Did Pope Benedict Just Change Church Teaching about Condoms?

Did Pope Benedict Just Change Church Teaching about Condoms? November 20, 2010

The internet, it is safe to say, is now abuzz with the news that, according to the Associated Press title, Pope Benedict has suggested that “condoms can be justified in some cases.”  (Heck, I couldn’t even win the race here at Vox Nova.)  I feel some responsibility to weigh in here, and with some haste.  Every time this kind of story breaks, we are inundated with the same tired misconceptions about Catholic teaching.  This one, in particular, will give the impression to many of being the beginning of a slippery slope, for good or ill.  So, what exactly did Pope Benedict say, and what are the implications?

First the caveats.  It is quite difficult to treat this in a fulsome manner due to the limited nature of our sources at this point.  Further, it is difficult to treat this with the depth it deserves because of time constraints, both personal (I have other commitments today) and societal (if this waits two weeks, the storm will have passed).  I beg the reader’s indulgence if I overlook anything serious in my haste.  You are welcome to offer your corrections and comments, as always.

In any case, here is what the Pope has said:

“There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants.  But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection.  That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.

Interviewer Peter Seewald: Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

“She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be, nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the infection, a first step in the movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.”

Does this constitute a genuine change in the teaching of the Church?

At this point, I don’t think so.

As far as I can tell, the Church, despite loud assertions to the contrary, has never said that male prostitutes can’t use condoms to prevent the spread of infection.  (See this article by Martin Rhonheimer, suspected of being heretical by exactly no one.)  What the Church has said is that the best way to prevent the spread of infection and (surprisingly enough) to live morally is to not engage in promiscuous (and in this particular case, homosexual) sex.

The question of whether those who are already living contrary to Church teaching should further contravene Church teaching in order to lead their contrary lifestyles more safely is simply not broached in official teaching.  (One should probably note that a book-length interview hardly constitutes official teaching and so, it seems, this pattern continues.)  The Church is concerned, of course, that giving people instructions on how to better and more safely contravene the moral law as the church understands it sends a mixed message.

Questions such as these are not dealt with at an official level, but at the personal, pastoral level.  Any parish priest who is absolutely convinced that someone in his pastoral care is going to be engaging in homosexual prostitution would not be following Church teaching by insisting that that person do so without a condom.  Rather, while doing his best to help the individual to escape the dangerous lifestyle, he could quite legitimately suggest (perhaps by the refusal to deny?) that using a condom in his current situation is better than not using one.  Let’s face it, every pastor knows (or should) that the Church’s concerns about the “fertile structure of the marital act” are a little academic at this point.

So no.  The Church’s and, as far as I can tell, the Pope’s attitudes towards condoms haven’t changed.  But something has.

It seems to me that, while this new comment by the Pope is quite easily reconciled with the Church’s official position on contraception (I almost wrote “condoms,” before remembering Father Rhonheimer’s comments that Church teaching is not about condoms per se), it is not so easily reconciled with the Church’s typical communications strategy.

The strategy to this point, has been to keep quiet about the careful distinctions Father Rhonheimer makes in his article.  It is quite certain that introducing these distinctions into the public discourse will lead to more confusion and more inaccurate reporting about Church teaching on human sexuality.  The Church is understandably gun shy.  It worries that these careful distinctions could lead to all kinds of rationalizations for the use of condoms in the hands of the unscrupulous.

It looks to me like Benedict has become convinced that the old communications strategy has led to enough confusion itself.  If I had to guess, I’d say that the public response to his comments about condoms during the papal trip to Africa was the turning point.  The Church really is between a rock and a hard place here.  In the post-modern secular West, only the most sympathetic readers even attempt to understand Church teaching about sexuality on its own merits.  We are sure to be misrepresented and misinterpreted no matter what our communications strategy.

On the whole though, and if I’m reading him correctly, I am with Benedict on this one: let’s try to be as open and transparent as possible.  At least in that case, we bear less of the responsibility for the confusion that, inevitably, ensues.  We must give people the best opportunity to hear us.  I am hopeful this new strategy does that.

Brett Salkeld is a doctoral student in theology at Regis College in Toronto.  He is a father of two (so far) and husband of one.

