Skip to comments.Vatican Re-Examines Ban on Contraception
Posted on 05/03/2006 12:08:36 PM PDT by siunevada
By BRIAN MURPHY, AP Religion Writer 23 minutes ago
A Vatican study on whether it could permit condoms to battle AIDS has a very narrow scope: married Roman Catholic couples in which one partner has the virus. But its theological underpinnings are centuries old, and could lay the groundwork for an end to the church's blanket ban on contraception.
The principle of "double effect" entered mainstream Catholic debate more than 300 years ago and draws on questions about the "lesser of two evils" raised by theologians such as St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. The concepts broadly ask: Can a questionable act be morally justified when the good effect outweighs a bad consequence?
Answering the question with an empathic "yes" are scholars, health professionals and others who want a change in the Vatican's stance that abstinence is the only acceptable way to prevent the spread of AIDS. They have argued for years that condom use as a defense against HIV infection, under specific circumstances, does not contradict the Catholic ban on artificial birth control.
Some groups, including the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops Conference, have even given a tacit nod to condoms for married couples with one partner infected. The Vatican however tentatively now could be moving to formally recognize that position.
"It's a reality that's finally moving into a wider arena," said Sister Alison Munro, coordinator of the AIDS project for the Southern African Bishops Conference.
There's no chance the Vatican would fundamentally revise its opposition to contraception, which has been reaffirmed and reinforced since the famous 1968 encyclical "Humanae Vitae." But even the targeted discussions under way are further evidence of Pope Benedict XVI shedding the tradition-bound reputation he earned during more than two decades as the chief doctrinal watchdog for his predecessor, John Paul II.
Benedict, a widely respected theologian, has shown a willingness to re-examine church attitudes toward advances in genetic engineering and in-vitro fertilization. But none approach the sensitivity of whether to open the door even a crack for condoms.
"The Vatican is like a submarine. On this one, it has put up its periscope, looked around and submerged again," said the Rev. James Keenan, a moral theologian at Boston College. "It's still not clear at all what if anything the Vatican will eventually say on the subject."
Helen Hull Hitchcock of Women for Faith & Family, a traditionalist group based in St. Louis, predicted it could be "deeply confusing" for Catholics if the church made any concessions.
"People would say, `Now wait a minute. If it's OK for this couple to use it, why can't another couple use it,'" Hitchcock said. "We think that it would be very worrisome."
Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, who heads the Vatican's office for health care, would only confirm a "dialogue" is under way as part of a larger examination of bioethical issues. The study on condoms only concerns married couples in which one partner has the virus, his office said.
Notably, there have been no official announcements of an upcoming document or details of the discussions. But a possible signal came last month from retired Milan Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, who was quoted by the Italian newsweekly L'Espresso as saying condoms were the "lesser evil" in combatting AIDS.
Martini, once considered a top papal contender, was not the first Catholic leader to make this connection. The timing, however, was widely interpreted as a hint of the Vatican's leanings.
"Martini was not reprimanded or asked to correct himself," said the Rev. Michael Fahey, a professor of theology at Marquette University. "This seems to say that the Vatican is moving in this direction or at least wants to send a trial balloon."
If the Vatican allows condoms as an AIDS control measure within a marriage, it would open the way for Catholic groups to take a more direct role in anti-AIDS campaigns in ravaged places such as Africa, where the virus is often transmitted from husbands to wives. Catholic charities in Africa offer health care and many other services to AIDS sufferers, but come under sustained criticism for their refusal to distribute condoms.
Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for more than 60 percent of the 40 million people infected with HIV worldwide.
In 2001, more than 30 bishops from southern Africa denounced the use of condoms, but noted that married couples should "listen to their consciences" widely viewed as recognition the "lesser of two evils" scenario.
The Vatican initially came down hard on such rationales. But it gradually retreated as influential theologians and clergymen made the case that condom use in cases such as between an HIV-infected person and spouse would fall under the "double effect" rubric, which says a good intent (not passing the virus) has a bad consequence (using the condom).
The principle is often used to rationalize causalities in a "just war" or a procedure to end a pregnancy to save the woman's life.
The related "lesser of two evils" views boil down to moral damage control. A priest should always advise against doing "evil," but encourage a "lesser evil" if they can't stop the act.
