Thursday, November 23, 2006

Condoms, AIDS, and Catholics

When it comes to misleading titles, journalists are experts. See today's peice by John Hooper of the Manchester Guardian, "After decades of opposition, Vatican view on condoms begins to shift". Shift where? Being the Guardian, its readership will likely assume the shift is towards a more permissive stance on condom use. As the article explains, the Pope is now prepared to repudiate the 2,000 year ban on barrier contraception, but nothing has been made officially public yet. Irregardless, Hooper urges a happy anticipation of the time when the Catholic Church finally stops murdering millions of people by lifting the ban on condoms.

The article, while altogether not too poor, does stumble into the usual pitfalls of agit-prop leftist journalism. Of course, Hooper concedes less than 2 paragraphs in, no offical statement has been made. All that has happened is that the Pope has commissioned one of the Vatican's think tanks to study the issue. Hooper can't resist the usual references to high ranking and media friendly Bishops, naturally 'candidate for the papacy' Cardinal Martini is referenced, who have publicly made some murkish statements which seem to favour the use of barrier contraceptives in cases of HIV/AIDS. Heck, even the unfortunate Dr. Rowan Williams, head of the disintegrating Anglican Church, gets his name in there too. Hooper thinks Williams will take Pope Benedict to task for the Church's teachings, which immediately brings to mind the ironic image of the leader of a Christian sect facing oblivion lecturing the Pope about how to run a church properly. Obviously Hooper has not set out to breach any of the Guardian's sacred editorial policies.

But what of the article's premise? Could the Church do an about face and change Her social doctrine?

While there is always the chance that the Church could change it's teaching on the use of contraceptives, its highly unlikely that She would do so. Here's why:

(1) Sexually transmitted infections and diseases are not new. In the early days of the Church they were rampant, especially in the cosmopolitan cities of Athens, Corinth, and Rome. Nor was the countryside spared; we have many records of syphillis outbreaks scourging the populations of rural Italy, Greece and Asia Minor. In was in this setting that the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, developed its teaching on the use of barrier contraceptives.

(2) It is in the sexual act that a very important part of who were are as individuals created in the image and likeness of God is shared and displayed to another. The sexual act, the Church has shown, must be an act of reciprocal love without any barriers being put up between the couple. It is by this act of utter selfless giving to one another that we as God's children replicate the love which God gives to us all. By placing a contraceptive between one another, the couple loses the ability to partake in this act of reciprocal love, since, obviously, all is not being reciprocated. For a couple with an untreatable STI/D, the call is to abstain from sexual intercourse. In the place of intercourse, the couple is called to acts of heroic virtue, they must devote themselves to each other without intercourse, which has always been a serious, and sanctifying, even saintly, feat.

(3) Incrementalism isn't an official part of Catholic political science or sociology, but it might as well be. The Catholic Church has watched as the Protestant denominations 'liberated' themselves from bans on contraception over the past 75 years. In every case, the 'liberation' has also liberated those churches of their members and their vitality. A church that ceases to ask its members to live lives of virtue and sanctity, is a church that eventually ceases to exist. As the Protestant churches fled from traditional teaching on contraception, always while making similar arguments to ones found with the Guardian peice I should add, they also suffered a massive crisis within the faithful, as many other traditions and beliefs were deemed too restrictive and removed. The Catholic Church, as its raison d'etre, is here to prepare the world for Christ, and it's not clear how that role would be better serviced if, after 2,000 years, a handful of Church academes and bureaucrats decided to force a change on this issue. The historical record tells us much in this respect.

(4) In the 1960s, the majority report of the Papal commission on contraception advocated allowing its use. The minority report of course advocated no change at all. In those days prior to the announcement of the Pope's decision, to be contained within his encyclical, Humane Vitae, the media and those Church figures popular with the media, confidently predicted that Pope Paul VI would choose the majority report. The rest, as it is nauseatingly said, is history.

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