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  • doug

    You have provided a very clear explanation. I took the Pope’s words to mean something along the lines of “if you are going to be sinning by engaging in sexual immorality that can spread disease, you should avoid the additional sin of spreading disease while you try to come to a mental state where you can avoid the sexual sin as well.”

    My own thoughts are that in the example of homosexual sex, it is non-procreative by its very nature, and so there is no additional sin of contraception by using a condom. It’s already reached that point.

  • Chris Sullivan

    Thank you Holy Father.

    Thank you.

    Thank you.

    Thank you.

    God Bless

  • David Nickol

    Let’s face it, every pastor knows (or should) that the Church’s concerns about the “fertile structure of the marital act” are a little academic at this point.


    I think what you have said there may be bigger news for some of us than what the pope said!

    Assuming the pope’s example is a male prostitute with a male customer, who himself decides to use condoms to protect the customer, it leaves almost every question I can think of about the use of condoms unanswered. It may be a step in the prostitute’s personal moral development, but it seems to me it could not be a step recommended by the Church. It might be looked upon as a step from a greater evil to a lesser evil, and if followed by more steps, it might result in a good. But certainly this is not a case (as I see it) of the Church saying, “If you are going to be a prostitute, at least use condoms.” Also, in choosing the example of a male prostitute, the issue of contraception is in no way addressed. One would think that, in the eyes of the Church, it is no more evil to engage in homosexual sex with a condom as without one. Why would it be?

  • brettsalkeld

    Benedict’s “in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom,” does make one wonder what other “cases” would satisfy his logic. The male prostitute is a pretty easy case for Catholic sexual ethics from this point of view for exactly the reasons you (and Doug) point out.

    I should perhaps add that I don’t mean for the sentence of mine that you quote to be revolutionary. I simply meant to say what you and Doug are saying: protecting the fertile structure of an infertile act seems a little nonsensical. Even Rhonheimer will go so far as to say that taking precautions in cases where rape is a possibility does nothing to contravene Church teaching. I am, of course, in agreement.

    As for “recommended,” I think this is exactly what is at issue here. Recommending something is a complicated issue. The Church certainly can’t say “If you’re going to sell your body for sex, use a condom.” But it can, in its pastoral care of persons who are in such a situation, acknowledge that condoms in such situations are better than not. One might even suggest that it must.

    “Look, if you’re not going to take my advice about not selling your body, what do you think is the healthiest choice you can make?”

  • Just one observation here: How and why are we to assume that Benedict is only referring to homosexual activity? When he says “when a male prostitute uses a condom”, I don’t see that only same-sex relations or activity are being considered. That is just not realistic, is it?

    I also appreciate his statement that this action can be “a first step in the movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.”

    Although this is certainly not an official papal pronouncement on faith and morals, it does look like a step in the right direction for development of doctrine after the manner of John Henry Cardinal Newman. N’est ce pas?

  • brettsalkeld

    “this is certainly not an official papal pronouncement on faith and morals, it does look like a step in the right direction for development of doctrine after the manner of John Henry Cardinal Newman. N’est ce pas?”

    It is theoretically possible, of course. However these things are, almost in principle, impossible to judge from our side of history. Only those looking back will be able to answer that one.

    As to whether the step is in the “right” direction, that is a whole ‘nother debate. Of course, the Catholic will say, if it is a step, it’s in the right direction; and if it’s not a step (but rather a one time clarification or some such thing), it is also in the right direction. 😉

  • brettsalkeld
  • Janet Smith has a good take…


    The Pope is saying that this that type of action could be viewed as a step on the way back to recovering conscience and a moral sense; that it could be representative of knowledge that one’s actions affect other people. He is manifestly not saying that using condoms in that circumstance is OK. “[The Church] of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution”

    And it’s not possible for the Church to change her Teaching on the immorality of artificial contraception.

  • brettsalkeld

    Did you read Father Rhonheimer’s piece?

  • M.Z.

    The more I consider this, the less newsworthy it seems. Yes, it is something, but I’m not sure the sanctity of the relationship between the john and prostitute was ever on the borderline of needing preservation. This is different than say sexual relations between unmarried persons where the relationship has the real possibility of being made sacred in marriage and therefore contraception can cause further defect, arguably. I don’t think this gives us any insight into the relationship of a married couple with one of the spouses being afflicted with AIDS.