In 2000, Monsignor Jacques Suaudeau of the Pontifical Council for the Family wrote an article in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, strongly supporting sexual abstinence to control AIDS, but noting specific cases where condom use could be considered a "lesser evil" including prostitutes in legal brothels.
The idea since has been echoed by even more powerful figures. Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels has said an HIV-positive person would be committing a sin by having sex without a condom.
"Let's hope the Vatican brings some clarity to this issue," said theologian Keenan. "It would finally take the stigma off the condom. Then it's all over. The condom will be freed of this whole, heavy moral debate."
Religion reporter Rachel Zoll in New York contributed to this report.
Summary: Condoms, AIDS, and the Vatican By The Associated Press 30 minutes ago
WHAT WILL THE VATICAN SAY? It's unclear when or even if the Vatican will issue any statement on condom use in the specific circumstance of a married couple with one partner who is HIV-positive.
WHY THE UNCERTAINTY? The Vatican is not under any obligation to make a formal statement on the issue. Many studies are conducted within the Vatican departments, from scientific issues to theological points, that are never included in public documents.
DOES THE POPE TAKE PART? Pope Benedict XVI is regularly informed about work in Vatican departments, but doesn't necessarily become an active participant with ongoing studies.
Lots of wishful thinking. I wouldn't expect any pronouncement of major changes out of the Vatican.
I haven't heard about a cold wave in hell recently, have you?
They spelled "Re-Affirms" wrong in the title.
|2399 The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).
|2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, "every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" is intrinsically evil:
Even if they're not perfect, correctly and consistently using condoms will decrease the risk of getting AIDs. From a public health perspective, this would be a good thing to reduce transmission rates in Africa.
I take it from your screen name you've got some scientific perspective on this question. Is it correct to say that even with correct and consistent use the device itself will have a certain level of failure?
If the answer is affirmative, then that will be the insurmountable hurdle for any examination from the ethical perspective of the Church. There will be, in fact, no "lesser evil" to consider. Only the greater evil of transmission of a potentially fatal disease delayed. (Unless you have the statistical bad luck to have your first use be a failure. Then there will be no delay.)
There is a way to reduce the rate of AIDS transmission to virtual zero: abstinence outside of marriage. This is what the Church teaches. Any sideline allowing condoms where abstinence is the moral answer would be a moral wrong and the Church is not going to teach that.
Now, inlike fornication, sex inside a marriage is good. This is why it is proper for the Church to examine the use of condoms in this narrow case, where sex itself would have been salutary but for the AIDS infection of one spouse. Whichever way the Church goes in that narrow case is not going to have any implication to the broad condemnation of contraception in any other case, even for the purposes of AIDS prevention.
I take it from your screen name you've got some scientific perspective on this question. Is it correct to say that even with correct and consistent use the device itself will have a certain level of failure?
The answer to your question is yes; no barrier is 100% foolproof, and people won't always use it correctly.
I'm on the medical perspective end of this, and lacking on the theology end. I don't really understand how any degree of failure makes an insurmountable hurdle - but I welcome the education.
A condom is a birth control devise, not a sufficent barrier against AIDS. The crux of the matter is sexual practices. If the guy can commit to having sex with one woman it probably would have more effect than using condoms.
MArried couple or not, a woman would have to be INSANE to place only a few microns of cheap rubber between herself and the HIV virus. This is a Trojan horse argument.
(we come from the land of the ice and snow...)
We keep forgetting that. The issue in the case of marital act when one spouse is infected is using the condom in its secondary purpose, as a barrier for viruses. I wonder if the Church would not encourage the development of a non-contraceptive condom, that only prevents the infection. I do not see why such a device would be morally questionable between spouses, as it becomes merely a medical device.
If you're only looking at it from a medical perspective, you probably don't take abstinence seriously as a preventive measure. Therefore, it's doubtful that you're open to being educated on anything. Few MDs are. But we don't have a particularly high regard for "experts" around here. If you have an argument to make, please post statistics and sources. Because, "I'm a doctor" won't do.
It's a lousy b/c device too.
Are you not implying that the failure rate is not 100%?
Maybe if we are dealing with a hypothetical question, but the practical effect is (1) it will be more effective as a BC devise than as a barrier and (2) The average Joe will make no such distinction. It will be the annulment question all over again, the same kind of Jesuitical sophistry that Pascal exposed so well.
