On 30th November, during a press conference on his return flight from his visit to Africa, Pope Francis was asked about the Church’s position on the use of condoms as a means of combating HIV. A German journalist asked:
Is it not time for the Church to change it’s position on the matter? To allow the use of condoms to prevent more infections?
In his response Pope Francis stated:
Yes, it’s one of the methods. The moral of the Church on this point is found here faced with a perplexity: the fifth or sixth commandment? Defend life, or that sexual relations are open to life?
But this isn’t the problem. The problem is bigger…this question makes me think of one they once asked Jesus: “Tell me, teacher, is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? Is it obligatory to heal?” This question, “is doing this lawful,” … but malnutrition, the development of the person, slave labor, the lack of drinking water, these are the problems. Let’s not talk about if one can use this type of patch or that for a small wound, the serious wound is social injustice, environmental injustice, injustice that…I don’t like to go down to reflections on such case studies when people die due to a lack of water, hunger, environment…when all are cured, when there aren’t these illnesses, tragedies, that man makes, whether for social injustice or to earn more money, I think of the trafficking of arms, when these problems are no longer there, I think we can ask the question “is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” Because, if the trafficking of arms continues, wars are the biggest cause of mortality…I would say not to think about whether it’s lawful or not to heal on the Sabbath, I would say to humanity: “make justice,” and when all are cured, when there is no more injustice, we can talk about the Sabbath.
These remarks have caused confusion and controversy inside and outside the Church. Much of the media has drawn the conclusion, perfectly reasonable given the nature of the remarks, that Pope Francis thinks that “there are more important issues confronting the world, like malnutrition, environmental exploitation and the lack of safe drinking water” than giving clear teaching on the question of whether condom use can ever be morally acceptable.
In order to assist in dispelling the confusion about Church teaching caused by the Holy Father’s remarks we would like to offer the following article by Mgr Michel Schooyans. Mgr Schooyans is a professor at the Catholic University of Louvain and an acclaimed academic and writer. The text was originally published in 2005 as part of the book Le terrorisme à visage humain but we expect that readers will immediately see its relevance to the current controversy.
An extract from the book Le terrorisme à visage humain by Michel Schooyans and Anne-Marie Libert
We shall examine statements put out in the last few years by various high-profile personalities in the academic and/or ecclesiastical world, most often by moralists and pastors. We shall call them dignitaries, and shall refrain from quoting them by name to avoid personalising the debate and in order to concentrate our attention on the moral argument.
Disarray and Confusion
Since they refer to recourse to condoms in case of AIDS, these statements have often caused profound confusion in public opinion and in the Church. They are often accompanied by surprising remarks about the person and function of the Pope, as well as the authority of the Church. In the slipstream one also finds the usual list of grievances about sexual morality, celibacy, homosexuality, the ordination of women, Communion given to remarried divorcees and to abortionists, etc. An opportunity like any other to globalize these problems.
These dignitaries have expressed themselves somewhat complacently in the mass media. They have pleaded in favour of condoms in cases of risk of infecting a healthy partner with AIDS. According to them the Church should change its position on this subject.
These statements cause great confusion in the minds of the public; they confuse the faithful, divide priests, upset the episcopate, discredit the body of Cardinals, undermine the Magisterium of the Church and aim head-on at the Holy Father. Other dignitaries, now retired or deceased, had already led the revolt in these areas. Meanwhile today, these remarks have often caused consternation, for people expect more prudence; and moral, theological and disciplinary rigour on the part of these dignitaries who – influenced by ideas fashionable in certain milieu – do their utmost to “justify” the use of condoms by cobbling together a “sales pitch” with all-purpose tricks like “least harm” or “double effect”.
One of these dignitaries has gone so far as to make recourse to condoms a moral duty if one wishes to avoid infringing the 5th Commandment. Indeed, he argues that if people infected with AIDS refuse to practise abstinence, they must protect their partners and the only way to do so, in this case, is to resort to condoms.
Such remarks are enough to leave people perplexed, and they reveal partial and biased knowledge of the most natural morality and in particular of Christian morality. Their way of presenting things is at the very least astonishing.
A PROBLEM OF NATURAL MORALITY
Some reassuring but untrue remarks
The arguments of these dignitaries about condoms is of an unexpected superficiality, and one would willingly recommend to interested parties that they acquaint themselves with authoritative scientific and clinical studies rather than keep coming out with and giving credence to gossip long ago refuted by test purchases by any consumer magazine.
