Saturday, August 18, 2012

When Can Catholics Wear Condoms? A Response

I've been putting this off for awhile, but i thought it was about time i starting using my blogspot account.  After a few years of avoiding the thing, i figure either use it or get rid of it.  So here i am using it.

      Although i would have rather written on something more unique, to establish my individuality and distinctiveness, i'm writing a response piece.  Someone i respect over at Patheos recently posted an article entitled When Can Catholics Wear Condoms?  It's a good question.  As he rightly points out, there is nothing wrong with wearing a condom.  

"So we should feel free to wear condoms. We should feel free to wear four or five of them. Just not during sex."

       I'm not going to bother recapping his entire argument.  It suffices to say, it's a good question.  The meat of the topic is; if you are using a condom for a purpose other than contraception, is it then ok?  Our Holy Father has already given us one example in which it would be.  If a gay prostitute wears a condom, the act itself is already contracepted by the fact that two men cannot procreate with each other.  As a consequence the condom would be only to prevent the spread of HIV, this is a good thing.
      While i cannot advocate going into this particular profession, being a condom wearing gay prostitute may be a step up from being a condom-free gay prostitute.  (If you want to find true joy in life, this is probably a profession best avoided all together.)

      Now, what of a married couple?  The husband has AIDs and doesn't want to pass it to his wife.  Could he wear a condom?  While my esteemed counterpart answers in the affirmative, i would have to disagree. Sorry

      The center of this discussion seems to come from Humanae Vitae, where it puts forth, "the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases,"
 (It seems to me that preventing bodily diseases of which there is a significant and immediate risk would also qualify.  So i see no problem here.)
It continues, "even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.”
       I would put forth, this is where condoms face a problem.  It has to do with how they work to prevent AIDs.  I'll get to this in a second.

      This concept, from Humanae Vitae, is based off of Thomas Aquinas's Principle of Double Effect, which allows for certain harmful actions to be justifiable given three conditions;
  1. the nature of the act is itself good, or at least morally neutral.
Sex is good.  Wrapping a piece of rubber around a body part is... weird, but morally neutral.  So, i see no problem here.

     3. the good effect outweighs the bad effect in circumstances sufficiently grave to justify causing the bad effect and the agent exercises due diligence to minimize the harm.

Not getting AIDs, or not passing them on to a loved on, is good.  I would classify not getting pregnant as morally neutral, although also sad.  Due diligence to minimize the harm is something i'll bring back up latter.

     2. the agent intends the good effect and not the bad either as a means to the good or as an end itself.

You might notice i went out of order.  That's because the second condition is the one that gives me the greatest pause.  The bad effect cannot be the means to the good effect.

      The condom works, both as a contraceptive method and to prevent AIDs, by preventing the transfer of fluid from the man to the woman.  The very thing that helps to prevent AIDs is also that thing which renders the act infertile.  The bad effect, the contraceptive attribute of the condom, would be the means of preventing AIDs.
      In chemical contraception, by comparison, the pill alters the hormonal balance of the woman.  This altered hormonal balance may have the dual effect of curing a medical condition and reducing fertility.  However, these two effect are independent of each other.  In theory, a woman could receive the medical benefits and still get pregnant.  The one is not dependent on the other.
       With condoms, these two effects are inseparably united to each other.  There is no way in which the woman can get pregnant if the condom is doing it's job properly, that is, of preventing the exchange of bodily fluids.  The impediment is being directly intended for the motive of preventing AIDs.  I do not see how condoms could fit with Humanae Vitae or the principle of double effect.

      There is also a point from condition #3 i want to address: Doing due diligence to minimize harm.  Condoms are not 100% effective at preventing STDs.  Abstinence is.  If your only goal is to prevent the transfer of an STD, it seems abstinence is more fitting.
      Additionally, when one uses a condom, for any reason, they are directly separating the procreative element from sexuality.  They are dehumanizing it.  This leads to seeing sex as an ends in itself.  It reduces your partner to a mere means to your own sexual gratification.  It does a great deal of harm.
      When i am in a state of sin, i will abstain from the Eucharist.  I love and adore the Eucharist and receiving it grants me a great deal of grace.  However, when i am in a state of sin i will abstain, and the abstaining grants me far more graces then the reception would have.  This is because of my love for it and my desire to do no harm to my Lord.
      Sometimes in life, we are called to abstain from things that are good in order to receive something better.  Using a condom in the confines of a marriage will do harm to that marriage.  Sometimes abstinence is the fullest form of self giving love, and will do good for the couple. 

      The third condition seems to rule out condoms on the grounds that abstinence does less harm and the second condition would rule condoms out all together.

“[The Church] of course does not see [condoms] as a real and moral solution. In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality.”
 Pope Benedict XV

1 comment:

  1. I like your Eucharistic analogy, it sounds like there's some rich theology in the direction you indicated.

    I disagree, however, with your analysis of the double effect. It is true that the good effect (disease prevention) and the bad effect (contraception) are simultaneous and inseparable. But this does not make the latter the means to the former. All that is needed to avoid using an evil means to a good end is this: the good effect must flow from the action at least as immediately (in the order of causality, though not necessarily in the order of time) as the bad effect. In other words the good effect must be produced directly by the action, not by the bad effect. (that bit was stolen from the catholic encyclopedia.)

    "Additionally, when one uses a condom, for any reason, they are directly separating the procreative element from sexuality."
    Yes, but this only as the bad effect. Of course, as you've discussed, sometimes bad effects are tolerable.