Yes. Something like this happened before, I believe, in Spain: a Catholic cleric, when pressed about the two evils of protected and unprotected fornication admitted that yes, of the two evils protected fornication is a lesser evil. The headlines were, of course, "Vatican Approves Contraception".
Plus, I doubt a non-contraceptive condom that is even marginally useful in preventing AIDS is possible. But this is the only corner case that I think makes sense theologically.
Seems simple to me. But maybe I'm just simple.
You are gambling on the percentages every time you use the barrier. Eventually you will lose the gamble and your partner will be infected. It is delay, not prevention.
If you are statistically unlucky, it fails the very first time and the barrier is revealed as no protection at all.
It's a different consideration than the public health perspective. From the public health perspective, you want to use what you have available to slow down the infection rate in the population.
Use them enough times and eventually they will fail. If we consider a 'lifetime' of usage as 'use' and not each single incident of use, then yes, I guess one could say there is a 100% chance the device will fail. If the 'lifetime' of usage is long enough.
If we define each incident of use as 'use', then, no, there is not a 100% failure rate. There is a 100% chance that any particular incident of use will be the time the device fails, however.
Many id those pushing the use of condoms have no interest in preventing the pread of AIDS, ir even public health, The Planned Parenthood types are interested only in birth prevention; the Gay-lbesilan lobby, only in discrediting tradiutonal morality. Want to stop the pread of AIDS? Increase by ten fold the number of public health facilities in Kenya, for instance. That will make possible the treatment of actual cases. Handing out comdoms is like putting a bandage over a bullet wound.
-Abstinence is absolutely the best preventive measure, no argument there. However, many people will not consistently abstain. In this case, we're talking about a married couple where one partner is infected, and I do not believe all married couples in this situation are willing to permanently abstain.
-I expressed interest in learning more about the theology. If this conversation should be limited to those already conversant with the theology, I'll bow out - I didn't realize it was a closed conversation.
-At no point did I say "because I'm a doctor."
-You can see information from the CDC at this link, including: " Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are highly effective in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS." The page explains why it's hard to get exact statistics.
Really? Well, then. I guess many of them follow the model of the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger.
Thanks. That's more the way I understood it, that the failure rate wouldn't really affect Church teachings.
Unclamp your flame-suit for just a minute and let's peek at the Catechism. The good of the spouses goes hand in hand with fertility:
"Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter - appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility. In a word it is a question of the normal characteristics of all natural conjugal love, but with a new significance which not only purifies and strengthens them, but raises them to the extent of making them the expression of specifically Christian values."
I suggest you call a priest.
I suspect that if there is a a Re-Examine it is for the protection for the woman who's husband has HIV-AIDS and does not respect her nor cares if she gets infected but in that case would he willing to use a condom.I think not.
"The infected spouse who wears a condom, and then goes about a "normal" sex life might as well take a shotgun to their "beloved's" head. <[> "Condoms have efficacy rates of about 95% in preventing pregnancy, but much lower in preventing HIV. And studies suggest only 50% of those who use condoms do so faithfully and correctly. Still, suppose the efficacy rate for preventing HIV transmission was 99%, including 100% "success rate" in properly wearing the condom. What would that mean?
"Well, for someone having several one-night stands and very-short-term relationships, that'd probably work. The condom would allow a person to have 100 times more sex partners with the same chance of catching AIDS as someone who didn't. Again, of course, condoms are not nearly this effective, but we're just being hypothetical.
"Now, suppose someone has a perfectly monogamous relationship with an HIV-infected spouse. Maybe they have intercourse maybe four times a month... hardly an excessive sex life! But here's the problem: Every instance of intercourse is another chance to become infected. So in just one year, there is a FORTY PERCENT CHANCE (.99^100) that the HIV+ person will expose their spouse to AIDS. And that's with 99% effectiveness for the condom, there is a 99.99% chance that the spouse will become exposed to AIDS. (Mrs. Don-o added emphasis/)
"And it's really worse than that. Not only are condoms WAAAAAAYYYYY less than 99% effective, but, believe it or not, monogamous sex with an HIV+ person is WORSE than promiscuous sex with many HIV+ people:
"The truth is that exposure does not mean that a person contracts the AIDS virus. But repeated sex with the same person means that the same regions experience repeated wear and tear. OK, it's an ugly choice of words, but it's the truth. And, well, it's the places that experience wear and tear that are where AIDS transmissions are most likely to occur."
Well stated, dangus. Return volley, retMD?