How can one pass over in silence that the effect of restraint which condoms seem to exercise is broadly illusory? It is so, in so far as the said condom is mechanically fragile, as it encourages increases in the number of partners and in variety of sexual experience, and as for all these reasons it increases the risks rather than diminishes them.
As for the only effective prevention, this is to be sought in the renunciation of risky behaviour and in fidelity.
From this point of view, moral qualification of condom use is a problem of scientific honesty and natural morality. The Church has not only the right but also the duty to pronounce on this subject.
“Failure, that is death in any event”
Now these interventions by dignitaries fail to mention recent studies of undeniable scientific value, such as that of Doctor Jacques Suaudeau. In the absence of being aware of the recent studies, the authors could at least bear in mind previous admonitions, emanating from the highest scientific authorities. For instance in 1996 one read in a report by Professor Henri Lestradet, of the National Academy of Medicine (Paris) : “It is appropriate […] to point out that the condom was initially advocated as a means of contraception. Well […] the “failure” rate is generally thought to vary between 5% and 12% per couple per year of use. A priori […] with the HI Virus which is 500 times smaller than a sperm it is hard to see how there would be a lower failure rate. In any case there is an enormous difference between these two situations. When the condom is not completely effective as a means of contraception the consequence of failure is development of new life, while with HIV failure is death in any event.”
Then, considering the case of the HIV-positive, the same report notes that “The only responsible attitude of an HIV-positive man is actually to abstain from all sexual relations, whether protected or not. […] If a couple envisages a stable relationship, there should be the following recommendations: each [person] to have a screening test, repeat it after three months and in the meantime abstain from all sexual relations (with or without condoms).Then put mutual fidelity first.
The dignitaries, who are authors of the remarks we are analysing, would do well to pay attention to one dramatic conclusion of the medical study which we are quoting: “The assertion proclaimed hundreds of times (by health officials, the Conseil supérieur for AIDS, and associations for the battle against AIDS) ? of the complete security afforded in all circumstances by condoms is without any doubt at the root of many infections of which at the moment one refuses to find the origin.”
Some international campaigns are being carried on in “exposed” societies in order to flood them with condoms. Religious authorities are invited to give them their distinguished patronage. Well, in spite of these campaigns, and probably because of these campaigns, the advance of the pandemic is observed regularly.
In July 2004, one of the most eminent authorities on AIDS in the world, the Belgian doctor Jean-Louis Lamboray, resigned from UNAIDS (the United Nations programme against AIDS). He stated as his reason for resigning “the failure of policies to curb the spread of this disease”. These policies have failed because “UNAIDS has forgotten that real preventive measures are decided in people’s houses and not in the offices of experts.”
Before issuing peremptory declarations, the dignitaries should remember what a doctor, given a lot of media coverage and hardly suspected of sympathy for the Church’s positions, has stated. Here is what the late Professor Leon Schwartzenberg wrote in 1989: “It is of course mainly young people who will spread AIDS; they are completely unaware of the tragedy of AIDS, which for them is an old people’s disease. This conviction is strengthened by the attitude of the political class, much older than they are and which is responsible for [such] feeble propaganda: the official publicity for condoms gives the impression of having been created by people who never use them for people who do not wish to use them.”
Listeners, readers and television viewers therefore cannot take at face value the imprudent remarks addressed to them by these dignitaries, without risking ? like them ? seeing themselves accused sooner or later of being “at the root of many infections.”
A problem of Christian morality
Furthermore it is specious to assert that the Church has no official teaching on AIDS and condoms. Even if the Pope systematically avoids using the latter word, the moral problems posed by the use of condoms are tackled in all the great teachings concerned with conjugal relations and the purposes of marriage. When one is dealing with AIDS and condoms in the light of Christian morality, one must bear in mind that to recall this involves some essential points: the carnal act ought to take place within the framework of monogamous marriage of a man and a woman; conjugal fidelity is the best rampart against sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS; the conjugal union should be open to life, to which must be added respect for the life of others.
Spouses or partners?
It follows that it is not for the Church to preach a “morality” of sexual partnership. It should and does teach conjugal and familial morality. It addresses spouses, couples united sacramentally in marriage which is monogamous and heterosexual. Remarks on the subject of condoms aired by the dignitaries are concerned with partners, whether they maintain relationships which are pre- or extra-marital, intermittent or persistent, heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian, sodomitic, etc. One does not see why the Church, and less than anybody the dignitaries invested with Magisterial authority, should at the risk of causing scandal, come to the rescue of sexual vagrancy and be responsible for the sins of those who, in most cases, could not care in the slightest, in practice and often in theory, about Christian morality. “Sin, my brothers, but in safety!” After “Safe Sex”, we now have “Safe Sin” !
