Posted by: L. E. Barnes | November 26, 2010

Clarifying the Pope’s Remarks about Condoms

Unless you’ve been on a “news fast” lately, you’re bound to have heard reports about remarks made by Pope Benedict regarding condom usage. Typical of these reports is this piece by the Associated Press:

Many people have apparently gotten the impression that the Pope is putting a stamp of approval on condom usage, thereby marking a departure from the Church’s teachings on contraceptives–or even from the Church’s teachings on sexual morality in general. But what exactly did he say? All the buzz in the news has to do with statements found in chapter 11 of Light of the World, a book-length interview of Pope Benedict by Peter Seewald. Here’s an excerpt that shows the context of the Pope’s remarks:

The Church does more than anyone else [to help AIDS victims], because she does not speak from the tribunal of the newspapers, but helps her brothers and sisters where they are actually suffering. In my remarks I was not making a general statement about the condom issue, but merely said, and this is what caused such great offense, that we cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms. Much more needs to be done. We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help them; and we must do this both before and after they contract the disease.

 …[T]he sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.

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.

Q: 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 risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.

You can read the full excerpt here.

Note that the Pope emphasizes that condom use is not “a real or moral solution” but only a “first step in the direction of a moralization.” He is no way condoning sexual immorality in any form–and certainly not prostitution!–nor is he deviating from the Church’s teachings on contraceptives.

In an article for Our Sunday Visitor, John Norton seeks to add further clarification about this matter:

Using words awfully similar to those just used by Pope Benedict, Franciscan Father Maurizio Faggioni, a moral theologian who is also a medical doctor, told me condom use by prostitutes might be seen as one step “in a progression of human liberation.” 

“A woman who understands that she cannot put her life or the life of another in danger is a woman who has grown morally, in comparison to a woman who has no consideration for her health or the health of others,” he said. 

“Only in this path of pastoral graduality is it possible to tolerate — here, Catholic ethics does not approve, but tolerates — the use of a prophylactic,’’ said Father Faggioni, who serves as a consultor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office formerly headed by Pope Benedict. 

So no big change here. Condom use might be OK [Clarification: “OK” here obviously doesn’t mean morally good; it means morally better than the alternative] on a case-by-case basis where it’s a step forward in moral responsibility. But advocating condom use as public policy is still unacceptable because it tacitly approves immoral behavior and might even encourage it. 

Likewise, Dr. Janet E. Smith offers further insight:

We must note that the example that Pope Benedict gives for the use of a condom is a male prostitute; thus, it is reasonable to assume that he is referring to a male prostitute engaged in homosexual acts. The Holy Father is simply observing that for some homosexual prostitutes the use of a condom may indicate an awakening of a moral sense; an awakening that sexual pleasure is not the highest value, but that we must take care that we harm no one with our choices.  He is not speaking to the morality of the use of a condom, but to something that may be true about the psychological state of those who use them.  If such individuals are using condoms to avoid harming another, they may eventually realize that sexual acts between members of the same sex are inherently harmful since they are not in accord with human nature.  The Holy Father does not in any way think the use of condoms is a part of the solution to reducing the risk of AIDs.  As he explicitly states, the true solution involves “humanizing sexuality.”

Anyone having sex that threatens to transmit HIV needs to grow in moral discernment. This is why Benedict focused on a “first step” in moral growth. The Church is always going to be focused on moving people away from immoral acts towards love of Jesus, virtue, and holiness. We can say that the Holy Father clearly did not want to make a point about condoms, but wants to talk about growth in a moral sense, which should be a growth towards Jesus.

…Christ himself, of course, called for a turning away from sin.  That is what the Holy Father is advocating here; not a turn towards condoms. Conversion, not condoms!

Would it be proper to conclude that the Holy Father would support the distribution of condoms to male prostitutes? Nothing he says here indicates that he would. Public programs of distribution of condoms run the risk of conveying approval for homosexual sexual acts. The task of the Church is to call individuals to conversion and to moral behavior; it is to help them understand the meaning and purpose of sexuality and to help them come to know Christ, who will provide the healing and graces that enable us to live in accord with the meaning and purpose of sexuality.

So in other words, there is no cause for anyone, Catholic or otherwise, to be surprised or scandalized by what Pope Benedict said. This episode has provided yet another example of why it is often necessary to dig deeper for information than what you’ll hear in the mainstream news.



  1. Clarifying the Pope's Remarks about Condoms « Evan's Cove…

    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

  2. […] about the Trinity by Fr. Robert Barron, a couple of Thanksgiving songs, a humorous Coke ad, some discussion of the Pope’s remarks regarding condoms, and my week’s ”sabbath […]

  3. I was so happy that our associate pastor took the time this morning to talk about this issue. It’s so frustrating, and the “banalization” of sex is bang-on, and illustrated by all this ridiculous flap. I’m just disappointed and sad at how many Catholics are taking these comments out of context on the basis of a sound-byte media.

    • Exactly. Going by media sound bytes isn’t a very wise. The context of the Pope’s remarks clearly, as well as his actual statement, shows that he wasn’t promoting condoms or promiscuity. And he was absolutely right in pointing out how our society has turned sex into a “drug” rather than what God intended it to be.

  4. Love the Charlie Brown clip and the Diet Coke commercial! Found this piece about Pope’s condom comment at the Creative Minority Report. Pure sarcasm…I thought it was great. You might enjoy, as well…

    • Thanks for the link. I’ll check it out.

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