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Sunday, November 21, 2010


Rich Leonardi

While I admire Ms. Smith's attempt to put a good face on this fiasco, there is no denying it: the Holy Father legitimized the use of condoms in some circumstances. And Catholics who try to defend the Church's ban on artificial contraception should expect to hear about it for a long time, e.g., "Even the Pope now recognizes that condoms are acceptable."


No more European popes.

Mark Brumley

Nope. Sorry, Rich. I think you misread the situation. The Pope spoke about the relative goodness of the subjective intention of the condom user, in the situation the Pope described, not about the objective goodness of the use of condoms. Whatever one thinks of the latter, it is not the same as the former. To maintain that a person can choose to use a condom out of a subjectively good intention, doesn't mean that, ipso facto, the means he chooses to realize the intention are objectively good.

The subjective intention not to harm another by spreading a disease in an act of sexual congress can be a first other-regarding attitude that may develop into a wider regard and a deeper understanding of sexuality. In turn, that could lead the male prostitute not to engage in homosexual acts, etc. That's the Pope's point. But this says nothing about whether the objective nature of what one does in order to carry out one's intention is morally good, i.e., capable of being ordered to the true integral human good when choosen with understanding and full consent. Nor does it determine whether it is, all other things being equal, a prudent way of achieving what is rightly intended in a situation in which the act also includes intenting other things at odds with true human flourishing.

I hope I get a chance to write more on this.

bill bannon

The National Catholic Reporter which you may not ordinarily like mentions the group the Pope appointed to look into HIV and condoms and what their report's recommendation was. It gives this some context and is an interesting side of it.

Rich Leonardi


I'm not misreading the situation. He was asked -- and then answered -- a question about the use of condoms, not about the subjective intent of those who use them. The point he volunteered about intent is fairly insignificant. Many people who engage in morally illicit behavior do so with good intentions. Pope Benedict is a very intelligent man. Could he not have foreseen how this would have been interpreted? And I think the man who needs to write more about this is the Holy Father.


Mark Brumley is right but Rich Leonardi is also right that this is a fiasco. The distinction that Mr. Brumley draws between the subjective intent of the actor and the objective morality of the act, while technically correct, is much too subtle to persuade the press and the public that the Pope has not at least muddied the waters. Andrew Sullivan, Fr. Martin, and the other usual suspects already have seized upon the Pope's statement as evidence that the Church is now "coming around" on the issue of relative morality of condom use. Also, one has to wonder, why did the Pope say what he said? It's hard to understand. At very least the remarks threaten to confuse the laity.

The Pope should issue a statement clarifying that he was not saying, and did not mean to suggest, that condom use can ever be justified as the lesser of two evils and that press reports stating or suggesting the contrary are wrong.


The Pope answered the question with characteristic compassion and keen moral insight. He said nothing at all to contradict Catholic moral doctrine. The Holy Father should not have to tailor his answers to account for the invincible ignorance and bad faith of his enemies.


Simply, one of the best article l have come across on this precious subject. I quite agree with your suppositions and will eagerly look forward to your forthcoming updates.

Fernando Umberto Garcia de Nicaragua, Prefectus Minimus: The Jacksonian Institute

A very modern answer. Wonderful!

Mark Brumley

Rich, go back and read your statement: "the Holy Father legitimized the use of condoms in some circumstances."

He did not address whether condoms are legitimate (i.e., morally acceptable) in the circumstance described. If you claim that he did, then you misread his statement.

He addressed the intention of the user, in a particular circumstance, and said that that intention could lead the user to a more appropriate understanding of human sexuality, which would include an awareness of why homosexual actions are wrong.

You wrote: "Many people who engage in morally illicit behavior do so with good intentions. Pope Benedict is a very intelligent man. Could he not have foreseen how this would have been interpreted? And I think the man who needs to write more about this is the Holy Father."

What has this to do with your original claim? This is a different claim from the one to which I responded, which was a claim that the Pope legitimized condom use in some circumstances. That claim is erroneous.

If your argument now is that the statement was imprudent because it should have been anticipated that it would be misinterpreted, that's another argument.

Lauri Friesen

And, Rich, the responsibility for misinterpretation rests as often with the interpreter as with the speaker. In this case, I agree with Mark and others that Holy Father's message was clear, as long as the listener/reader takes the time to hear/read it, within it's context. The Holy Father said what he did about a male prostitute using a condom AFTER he dissected the weaknesses in secular understanding of human sexuality and prevention of HIV transmission.


To use an extreme example, suppose the Holy Father had said that for someone who makes it a habit of killing people (a terrorist for example), if that person began to kill humanely rather than torture their victims, it would be a step in the right direction toward the light of humanity dawning in that soul.

Would we get an endorsement of killing from that? It is in the same category of degrees of evil. How many Christians have praised God in prison for their faith at the lessening of the brutality of their captors as a result of their witness? Are they then endorsing the imprisonment of Christians for their faith?

I agree with the assessment that those who are disposed to think that this is an endorsement of condom use will do so because that is what they want to hear. But what of those in the Church who will listen to CNN and draw the same conclusion?

