Monday, November 27, 2006

The Pope and condoms

Pope Benedict XVI has received a 200-page report on recommendations for the use of condoms. Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan of Mexico put together the document that will reportedly recommend easing the Vatican’s ban on condoms in a few exceptional cases. If the document passes the scrutiny of the Vatican then it could be transformed into a papal document in 2007.

According to Alexander Smoltczyk in Der Spiegel,
… On Tuesday, the United Nations released the latest World Report on AIDS in Geneva. The epidemic shows no signs of abating. There are now 39.5 million people infected with HIV and 8,000 people are dying every day from AIDS-related illnesses. Yet despite the seriousness of the problem, a local priest in Botswana or Swaziland cannot give a woman his blessing to use a condom even if her husband is a notorious womanizer, a junkie and infected with HIV. For the Vatican, using contraception is an act against the primacy of life.

Yet even within the church there is unease about this extreme doctrinaire approach. The Belgian Cardinal Godfried Daneels has been calling for a relaxation of the condom ban in exceptional cases for years. And he is now being joined by other colleagues who are dealing with the epidemic on the ground. According to Lozano Barragan, the report, which is yet to be published, is a learned compendium, including quotes from the fathers of the church as well as extracts from encyclicals and current statistics about the spread of AIDS. At its core the report is designed to avoid abandoning the principle of banning the use of condoms.

Just as before, "every conjugal act" is dedicated to the principle of life, as Pope John Paul II wrote in his apostolic exhortation "Familiaris consortio" in 1981. That means that condoms cannot be used apart from a few exceptional cases.

And these exceptions are strictly defined. A condom would be tolerated in cases of mortal danger -- as the "lesser of two evils". The handbook develops a sort of condom catechism in the best casuist tradition. Can a woman be allowed to protect herself if her husband has tested HIV positive? What about when one's spouse is injecting drugs? Or when both are living in a region with high incidence of AIDS? If a rule that is so far removed from reality cannot be fundamentally changed, then the exceptions need to be regulated.

If the text is accepted by the pope and made binding, then it will be used to help in the church's work with AIDS victims. Cardinal Lozano Barragan emphasized that it should not be interpreted as an invitation for "sexual libertinism".

So don't expect any liberalization in all but a few borderline cases. For the Catholic Church abstinence is still the one and only method of contraception. The church sees premarital sex, infidelity and promiscuity as the true causes of the AIDS catastrophe.

In October the same Cardinal Lozano Barragan implicitly differentiated between those infected people who are innocent and guilty. "If extra marital or premarital sexual relations leads to infection, then one must be allowed to speak of sin and guilt," he said.

But Barragan has also described condoms as weapons of self defense. Speaking at a conference in Cameroon last year he said "If someone wants to kill me with AIDS, I must defend myself from AIDS. How do I defend myself? With the most appropriate means. I must decide. If it is a club, with a club. If it is a pistol, with a pistol. And with a condom? Yes, if it is effective in defending me, in this case of unjust aggression."

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