    Then there is a bigger question. Are we to understand the distribution of condoms to prostitutes to no longer be formal cooperation with evil? In other words, is the Vatican giving freedom to governments, groups, and individuals to support NGOs that target prostitutes and provide condoms?

  • WJ


    This is the question I have. On the one hand the Pope denies that condoms are a “real or moral” solution (did I get that quote right?); on the other hand he seems to allow that they *may* be better than nothing. There’s a lot of grey here.

    • I think this is actually going to open up discussions on various issues. For example, the issue of condoms in Africa, where women are being raped by HIV infected men. Or, in a concern outside of sex, it seems to connect to the question of giving out needles to drug users.

      • brettsalkeld

        This is possible, of course, but the Pope’s choice of an example where contraception is simply not part of the equation make’s it at least as likely that this goes no further. From what we know at this point I think it is too early to panic or celebrate. Not that that is stopping people from both. Yeesh.

  • brettsalkeld

    The hysteria over at WDTPRS (http://wdtprs.com/blog/2010/11/the-pope-did-not-endorse-the-use-of-condoms/), despite the leader’s acknowledgment that the Rhonheimer’s of the world have been saying this for a while is scary.

    In any case, I thought this (which is linked to over there) was interesting:

    • Theology humor: what does this have to do with stopping the spread of STDs? I thought PhDs did that (sorry, I had to throw it in).

  • R.C.

    The pope’s comments didn’t even go THAT far.

    Recall that in Catholic moral theology, for an action to be morally licit, the act itself AND its methods AND its intent must all be morally licit. A good act done for good reasons with evil methods is still evil; an evil act done with good methods for good reasons is still evil; a good act done with good methods and evil intent is still evil. Of course such distinctions are as natural for the pope as breathing.

    The relevance is that the pope is here only speaking about intent, about the personal moral journey of a male prostitute. Nothing is said about the act or the methods. So even had the pope declared that the intent of a male prostitute serving a client was entirely morally just (hah!), he would not have said anything about the act or about the methods. Those, and thus the act as a whole, would remain as morally condemned by the teaching of the Church as they ever had been.

    And the pope did not say that the intent was entirely morally just. What he said was that in the personal moral journey of a particular male prostitute, such an intent (to prevent transmission of disease) may (not must, but may) represent a step towards a more humanized sexuality. Not an “arrival at a completely humanized sexuality,” but only a step towards it.

    In short, even in the area of intent, the pope views the act of a male prostitute as evil. The intent is slightly less evil than it might otherwise have been, when an intent to prevent disease is added to it. But that mixture of good and bad intent is only a step in the right direction, which does not achieve an entirely morally licit intent.

    Anyhow, the mainstream media is having a field day with this. But that is because most of them, since entering their careers, have never exercised the critical-thinking portions of the brains God gave them. No wonder, then, that they are unable to read what the Holy Father said, and avoid misunderstanding it.

    • brettsalkeld

      I’m not clear on what you mean by “THAT.”

      • R.C.

        Sorry, I should have been clearer.

        A lot of people seem to think the pope’s remarks are relevant to the moral justification of the whole act; that is, the act of a male prostitute servicing a client (the clientele of male prostitutes is overwhelmingly male).

        But the pope’s statement doesn’t go “that” far; that is, it doesn’t address the whole act. It doesn’t go into the act of prostitution or of sodomy itself, nor the methods or means used. The pope’s statement focuses narrowly on intent. When you realize that Catholic moral theology requires, in order for an act to be morally licit, that the deed and its methods and its intent all be morally licit, then any statement focused purely on intent can’t possibly say anything about the moral justification of the whole act.

        Moreover, the pope’s statement doesn’t even go so far as addressing the intent of the whole moral act of male prostitution, but only mentions the intent of the choice to use a condom while doing it.

        So it’s too narrow to address the whole act because it only focuses on intent; and it’s too narrow to address the whole intent because it only focuses on the intent of the condom/no-condom choice.

