The Church’s teaching on
contraception is that contraception is intrinsically evil when used to
frustrate the procreative purpose of the marital act. The point to
remember is that contraception is intrinsically evil only within
Outside of marriage, sexual intercourse itself is intrinsically evil;
outside of marriage, there is no marital act (which should not be there in
the first palce) that must be kept open to life and love.
This is exactly the kind of moral analysis the Pope was doing in the
discussion which so much in the news. When, with respect to the
distribution of condoms to reduce the risk of AIDS, the Pope says the
Church "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 risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a
different way, a more human way, of living sexuality", he is doing
exactly the sort of extrinsic moral analysis required for this case.
He does not say, "Wait, stop right here, contraception is
intrinsically immoral, there can be no further discussion." He does
not say this because that thinking applies only within marriage. Rather,
he says we need to look at the circumstances, the moral context, and the
The vast majority of Churchmen have rejected the idea of fighting AIDS
with condoms because the public promotion of condoms tends to dehumanize
sexual relations, emphasizing only the selfish pleasure to be gained, and
bypassing altogether the responsibility called for in a truly human vision
The Pope alludes to this when he mentions "a different way, a more
human way, of living sexuality". It is possible that in some specific
cases, the use of a condom might be a step in the right direction (think
of a rapist, for example).
But Pope Benedict and most other Churchmen over the years have seen
that the public promotion of condoms takes us in exactly the wrong
direction overall, so that our last state is worse than our first.
It further cheapens sexuality, and in so doing undermines the very
values which alone can solve the AIDS problem - and with it the more
fundamental problems which AIDS represents.
But none of this has any bearing on the Church’s traditional teaching
against contraception in marriage. Indeed, no matter what position the
Pope or any other moralist may take on the use of condoms in particular
situations which are already fundamentally disordered situations in which
sexual activity is already intrinsically immoral, that position cannot
affect the Church’s teaching on the use of condoms in sexual acts which
are otherwise properly ordered and moral, that is, within marriage.
In each and every properly ordered and therefore moral sexual act (that
is, in each and every marital act), deliberate contraception remains
There are many other aspects of this story that need to be addressed.
But the purity of Catholic doctrine is not one of them.
To some observers, the Pope seemed to revive proportionalism, or
at least to call into question a form of Catholic moral theology which
leans too heavily on acts as opposed to intentions.
To revies, the Pope said in his book-length interview with German
journalist Peter Seewald that although condoms are not the right answer to
AIDS, using a condom could represent a "first step" towards
moral responsibility if the intention is to reduce the risk of infection.
After those words created a global media sensation, some observers
concluded the Pope had accepted condoms as a "lesser evil" which
could be justified by the "proportionate reason" of saving lives
– just the kind of reasoning proportionalism advocates.
The Vatican and other Catholic commentators scrambled to insist that
Pope Benedict was not "justifying" condom use, but rather
acknowledging that in some cases it might mark positive movement in the
direction of what the Catholic church regards as ethical sexual behavior.
In other words, they argued, Pope Benedict’s point had more to do with
spiritual maturation than moral theology.
It should have been clear, therefore, that the Pope’s lines on
condoms did not augur any revival of proportionalism.
What is this ‘proportionalism’? This is how the Holy Father
"It was maintained – even within the realm of Catholic theology
– that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There
is only a ‘better than’ and a ‘worse than’. Nothing is good or bad
in itself. Everything depends on the circumstances and on the end in view.
Anything can be good or also bad, depending upon purposes and
circumstances. Morality is replaced by a calculus of consequences, and in
the process it ceases to exist.
The effects of such theories are evident today. Against them, Pope John
Paul II, in his 1993 Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor,
indicated with prophetic force in the great rational tradition of
Christian ethos the essential and permanent foundations of moral action.
Today, attention must be focused anew on this text as a path in the
formation of conscience. It is our responsibility to make these criteria
audible and intelligible once more for people today as paths of true
humanity, in the context of our paramount concern for mankind"
Benedict XVI Address
by the Holy Father on the occasion of Christmas greetings to
the Roman Curia 20 December 2010.
(Thanks to G. Weigel)