One of the ploys used by certain pro-contraceptive people is to point to the terrible AIDS epidemic in Africa and argue that condoms should be used to help prevent further spread of the disease. They claim that to deny the use of condoms for this purpose would be absurd, irresponsible, criminal. So if the Catholic hierarchy says condom use for this purpose is still wrong then they brand the Catholic Church as irresponsible and its hands stained by the blood of millions of dead Africans. And if the Catholic hierarchy says this is a legitimate reason to use condoms then the pro-contraceptive person sits back contentedly thinking the Church has finally admitted condoms have a legitimate use, and has therefore inadvertently conceded condoms are morally permissible as a contraceptive too. This is not necessarily logical but it is a common ploy. It is the same type of ploy one used to find in most abortion debates. Years ago abortion debates invariably digressed to the hard cases of rape, incest and physical health of the mother (e.g. an entopic pregnancy). If one admitted abortion might be legitimate in these cases (which the Church does not) then the pro-abortion debater believed you had conceded the case for the legitimacy of abortion per se. It is true that if one says something is “intrinsically evil,” as the Catholic Church teaches abortion and contraception are, then to admit even one case where direct intentional abortion or contraception is morally good is to contradict the claim it is intrinsically evil.
But if a Catholic theologian were to argue (as some do but not all) that condoms used with the sole intention of preventing ones spouse from contracting AIDS is morally permissible because it is not the same thing as condoms used with the direct intented purpose of preventing pregnancy – and that this can be seen as a reasonable application of the principle of double effect (just as taking the Pill with the sole intention of regulating heavy menstrual bleeding is not the same thing from a moral standpoint as taking the Pill with the direct intention of preventing pregnancy). The principle of double effect seems to permit the use of medically indicated procedures or drugs even when these have a conception inhibiting effect; therefore, there is a legitimate debate right now about whether condom use by a married couple to prevent HIV falls into the category of permissible acts. A separate issue is whether, with condoms being far from 100% effective in preventing the spread of the HIV virus, one can even consider it loving or responsible to engage in an action that unnecessarily exposes one’s spouse to the risk of infection by a potentially lethal disease?
For a better understanding of the principle of double effect, read this article.
But this is too sophisticated for most people to handle and appears to them as hair splitting – even though the principle of double effect is what makes possible different moral evaluations between, say, surgery with a scalpel and assault with a knife. The instrument is basically the same but the intended purpose for which it is used is different, one good the other evil, leading to a different moral evaluation between the two acts.
Vatican Says No Change to Teaching Against Condom Use
By Gudrun Schultz
VATICAN CITY, May 5, 2006 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, said the Catholic Church would not change its position on the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS, reported the Catholic News Agency this morning.
In an interview with Columbia’s Radio Cadena Nacional, Cardinal Trujillo said the Vatican “maintains unmodified the teaching on condoms” and said Pope Benedict XVI has not called for any studies on altering the prohibition against condom use.
“As a dicastery we do not have any instruction or any indication to the contrary, to carry out a study about something new with regards to condoms,” he said.
Retired Italian Cardinal Maria Martini, known for his liberal opinions on social issues, commented last month that condom use to prevent the spread of AIDS was “the lesser evil.”
Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, head of the Pontifical Council for Health Care, created further confusion by announcing the Pope had commissioned a study on the issue, saying, “My council is studying this attentively with scientists and theologians expressly charged with preparing a document on the subject, which will be made public soon.”
“It was Pope Benedict who asked us to make a study on this particular aspect of the use of condoms by those with AIDS and other infectious diseases.”
The comments stirred an enthusiastic media response, with international headlines proclaiming the Vatican was considering lifting the condom ban.
Cardinal Barragán responded quickly by stating that he was only producing an internal study for Vatican authorities and had no authority to produce an official pronouncement on the issue.
A vocal supporter of the Church’s teaching on contraception, Cardinal Trujillo said the recent statements by retired Italian Cardinal Maria Martini “are nothing more than his own personal opinions which do not reflect [Church] teaching.” He said Cardinal Martini “should explain how the condom prevents AIDS if it is true he said it is a lesser evil.”
Cardinal Trujillo said the Church believes the only way to truly combat AIDS is through fidelity and chastity, which are the only morally acceptable means. Contraception damages the integrity of the full gift of self, which is intrinsic to the sexual act.