        To add to all that, it says that such a choice may represent (not “must” represent) a desire to avoid doing harm to the client, and thus may represent (not “must” represent) a tiny sliver of good intentions intermixed with an otherwise evil act.

        Hardly a ringing endorsement.

  • Ronald King

    A side note. The Pope stated that HIV infection is evil. This may seem insignificant to others but to me this statement indicates how far removed he is from understanding healthy human relationships. Human beings will be hurt by this statement because it relates them to carrying something evil inside of them and thus making them think and feel evil.
    HIV is a trajedy of immense proportions based on multiple human factors in which there are millions of victims. Using the overused term evil is an absolute way of harming the victims of this trajedy.
    Where is the empathy to be found within the church that can deepen the understanding of God’s Love for those who are disenfranchised? I know it can’t be found in one’s life devoted to writing about theology instead of developing intimate vulnerable loving human relationships.

    • Melody

      Ronald, I have often heard people say that “cancer is evil”; I don’t think they are saying that the people who have it are evil. This seems to be a similar use of the word; I would not interpret the Pope’s words to mean that “those who suffer from HIV” are evil.

      • Ronald King

        Melody, The pope said HIV is evil and for someone in his position to make a comment such as that is harmful to those with HIV, expecially considering the context within which he makes this statement. This statement reveals an insensitivity and/or ignorance of the potential for harm to innocent victims.

        • Ronald

          I think Pope Benedict is using the word evil in a way different from the one you are; rather, it would probably be best to describe it as “suffering.” Classical theologians would distinguish evil (actions) with evil (what one suffers). The second is not indicative of the first — to have one’s life’s ruined is evil, though it is not necessarily from personal actions and those who suffer it are not themselves said to be evil. An earthquake is in this way an evil suffered by humanity, but it is not a moral or ontological evil. Of course, more could be said about this to help people understand how the word evil is being used so not to think “therefore, if I have this, I am said to be evil.”

          • Ronald King

            Thanks for the clarification Henry. This is why we need leadership that knows how to speak the language of theology in the language of the world in order to prevent misunderstanding and harm when no harm is intended.
            Where is John XXIII?

          • You are welcome; I’m glad that helped!

  • David Nickol

    Anyhow, the mainstream media is having a field day with this. But that is because most of them, since entering their careers, have never exercised the critical-thinking portions of the brains God gave them. No wonder, then, that they are unable to read what the Holy Father said, and avoid misunderstanding it.


    It seems to me that the pope couldn’t have muddied the waters any more if he had deliberately set out to do so. It is not just the MSM attempting to interpret this clearly. It is very knowledgeable Catholics who are disagreeing over its meaning. See for example August Ivereigh.

    • R.C.


      Yes, I grant that it isn’t just the MSM who’re confused. But I suspect the widespread confusion is a mix of three factors:

      1. The headlines and analysis of news articles which quote the Holy Father’s words usually spin the interpretation in a certain direction before the reader (even if he is a knowledgeable and orthodox Catholic) gets a chance to read the quote itself. Thus the reader, by the time he scans through two-thirds of the article and locates the relevant quote, is already thinking in a certain direction.

      2. Even orthodox Catholics sometimes have mixed emotions about the Church’s teaching; and of course dissenters want very much for the teaching to be changed. This can muddle interpretation as (to borrow a phrase from C.S.Lewis) our emotions rise up and carry out a “blitzkrieg on our belief.”

      3. Critical, analytical, logic-chopping thinking is not much practiced these days except perhaps by computer programmers. Our culture is awash in treacly sentimentality, and to counterbalance against that, we are offered not practice in clear thinking, but only cynicism and sarcasm and flippancy directed at the treacly sentimentality of others. Furthermore, people are pretty lax about using words to say what they mean and mean what they say; they often say things they don’t literally mean expecting the hearer to ignore the definitional content of the statement and absorb only the emotional content.

      What the pope said was extraordinarily limited, as I’ve stated above.

      But many folk, accustomed to focusing on the emotional overtones of a statement and not the definitions of the words, hear, “The pope just said a sentence in which the subject was condoms and some nearby adjectives were modestly positive. This must mean he thinks that condoms are okay!”