The Church and her dignitaries, then, have no role in explaining what to do in order to sin in comfort. They would be abusing their authority were they to embark on lavishing advice about how to conclude a divorce, since the Church considers divorce is always an evil. It would even be hardening the sinner to show him how he ought to go about avoiding the undesirable consequences of his sin.
Whence the question: is it admissible that dignitaries, who are normally the guardians of doctrine, obscure the demands of natural morality and of evangelical morality, and not rather launch an appeal for a change of behaviour?
It is inadmissible and irresponsible for dignitaries to give their backing to the idea of safe sex, utilised to reassure condom users, when one knows that this expression is a lie and leads to the abyss. These distinguished dignitaries ought therefore to ask themselves whether they are not only inciting people to scorn God’s 6th Commandment, but also to flout the 5th Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” The false security offered by the condom, far from reducing the risks of contamination, increases them. The reproach of not honouring the 5th commandment backfires on those who address it to “partners” who do not make use of condoms.
The argument invoked to attempt to “justify” the “prophylactic” use of condoms thus is reduced to nothing, as much in the views of natural morality as of Christian morality.
Perhaps it would be simpler to say that, if spouses really love each other and if one of them catches cholera, bubonic plague, or pulmonary tuberculosis, this one should abstain from contacts to avoid contagion.
THE OBJECTIVE: THE GREAT UPHEAVAL
An error of method
At the beginning of this analysis, we were indicating that dignitaries who advocate condoms were frequently linking to their defence plea, causes other than that of far-sighted and organised sexual “partners”. In fact, one is making too much of this case in order to challenge all the Church’s teaching about human sexuality, then about marriage, then the family, then society, then the Church itself. It is this that explains in part these dignitaries’ almost total lack of interest in the scientific conclusions and the fundamental ideas of natural morality. It is nevertheless these conclusions and fundamental ideas that the dignitaries ought to take into account first of all in their consideration of Christian morality. Because of this error of method – whether voluntary or not – , the dignitaries wish to open the way to an upheaval of Christian morality. They even wish to turn Christian dogma upside down since they reserve the right to a call on it in their opinions to summon the whole institution of the Church into a reform capable of endorsing their morality and their dogma. They intend thus to participate, at their level, in this new cultural revolution.
Nevertheless, as these dignitaries have committed, right from the start, an error of method by neglecting the essential fundamental ideas of the problem with which they claim to be dealing, they are setting out inevitably on a slippery road. Starting from false premises one can only end up with false conclusions. It is easy to see where erratic thoughts are leading the dignitaries concerned. One can summarise them in three sophisms which can be demolished by any schoolboy.
Major : Not using a condom encourages AIDS.
Minor : Now, to encourage AIDS, is to encourage death.
Conclusion : Therefore not using a condom is to encourage death.
This distorted reasoning is based on the idea that to protect oneself, is to use condoms. Partners can be numerous. Fidelity is not even envisaged. Sex drives supposedly being irresistible and conjugal fidelity impossible, the only way not to contract AIDS is to make use of condoms.
Major : Condoms are the only protection against AIDS.
Minor : Now, the Church is against condoms.
Conclusion : Therefore the Church is encouraging AIDS.
This pseudo-syllogism is based on an incorrect assertion stated in the major point, namely that condoms are the only protection against AIDS. We are in the presence of a begging of the question, a petitio principii. It is a matter of fallacious reasoning, where the first premise having been presented as indisputable, it goes without saying that the rest is as well. One asserts as true what would need to be proved, namely that condoms are the only protection against AIDS.
A case of polysyllogism
Here finally is an example of pseudo-syllogism, a sophisticated syllogism, which the dignitaries could look into:
Major : The Church is against condoms;
Minor : Now, condoms prevent unwanted pregnancies;
Conclusion/Major : Therefore the Church encourages unwanted pregnancies;
Minor : Now unwanted pregnancies are avoided by abortion;
Conclusion : Therefore the Church encourages abortion.
To sum up, the revival of morality and of Christian ecclesiology has nothing to expect from the perfidious exploitation of the ill and of their death.
Voice of the Family thanks Mgr Schooyans for his permission to republish this article. It was originally published in 2005 as part of Le terrorisme à visage humain by Michel Schooyans and Anne-Marie Libert. It was republished in 2010 at Chiesa news.