply to them as well, as there would be no chance of impregnating?

  4. Actually, the Church teaching is that sex has two main purposes. One is procreation, but the other is the expression of the love of the couple. So, no. There is no such prohibition for a couple past child bearing years. Quite the opposite, in fact, as expressions of physical love are considered sacramental in the context of marriage. Sorry it took awhile to respond.