      If our whole society were populated by nothing but software engineers and picky scholastic theologians, we wouldn’t have this problem. Sure, it’d be a dreadfully dull and pedantic society, but at least nobody would have misconstrued the pope’s statement!

  • “There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection.

    I could be wrong, but I think he’s assuming that male prostitutes only have sex with other men. This is far from true, but assuming this is what he means, then he is only approving of condom use in the case of gay sex, i.e., sex that is already nonprocreative.

    The question is, does using a condom during illicit heterosexual sexual acts increase the gravity of the offense? If a man and a woman commit adultery, does condom use contribute to the severity of the crime, mitigate it as is the case with sodomy, or is it morally irrelevant?

    In any case, you are correct when you say that the Pope’s statement in no way reflect a genuine change in the teachings of the Church.

  • Young Canadian RC Male

    To Brett,

    I understand the Pope’s context of the quote as a practicing Roman Catholic. It may be simpler to think it along the lines like the Sacrament of the Eucharist (which you so love academically) and sin.

    Kay you commit a mortal sin according to the three conditions in the catechism. You’ve just cut yourself off from sanctifying grace and committed a spiritual act of death. You CANNOT recieve the sacrament in mortal sin. If you do, you have committed sacrilege against the Lord Jesus and made a bad situation worse. The VERY LEAST you can do is not receive communion to refrain from profaining the Lord and
    show Him some respect.

    So for those other readers, how does this corrolate to the comment on the male prostitute and condoms?

    Homosexual anal sex correlates (but is not equal to) with the mortal sin

    Having unprotected anal sex and likely infecting the recipient or becoming a carrier of a disease like AIDS correlates to sacrelige against the Eucharist.

    Wearing the condom to reduce the incidence of spread of disease correlates to not receiving the Eucharist. The correlation is not entirely equal, however, b/c respecting the Lord by refusing eucharist in the state of mortal sin 100% respects Him, where you can still catch the disease if the condom rips and condoms aren’t 100% effective.

    I must say however, that I wish the Pope did get to receive a final edit copy prior to print and refused to put that in the book. He should have been wize enough, as a human, to know the liberal post-modern media and rebellious/liberal clergy as well as enemies of the Church would use this as ammunition against him from a PR perspective. It’s quite similar to any quote said by Prime Minister Stephen Harper about something which wasn’t meant in a certain way, and the Liberal/NDP/BQ minority twist it to gain power in Parliament. He does not need another media firestorm to contend with after the re-emergence of the sex scandal and the last PR debacle of putting the stricter measures in place alongside canonical penalties for women’s ordinations.

  • Young Canadian RC Male

    Hey Everyone! Finally clarification from the Vatican, albeit through its mouthpiece Fr. Frederico Lombardi on this issue.


  • brettsalkeld

    The more nonsense I see in the comboxes over at WDTPRS, the more convinced I am that Benedict was right on here. Those most upset have no genuine sense of the Catholic ethical tradition at all. You get the impression they’d think it would be immoral to use a condom as a parachute to save a life.

    And, though there certainly is confusion in the MSM about “change” in Church teaching, this isn’t all bad. They used to think we said:

    “gay sex = bad + condom = bad, therefore gay sex + condom = really bad.”

    They don’t think we believe that anymore. That’s a good thing, even if some of Z’s and TAC’s commenters actually do believe that.

  • digbydolben

    All I’ll say is that I think Dan’s Savage’s “nudge, nudge, wink wink” is right on target regarding the hypocrisy of Pope Ratzinger:


    • You do realize he is seriously arguing that the Pope said it’s OK for gay men to use condoms because the Pope is gay himself, yes?

      • digbydolben

        Depends on what you call “gay”, (especially since I myself don’t believe that there is anything called “gay”–but that ALL sexuality is fluid throughout a continuum).

        I think that what he–like Coim Toibin, like Andrew Sullivan–is suggesting is that Joseph Ratzinger is “same sex-attracted,” and has never broken his vow of chastity. The same, however, might be said of Gerard Manley Hopkins, of John Henry Newman, of Saint Romuold of the Camoldese and of countless other “gay saints” whom Benedict XVI would ban from eligibility for the sacerdotal state, in order to use same-sex atrracted men as scapegoats for the REAL culprits in the priest-paedophile scandal–namely the wicked bishops like himself, who chose to protect an institution, rather than the poor raped children.

