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For a Lady Pope

Why is the Church so against the condom?

The masculine form of contraception, the condom, is used for two purposes – to avoid pregnancy and to avoid the transmission of sexual diseases (STD).


A form of contraception forbidden by the Catholic Church

As the Catholic Church is against the use of any form of artificial contraception that prevents the possibility of sexual relations resulting in pregnancy, it is inevitably also against the use of the condom. This opposition naturally includes it being used by married couples who wish to control the number of children they have.

You are invited to read the other articles on this site, which discuss this subject – the article on the biblical base of contraception and that on the Church’s view of contraception.


A way to avoid STDs

The condom is a means of preventing STDs but it is not 100% reliable. It reduces the risk of being infected by a sexually transmitted disease by 97%, but in areas such as Africa where its use is somewhat chaotic, the risk is reduced by 85%.

The Church is openly opposed to the use of the condom but we have seen a slight shift in its position.

If we want to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, it is logical to start by saying that in order to do so we firstly need to avoid sexual relations, and certainly those with people we don’t know. However this is a truism that has no place in today’s world where the eternal search for pleasure dictates the way we behave. The second way of avoiding sexually transmitted diseases would be to remain faithful to one’s partner. This also goes without saying. And finally, the condom is strongly recommended to everyone who has more than one sexual partner.

The problem with the Church’s hierarchy is that it has always so forcefully rejected the use of any form of artificial contraception that it cannot distinguish between the use of the condom as a form of contraception and the use of the condom as a means of prophylactic. It simply sees it as a way of avoiding pregnancy.

Certain African countries where Aids is rife have developed a policy on the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases that is particularly impressive. Let’s look at the Catholic Church’s reaction to these developments.


The fight against Aids

In March 2009, Pope Benedicte XVI declared, in a plane taking him to Cameroon, that the problem of Aids « could not be solved » by the « distribution of condoms ». « On the contrary, their use would only serve to make the problem worse». According to the Vicar of Christ, the solution would come through a « spiritual and human wakening » and « friendship for those suffering from the disease ».

It is true that the condom is not 100% effective in reducing Aids, but to say that its use makes things worse is pushing it, to say the least.

Various studies show that, in effect, if in Africa the only policy for avoiding sexually transmitted diseases, and in particular Aids, was one of « a condom at all times », we could be encouraging irresponsible behaviour leading to a multiplication of sexual relations, which could put even more people at risk. It is obvious that fidelity within a couple carries less danger than sexual promiscuity. But for those who do like to play around, it is obviously preferable that they use a condom.

An eloquent example comes from Uganda. Aids had reached an extremely high proportion of the population, around 15%-20%. The health authorities decided to develop peoples’ thinking by introducing the ABC policy; A for ‘Abstain’, B for ‘Be faithful’ and C for ‘If you must, use a Condom’. This method proved to be very effective – in 2007 the number of people infected by the Aids virus had fallen to 6% of the population.

The authorities in South Africa, on the other hand, didn’t adopt this type of policy. They went for a policy based purely on the use of the condom. The rate of those infected by the virus had exploded and in 2007 18% of the adult population was infected. Mr Hugh Slattery, the Bishop of Tzaneen, reacted in 2008, by saying, “Our country has the highest rate of infection in the world and also the highest rate of condom distribution……. The conclusion is obvious: more condoms means more cases of Aids and more death.” He also acknowledged that it was “of course ‘politically incorrect’, both here and in the western world to introduce the possibility that the condom could in fact be contributing to the spreading of Aids rather than reducing it”. He advocated the use of abstinence before marriage and fidelity within the marriage, saying that this was the only way that the Aids virus could be rapidly controlled.

It was this type of reaction that led Pope Benedicte XVI to say, somewhat clumsily and without much use of nuance, as noted above, that the use of the condom only serves to make the Aids epidemic worse.


Benedicte XVI adapts his doctrine slightly

In the book of his meetings with the Pope, Lumière du monde, by the German journalist Peter Seewald, published in December 2010 by Bayard, the Pope, replying to questions on the subject of Aids and the use of the condom went back on himself. He admitted that the condom could be used « at certain times » « to reduce the risk of contamination by the VIH virus ». In reply to the question, « Isn’t the Catholic Church fundamentally opposed to the use of condoms ? »  the Pope replied, « In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of contamination, it could even be a first step to having a more humane sexuality,  one that is experienced differently ».

In March 2011, the official daily newspaper of the Holy See, the Osservatore Romano, whilst looking at the health policy in Uganda, allowed that the prophylactic aspect of the condom could be efficient if it were combined with other factors.

The article states that even though the use of the condom as foreseen by the ABC method in Uganda is not in line with “the Church’s teachings”, the effects of the campaign had indeed been remarkable. Teenagers in Uganda have been advised to abstain from sexual relations and, as a result, the average age of the first sexual relationship in the country has risen from “15 to 19 years old ”. Couples are also encouraged to remain faithful and as a result, sexual promiscuity has fallen by 60%. This method includes the use of the condom. “These three factors have had a major impact on reducing the number of cases of Aids”.

These comments managed to calm down the Churches’ detractors but shortly afterwards the same Osservatore Romano published a rather astonishing statement about couples in which one of the partners has Aids.


The Church maintains however two sides

In May 2011, the Osservatore Romano published an article by P. Juan José Perez-Soba, a moral theologian who teaches in Rome at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family. This article, entitled «Conjugal love in the Aids era», looks at the use of the condom by couples where one of the partners has Aids.

The Spanish theologian talks about the Church’s doctrine saying:

A sexual act carried out with a condom cannot be considered a fully conjugal act because it deprives the act of its sense of unity and procreation”.

"An act is not truly uniting when it intentionally impedes the communication of the sperm and excludes the possibility of its reception in the mutual gift of the bodies of the spouses,"

"Faced with the insuperable possibility of infection, they can agree to adopt the decision to abstain from having sexual relations for reasons of health, as happens with other pathologies,"

After having admitted that the condom was a useful prophylactic method for fighting against Aids, the Osservatore Romano now fell back on the original amalgam that the Church has always had towards the condom.  It sees it principally as a means of contraception, a means that the Church has always fought against. The Church doesn’t accept that sexual relations can take place where a form of contraception preventing impregnation and the conception of a child is used, even if the couple use a condom in order to avoid the procreation of a severely ill child born with a serious and incurable disease such as HIV. In this case the Church promotes abstinence.

How on earth can one presume to forbid a couple from having sexual relations using a condom if one of the partners has been infected with HIV during a blood transfusion, for example?

It is because of this surprising stubbornness that the Church will be eternally confronted with its own contradictions.

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