I try to imagine what their level of understanding of Church teaching must be in order to seriously come to that conclusion. I try also to imagine the spiritual condition of someone who would take their spiritual direction from CNN or such places. Quite seriously, I don't think that any change of their practice because of the willful misinterpretations of the MSM will change their status of culpability before the Lord, whatever it is at present.



God Bless the Pope for speaking to the general public like we have brains to be able to understand what he understands!

Now we need to show ourselves capable!

I agree that the Pope did not say condoms were okay. He said that the USE of one, in very particular circumstances, is a signal of something else happening...the development of another, better line of thought. As others have pointed out, that a condom is involved is somewhat peripheral to the action. The same development in conscience could be shown in many different ways under different circumstances.

Rich Leonardi

What has this to do with your original claim?

My original claim is that the Holy Father conveyed moral legitimacy on those who use condoms. He said that for some it can be the first step toward living a moral life (I'm paraphrasing). On what planet are these two facts not connected? The strenuous parsing of his statement by some on this thread only proves the point. Amy Welborn and others have said that to know the "real Benedict" one should read the interview books. I think we now know their limitations.


What a fiasco indeed. What the Pope (and Smith) do not take into account is that condoms provide a false sense of security in preventing HIV and lead those who use them DEEPER into sin because they allow them to escape consequences rather than face them.

Smith is definately wrong when she states: "The Holy Father is not articulating a teaching of the Church about whether or not the use of a condom reduces the amount of evil in a homosexual sexual act that threatens to transmit HIV." Well, of course he is, when he characterizes such an act as a "first step" which is morally superior to the steps before! One is better than the other that went previously. That is clear.

This misstep opens a Pandora's Box in the mind of every Catholic that has a good intention to use a condom - whether to spare your wife a difficult pregnancy, or to avoid having a sick baby, or to escape a a strain on finances. Why not call that a moral awakening too? A first step on the road to being a more moral person? The non-Catholic simply thinks that the Pope cares more about the moral awakening of male prostitutes than regular husbands and wives trying to live God's law.

This is a failure of great import, and will cause confusion and trouble for the whole Church, and at just a time when we should be crystal clear.


Is it morally permisble for a bank robber to use a gun to rob a bank if he only uses 1 real bullet and 5 blanks? One could discuss all sorts of answers about how it is better than using all real bullets etc. but why would you get into such a discussion? Robbing banks is wrong and parents/teachers should teach the young this. Weighing various circumstances to determine culpability is the role of the judge.


God in his immense wisdom gave us exactly the Pope we need. Thank God for the Pope!

And thank you, Janet Smith, for such a good article on this moral issue. Thank you, Mark (and Lauri and LJ and jp too), for expressing yourself so well, it's crystal clear, as far as I'm concerned, that Rich is wrong. (He started with a sarcastic tone "And Catholics who try to defend the Church's ban on artificial contraception should expect to hear about it for a long time" and it seems to me his mind has been set for a while, even BEFORE Pope Benedicts comments).


I don't understand. Is an intrinsically immoral act less sinful than using a condom? Do the ends justify the means? So using a condom prevents HIV--what about the sexual act itself--the root cause of the problem?


Is this situation ethics at play here?

Charles E Flynn

If you start here at Insight Scoop and follow several links, you get the backstory:


So basically asking a joyrider (one who steals a car then drives at high speed for the fun of it) to wear a seatbelt?

Victor A Delnore

This entire analysis seems to have been promising but incorrect, in light of Fr. Lombardi's report of his conversation with Pope Benedict, who said that he did not mean to limit his example to male prostitutes.

Rev. Robert A. Connor

Benedict XVI is working out of Christian moral theology, not Stoic or Aristotelian Greek philosophy. The ontological criterion of moral right and wrong is not Greek "nature" but the ontology of the human person. That means that we are in a relational metaphysic, and therefore a relational ethic. All moral good is grounded on the experience and consciousness of free action as self-gift. Conscience of moral goodness depends on conformity with "the ontological tendency within man, who is created in the likeness of God, toward the divine" (J. Ratzinger, "Conscience" Ignatius (2007) 32. He continues: "From its origin, man's being resonates with some things and clashes with others. This anamnesis of the origin, which results from the god-like constitution of our being, is not a conceptually articulated knowing, a store of retrievable contents. It is, so to speak, an inner sense, a capacity to recall, so that the one whom it addresses, if he is not turned in on himself, hears its echo from within. He sees: That's it! that is what my nature points to and seeks" (idem).
Man is responsible for what he understands to be right and wrong. The gay male prostitute can begin to turn his ontological orientation and attitude around with small beginnings. The point, in this context, is not whether condom use for contraception is moral or not. It is a moot point for a gay prostitute. What he does is clearly immoral. However, if he begins to have some concern for the other, no matter what the present immorality, he may begin the conversion from being "turned in on himself" and become slowly re-constituted as person-gift.
This is the metaphysical undergirding that is in the Pope's mind.

D Atwood

When I sentence an offender for, say, a robbery, I will consider whether he used a real firearm, or, instead, a starter pistol. The latter obviously carries a lesser degree of danger and blameworthiness; and if I say that much, it doesn't mean I'm encouraging robbery so long as one uses an imitation of a firearm only. But I will give credit to an offender who might show some semblance of conscience. This is what I see the pope as saying. Keep it simple, and do not over analyse.

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