(Quoting the asbestos-helmetted flame-retardant-swaddled Zet) "The Church teaches that sex between married couples must always be unprotected. The only reason married people are allowed to have sex is to make the wife pregnant. This is the only type of sex which is allowed. A married couple is not permitted to engage in "recreational" sex, only procreative sex. This is also why other forms of sex (oral sex, etc...) are not permitted, even with married couples. Sex is for married people to make lots of babies, and nothing else.
Ain't true. If it were, it would be forbidden for a married person to have intercourse with a fertility-impaired, pregnant, or post-menopausal spouse, or at the non-fertile times of the female hormonal cycle. And this has never been the case.
The Church also does not raise its collective eyebrows or wrinkle its collective nose about rockin' and rollin' and having all manner and description of fun in bed (woo woo) as long as it's not dangerous or degrading, and as long as the intercourse itself is natural and whole. Boys and girls, the kosher place for the sperm is in the wife's vagina. I think we all know that.
This being the case, it's hard for me to see how a barrier method could be approved, even under the concept of double effect. Unless you had a condom which could let sperm through unharmed but kill viruses. A viricide-coated open-ended condom?
Hmm. BIG hypothetical hmm.
If the choice is between using a condom or abstaining, the latter is the safest choice. On the other hand, if the choice is between using a condom or not using a condom, the former is the safest choice.
And here comes the correction.
While the Church teaches that only married couples are allowed to have sex, it does not teach that procreation is the only legitimate reason for having sex. Sex has a unitive as well as a procreative function.
:)Zetman I get these questions all the time.The one's everyone are too embrassed to ask a priest.I ask for them and then call them back:)
I have met Monsignor Jacques Suaudeau of the Pontifical Council .He is very easy to talk to.
I agree with you. I don't think that the Vatican is going to grant permission for even a very limited use of condoms. The press is getting all excited over something that isn't going to happen. Before Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae the press and the experts assumed that he was going to change the Church's ban on birth control. But he didn't. I can't see Benedict XVI making this change.
We oughta set up a flame-proof tent for two or three, so we can confer on All The Disputed Questions under a peaceful motto of "No Flick, No Bic." :^P
You did a fine job...and anyone who flames you about your post would be way off.
Nice work...now come join the Knights of Columbus! We can use more good men.
And by the way, condoms are not the only option for a married couple. You can also get by without the hormone tablet, sponge or other methods.
Simply following Church teachings and monitoring things related to the cycle will work.
...but what do I know, I've only been married 10 years, followed church teachings to the letter...and have only two kids...
So in just one year, there is a FORTY PERCENT CHANCE (.99^100) that the HIV+ person will expose their spouse to AIDS. And that's with 99% effectiveness for the condom, there is a 99.99% chance that the spouse will become exposed to AIDS.
First is the difference between being exposed and being infected. HIV (fortunately for the spouses involved) is not as infective as some viruses, such as hepatitis B. Exposure doesn't always result in transmission even with Hep B, and transmission is much less with AIDS. On a quick search, I found this abstract from the well-regarded Cochrane database comparing those who said they "always used condoms" and those who "never used condoms":
"There were 13 cohorts of "always" users that yielded an homogeneous HIV incidence estimate of 1.14 [95% C.I.:.56, 2.04] per 100 person-years. There were 10 cohorts of "never" users that appeared to be heterogeneous. The studies with the longest follow-up time, consisting mainly of studies of partners of hemophiliac and transfusion patients, yielded an HIV incidence estimate of 5.75 [95% C.I.: 3.16, 9.66] per 100 person-years." (emphasis added).
Because, "I'm a doctor" won't do.
I suggest you take a refresher course on what God teaches us about humility. You might consider foregoing your "preaching" as part of the course.
Your comments were pompous, arrogant and self-righteous. Shame on you!
Aside from statistics and the "lesser of two evils" theologians may be contemplating, what sensible person would risk having sex with a spouse who has AIDS or is HIV positive? For me, it is just that simple.
>> If the choice is between using a condom or abstaining, the latter is the safest choice. On the other hand, if the choice is between using a condom or not using a condom, the former is the safest choice. <<
actually, that's the point: read post #32: there is no significant difference between wearing a condom or not, when having sex monogamously with regular marital frequency (well, if things are going well). .99^500=~0.
OOPS, I mean post 31
Some women have no choice.