Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Condoms for married couples with HIV/AIDS - the state of the question

(NB: I started this post in May, but got delayed in getting it done.)

Some people are very confused about the state of the question on whether or not it is lawful in the Catholic Church for a married couple in which one of the spouses is infected with AIDS or HIV to use a condom to help prevent the other from getting it. This is evidenced by the fact that even a columnist like Peter Briffa of The Times (London) writes of his fear that the Catholic Church will become like the Church of England.

That confusion is easily understood given what the press has said about it over the last couple of weeks. L'Espresso's Sandro Magister has exposed Cardinal Carlo Martini for what he is -- a dissenter on some very important issues. But to the secular press, he is a hero.

Some things to consider:

1) Cardinal Carlo Martini, the former archbishop of Venice, along with a few other bishops, has said that the Church should consider changing her position on the use of condoms when one of a married couple has HIV or AIDS. These bishops have been speaking totally on their own (with no authority on the matter whatsoever) with a view toward publicly pressuring the Holy See to make a change.

2) The news accounts proclaiming that the Church is looking at changing the teaching are totally false. Only Zenit and other Church-based news sources have reported accurately on the issue. The secular news reports serve only one purpose -- to put public pressure on the Church to change her teaching and to set up in people's minds the expectation that it is going to change. I can guarantee that when that change does NOT happen, the ensuing uproar will be near equal to that which surrounded the issuing of Humanae vitae in 1968. In fact, the headlines of the opinion columns are easy to imagine: "Catholic Church endangers more lives with AIDS," etc.

3) Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, made it clear to Zenit that the Holy Father has requested an intense study into the issue. He also made it clear that a document is not necessarily going to come from this study (he stated plainly that his department doesn't issue documents) nor that the Church will even have anything further to say about it. It is simply a study being conducted among a number of the Holy See's curial departments which includes the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers. My guess is that the Holy Father, well-known for consulting with all kinds of knowledgeable people on whatever issue he is confronting, is simply asking for a clarification of the issues. Whether or not he does anything public with that clarification is a completely different issue.

4) There is a legitimate question being raised here: whether or not a married couple has the option to use a condom in marital relations to reduce the risk (NB: a condom does not totally eliminate the risk as many would have you believe) of transmitting the disease to the other spouse. The question is if this is a matter of preventing pregnancy or choosing a lesser evil.

5) However, considering the Holy Father and those who are in charge in the curia, it is extremely doubtful that they are going to subscribe to the idea of it being a lesser evil. With the argument of choosing a lesser evil, you have to have only evil choices in front of you. But with this question there is another choice facing the couple, one which is totally virtuous, no matter how demanding it is -- to abstain from sexual relations. It is the only totally physically safe choice they have, in fact. So when you are looking at your options and you have an option for a virtuous action or an evil action, one must always choose the virtuous action. Therefore, there is no question about the lesser of two or more evils.

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