  • WJ

    My favorite was the commentator–I forget where, but it might have been at WDTPRS–who described condoms *themselves* as intrinsically evil. There’s an interesting metaphysics behind such statements, to say the least.

    And, yes, Brett, on this reading it would be evil to use a condom as a parachute, because even though you’re intent is good, you’re still using an intrinsically evil device to bring it about. Plus, it’s not clear that condoms used as parachutes actually work anyway.

  • grega

    Thanks Digby for pointing that one out – Oh great it takes this papal Freudian slip to get something resembling reality into this church?
    While the plight of heterosexual couples with AIDS did not quite suffice this one goes – oh my god..I guess one worries about the stuff that stirs ones heart.
    LOL to bad for us heterosexuals – not much hope that this pope will ever slip
    our way. Perhaps at least female ordination can slip one of these days..
    As Andrew Sullivan summed it up nicely:
    “It’s then you realize that the Vatican’s problem is not just homophobia. It’s heterophobia as well.”

  • Vermont Crank

    Did Pope Benedict Just Change Church Teaching about Condoms?

    Who in the world thinks a Pope changes Catholic Teaching during an interview?

    Who thinks a Pope changes a Teaching?

    Liberals at Vox Nova.

    One of our three enemies – The World – is dying to have The Catholic Church surrender to another enemy – The Flesh – and all of this is applauded by our never-sleeping enemy – The Devil – and the liberals at Vox Nova could not be any happier.

    Of course, to the anger of our three enemies – The World – will learn a Pope does not change a teaching (a development of Doctrine is not a change) our other enemy- The Flesh – will continue to commit sexual sins and render itself morally blind – and the ancient, untiring enemy – The Devil – will continue to have sport with the liberals who are anxious to have the Catholic Church officially surrender to its enemies so they won’t feel embarrassed about unchanging Catholic Doctrine.

    • brettsalkeld

      Did you read the part where I said that this wasn’t a change in teaching?

      • Vermont Crank


    • Vermont Crank,

      Although I don’t believe the pope did change any teaching of the Church, or that what the pope says in an interview has any particular weight, what are we to make of this (posted on America by Austin Ivereigh):

      Just released by the Vatican:

      Caritas Internationalis works in the prevention of HIV infection and in the treatment and care of those living with HIV and AIDS.

      Caritas Internationalis Secretary General, Lesley-Anne Knight, said:

      “The Pope’s reported comments in this book illustrate the importance of compassion and sensitivity in dealing with the complexities of HIV/ AIDS prevention. Caritas delivers its HIV/AIDS programmes in line with Church Teaching and we will consider, in close consultation with the Holy See, whether there are implications for our work in these reported comments of Pope Benedict.”

      Caritas Internationalis is the confederation of 165 national Catholic aid agencies. Its members provide HIV programming in more than 100 countries.

      I think something is going on, but I wouldn’t say it is a change in Church teachings. There basically are no official Church teachings on the matter of using condoms for disease prevention, so it would be difficult for them to change. The Church teachings on condoms are about contraception. The Church postion on the use of condoms for disease prevention has been that they are not the solution to the AIDS problem, do not work, and can even be harmful. But unless I am mistaken, the Church has never declared it immoral for an individual to use a condom as a protection against transmission of STDs.

    • Dan

      A helpful and illuminating post…

    • Dan

      Who thinks a Pope changes a Teaching?

      If you’re so certain that teachings aren’t changed, tell me what you think of this:


  • WJ

    grega, your life is too short to waste it reading Andrew Sullivan ;).

    I speak as a former reader of Sullivan myself, of course.

    • grega

      In my view Sullivan adds a very important voice to the mix – since I read mostly his posts related to religion and tend to skip most others – particular those related to his obsession with all things Palin- overall in my view a manageable waste of my time. :)Perhaps I wise up one of these days and come to your insights. Still I honestly find the fact that on occasion of his Africa Trip Benedict could not be bothered to consider the moral predicaments of millions while he here comes up with musings regarding the far less ‘pressing’ moral dilemmas of the male prostitute-
      neither my conservative catholic mom nor her progressive catholic son are really amused – for different reasons that is of course.

