Remnant Editor’s Note:
Please be aware that the following treats of sensitive
matters and should not be read by children. With regard
to Pope Benedict's recently leaked statement on
condoms and moral responsibility, we’ve decided to
withhold comprehensive commentary until we’ve had the
opportunity to read and consider it in the larger
context of the interview by Peter Seewald, “Light of the
World”. The fact that the increasingly irresponsible
L’Osservatore Romano elected to release these
particular excerpts from the interview is regrettable,
to say the least, but certainly not out of character
with the sensationalist editorial policy of the
Vatican’s “new and improved” newspaper. As the following
article points out, and contrary to what media are
claiming with predictable enthusiasm, the Holy Father
has not condoned condom use.
Still, the manner in which his statement is worded is
admittedly confusing, especially at first glance, which
is yet another reason why granting these lengthy papal
interviews should perhaps be avoided, as time and again
they produce little more than cannon fodder against the
Church by “gotcha journalists”. It would thus be
short-sighted for us to attach blame for this latest
scandal solely to the media. From what we’ve seen thus
far, it appears that an overly nuanced papal statement
of the obvious—i.e., that even during the commission of
an intrinsically evil act, a person can observe a
modicum of restraint which advertently acknowledges the
moral law—has become the source of yet another
international scandal at a time when the Church can
least afford it.
Nevertheless, for the good of the Church as well as the
confidence of the faithful, the truth of the matter must
be defended even if the prudence of the Holy Father’s
words can be questioned: The Holy Father has not okayed
the use of condoms. It would appear, however, that he
has perhaps made a prudential error in failing to
foresee how his words would be seized upon and dutifully
twisted by militantly Christophobic media. The Holy
Father can certainly err in choosing words to illustrate
a particular point. From what we’ve read, it would seem
that Pope Benedict spoke too candidly on an issue
requiring a grasp of moral theology which the mainstream
press as well as the majority of modern Catholics no
longer possess. And this, alas, is his responsibility.
Nevertheless, L'Osservatore Romano certainly
exacerbated the problem, and its editors should be
fired. And, for that matter, whatever
Vatican spokesman Rev.
is talking about by way of a supposed clarification is
anyone's guess. Hopefully, a coherent statement
from the Vatican on this matter is still forthcoming.
In the meantime, the
following is a brief explanation for why the Church can
never change her position on this matter and why Pope
Benedict, in point of fact, did not do so in this case.
Michael J. Matt
Many media are reporting that Pope Benedict XVI said
that it is morally permissible for a man to use a
prophylactic in certain circumstances. After reading the
Pope's alleged words in English, it seems to me that the
Pope did not say that it is morally permissible
for a man to use a prophylactic.
Here are the relevant quotes: “There may be a basis
in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male
prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step
in the direction of a moralization. . .”
So, what is the Pope saying?
Only this: When a prostitute uses a prophylactic, it is
possible that even he is beginning to acknowledge some
modicum of moral responsibility inasmuch as he intends
not to infect another human being with a virus. Nowhere
does the Holy Father assert, however, that it is morally
permissible to use a prophylactic.
fact, after another question from the interviewer the
Pope says the following in regard to the Church’s
teaching on the matter: “She [the Church] of course
does not regard it as a real or moral solution. . .”
other words, the Pope is saying that the Church does not
regard the use of a condom as moral. Simply put, it is
not morally permissible for a man to use a
Here is what Holy Mother Church teaches. She bases her
teachings on the natural law.
One moral principle is this: One is not permitted to
perform an act while rejecting the end for which the act
is immoral for a man to use a prophylactic in order to
prevent the transmission of seed in order to prevent
conception from occurring. Why? Because God ordered that
sexual intercourse ought to take place between husband
and wife and be open to the possibility of making a new
man. For a man to use a prophylactic during sexual
intercourse is similar to the sin of Onan.
Genesis 38: 8 - 10, we read: "(8)Juda,
therefore said to Onan his son: Go in to thy brother's
wife and marry her, that thou mayst raise seed to thy
brother. He knowing that the children should not be his,
when he went in to his brother's wife, spilled his seed
upon the ground, lest children should be born in his
brother's name. And therefore the Lord slew him,
because he did a detestable thing."
Now, in regard to a man using a prophylactic to prevent
the spread of a virus like HIV, although it is good to
not wish to infect another, it is not morally
permissible to use a prophylactic to accomplish this
Why not? Because by using a prophylactic, the man
necessarily excludes the transmission of seed as
Some Further Thoughts
When a man and a woman become husband and wife, they
give to each other rights over their bodies.
Whenever the husband reasonably asks his wife to pay
the marriage debt (that is, engage in sexual
intercourse), she ought to consent. Likewise, when the
wife reasonably asks the husband to pay the marriage
debt, he ought to consent.
It is morally permissible for the couple to both agree
to abstain from sexual intercourse for a time, e.g. to
dedicate themselves to praying, as Saint Paul tells us.
Furthermore, there are cases in history where saints
were married; however, they never engaged in sexual
intercourse. One thinks of Saint Joseph and Our Lady,
for example. However, if the abstaining is an occasion
of sin to either the husband or the wife or both, then
they ought to engage in sexual intercourse.
If there is a serious reason, then the husband and/or
the wife are not obligated to engage in sexual
intercourse, e.g. if the husband and/or the wife
contracted HIV after marriage, e.g. through a blood
transfusion, then they ought to abstain from sexual
If an unmarried man has HIV, then he may not receive
the Sacrament of Matrimony. Likewise, if an unmarried
woman has HIV, then she may not receive the Sacrament of
Why not? Because the primary end of Matrimony is the
procreation and education of children, and if the newly
married couple were to perform the conjugal act, then
the infected spouse would likely infect the uninfected
spouse which would likely result in the eventual death
of the spouse. In other words, the uninfected spouse
would risk death in order to engage in sexual
Finally, to summarize:
Is it morally permissible for a husband infected with
HIV to use a prophylactic before sexual intercourse with
his wife to prevent the transmission of HIV to her? No.
Is it morally permissible for a husband to use a
prophylactic before sexual intercourse with his wife who
is infected with HIV in order to prevent the
transmission of HIV to him? No.
And on a related matter, in which there is some
3. Is it morally permissible for a husband to use a
prophylactic with one or more pinholes in it while
engaging in sexual intercourse with his wife in order to
obtain semen for fertility testing? No.
Mentem Sancti Thomae Aquinatis