It isn’t the job of a Protestant to try and interpret the Vatican, yet it is important in inter-religious dialogue to understand one’s partner. And that is true as Christians and others seek to understand just how Pope Benedict’s recent comments about condom use are consistent with Christian moral reasoning.
It appears common for people, and the press, to think of morality in terms of choosing actions leading to different possible outcomes. The goal of moral reasoning is thus to choose the action that leads to the best possible outcome. Looked at in this way the long standing Catholic opposition to the use of condoms in places like Africa, where HIV/AIDS is a near continent wide crisis, seems strange. Doesn’t condom use lead clearly to a better outcome than infecting or becoming infected with HIV/AIDS?
But let’s look at morality in a different way. Let’s look at moral choosing NOT as an act primarily aimed at acting toward the best of two outcomes. Instead think of moral choosing as primarily a process of making one’s self a saint whose character is ever better tuned to serving God’s purposes and thus both individual humans and humanity as a whole. Previously it appears that the judgment of the Vatican was that choosing to use a condom, although it’s use might lead to the best of possible outcomes given that sex would take place, was not a choosing that cultivated sainthood. Cultivating sainthood demanded choosing abstinence. Now it appears that the Vatican has admitted that at a very basic level choosing to use a condom may be a choice that cultivates a saintlike concern for the well being of another. All the Vatican did was affirm that this second motivation could exist, and that thus the pursuit of saintliness might be found in this choice. One assumes in the eyes of the Vatican the more saintly choice would still be abstinence.
And by the way, the road to hell is not paved with good intentions. They lead to heaven