  • Vermont Crank

    [Vermont, you are welcome to try make your point again, but if you use the same kind of language it’s not going to get through. Even people in mortal sin deserve to be spoken of as if the were beloved of God. Maybe especially people in mortal sin. Brett]

  • Vermont Crank

    But unless I am mistaken, the Church has never declared it immoral for an individual to use a condom as a protection against transmission of STDs.

    And I am unaware that The Magisterium has specifically taught that cannibalism on a Friday violates that Universal and Mandatory day of Penance.

  • digbydolben

    Andrew Sullivan is the best political commentator in America for one simple reason: unlike all the other ideology and agenda-peddling “guns for hire” who pass as “pundits” there, he is capable of changing his mind.

  • Vermont Crank

    I work with those who knock-over Liquor Stores for a living and I always counsel them to practice safe robbery and use rubber bullets in an effort to reduce the spread of death.

    Look, you may personally oppose what those Liquor Store robbers do but it is their way of getting money and you can’t buy a house without money yet you want them to be homeless, don’t you?


    For the life of me I can’t understand why The Pope wanted this discussion- but he clearly did.

    If homosexuals get diseases due to their actions then it is their fault not the fault of the Catholic Church. (I am, of course, not including discussion of “Courage” because the idea of homosexuals persevering in chastity is considered cruel and unusual punishment in this Lunatic Land of Lust).

    When The Catholic Church enters into a public casuistic quandary about activities that are fry-able then its pellucid Moral Doctrine becomes friable.

    Look, what homosexuals do with one another kills their souls and the World, The Flesh, and The Devil are more concerned with making Lust as physically safe as possible for those locked in the Chains of that Capital Sin whereas the Catholic Church is more concerned with freeing those souls from that Satanic Bondage of Lust.

    But, the world wants The Pillar and Ground of Truth to surrender on Homosexual Lust and condoms etc and the very last thing Homosexuals want is to hear what the Catholic Church teaches about homosexual perversion and how it kills both soul and body.

  • brettsalkeld

    Very interesting. I’m hoping to write another post soon and I’ll need to take this into account. For the record, I’ll still don’t think there’s any need to panic.

    • Brett

      I don’t think there is any need to panic, either. Really, it is stuff moral theologians have discussed many times, though many of the non-theologians have not. Many who created castles in the sand are finding their castles come down — but there is a difference between what many apologists have said and the Church’s theology — the first group are upset, understandably so, but I think this is the kind of discussion which has been needed before such sand castles grew bigger, and came down with greater force.

      • brettsalkeld

        Well said, Henry. Well said.

  • brettsalkeld
  • digbydolben

    (I am, of course, not including discussion of “Courage” because the idea of homosexuals persevering in chastity is considered cruel and unusual punishment in this Lunatic Land of Lust).

    Vermont Crank means doesn’t even know the definition of “chastity”–which it is perfectly possible to maintain with a full and active sex life (and, perhaps, at least theoretically, some physical expression of same-sex desire, so long, according to the Church’s operose pronouncements about plumbing, as there’s no “genital sex”). What poor sex-hating Vermont Crank means is “celibacy”–that same “celibacy” that’s addling the minds of the geriatric hierarchs, as they continue to strain for some pretexts to maintain it, in the wake of the paedophile priest-scandals.

    Dear Lord, what is it about Semitic religions that make them hate sexual desire so much?

    • Thales

      I don’t quite understand what you think is a morally permissible sex life for those with homosexual inclinations from the Church’s point of view. Or maybe you’re disagreeing with the Church’s point of view? I don’t follow. Please explain.

    • doug


      There is nothing about Catholicism that makes it hate sexual desire. It only puts reasonable constraints on it. Everything from food service to driving an automobile to sex needs reasonable constraints lest people be harmed. I have found that the Church’s constraints on sex have enhanced, not restricted, my relationship with my wife.

      • digbydolben

        Good for you and your wife, but your “reasonable restraints” include,in practice, for “same-sex-attracted” folk, “pastoral” guidelines that exclude not only “genital sex” but almost all physical expressions of love and affection.

        My “gay” friends who are Catholic have always told me that this is cruel beyond words.

        Sorry, but I wholeheartedly REJECT this ecclesiastical definition of what constitutes “chastity” for the “same-sex-attracted,” and I can tell you, as a teacher of youth–including Catholic youth–for over twenty years, that the modern generation of youth ALSO wholeheartedly reject it. This, plus the paedophile scandals and the exclusion of women from positions of real authority in the Church, is DESTROYING it in the West. It’ll be gone in two or three generations, and Rome will be nothing but the capital of primitive, fundamentalist Third World Catholicism.

  • Vermont Crank

    Dear Digbydolben


    The virtue that moderates the desire for sexual pleasure according to the principles of faith and right reason. In married people, chastity moderates the desire in conformity with their state of life; in unmarried people who wish to marry, the desire is moderated by abstention until (or unless) they get married; in those who resolve not to marry, the desire is sacrificed entirely.

    Chastity and purity, modesty and decency are comparable in that they have the basic meaning of freedom from whatever is lewd or salacious. Yet they also differ. Chastity implies an opposition to the immoral in the sense of lustful or licentious. It suggests refraining from all acts or thoughts that are not in accordance with the Church’s teaching about the use of one’s reproductive powers. It particularly stresses restraint and an avoidance of anything that might defile or make unclean the soul because the body has not been controlled in the exercise of its most imperious passion. (Etym. Latin castus, morally pure, unstained.)

  • Ronald King

    If chaste is defined as morally pure, then why is there so much emphasis on mutual sexual expression of affection than on a rationalized just war which kills countless innocent victims, lack of healthcare coverage for 40 million? people, including children, violence against women, 5 million children starving to death around the world before they reach the age of 5, etc.?
    It seems to me that priorities have been contaminated with a lust for power which may be due to a lack of insight and a compassionate understanding of sexuality, especially if one has forced oneself to attempt to live a celibate life.

  • Here we are 3 days and 55 responses later, and so far I find it remarkable that only one person has even mentioned the word “conscience” here.

    Somewhere in his vast writings, Newman apparently said that conscience is the primordial vicar of Christ.

    It would appear that our correspondents here and our discussions are more fixed on what the present pope said or meant in an interview with a journalist, than
    pursuing the role of conscience in making moral decisions.

    Is this a typical Catholic predicament? I mean, referring or deferring to some external authority, rather than thinking it through with one’s God given intelligence and making moral choices based on an informed conscience. We risk perpetual infantilism when we fail to acknowledge and encourage the use of mature informed conscience on such matters.

    Benedict indicates that he is interested in promoting careful reflection and discussion about the morality of living human sexuality; whereas it appears that some of the present commentators in this discussion are actually looking or acting “more catholic than the pope” himself.

    That in itself is quite remarkable.

  • digbydolben

    I could not possibly agree with Mr. Carriere more, and, as usual, Ronald King has it all over everybody else, including myself.

    Speaking as somebody who actually does, I guess, lead what Vermont Crank would deem a “chaste life,” I resolutely refuse to make judgments about those who avoid inflicting its misery and loneliness upon themselves and others. (And I also most certainly DO “reject the Church’s ‘point of view'” because it’s a lot more harshly judgmental than a “point of view.”)

  • My priest friend Fr. Roach received permission from Cardinal O’Connor to take this approach in confession during the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. So not really too much new here.

    • brettsalkeld

      Yes, the confessional is where the nuance of our ethics really comes out, as Father Grunow points out in the wordonfire link above. O’Connor was no liberal. You’re right. The basic principles have not changed. As I said, it’s the communications strategy that is new.

  • Dan

    whereas it appears that some of the present commentators in this discussion are actually looking or acting “more catholic than the pope” himself.

    This is absolutely true. Conservatives require structure to give their belief system order and meaning. The idea of primacy of conscience is very threatening, because conscience cannot be systematic. If the Church clarifies a teaching which threatens their structure, it also threatens their worldview; change is difficult, because we have to admit we may have been wrong.

    This applies to liberals as well – where structure can be seen as a repression of freedom. That’s the beauty of the Church – the equal tension between right and left wings is how we continue to fly forward.

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