On condoms, the Vatican’s judicious restraint?
Word has come down via Robert Mickens at The Tablet (not available via the web) and an RNS story (posted here) that the Vatican has shelved a study undertaken years ago (at the behest of Pope Benedict) on whether it would be licit to use condoms in some cases to prevent the spread of HIV.
“There was a project, there was, but nothing serious was delivered,”said Bishop Jose Luis Redrado Marchite, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, at a Vatican press conference.
Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, former head of the health care council, said in 2006 that his staff was preparing a “profound study,” requested by Pope Benedict XVI, that would consider “both the scientific and technical aspects linked to the condom, as well as the moral implications in all their amplitude.”
Catholic teaching forbids the use of condoms as a form of contraception, but no pope has definitively addressed the morality of their use to prevent AIDS and other infectious diseases.
According to Bob’s report:
Bishop Redrado called it a project that Cardinal Lozano had undertaken and then shown to the CDF. “Then the media exaggerated it, but we didn’t say anything more about it,” the bishop said. The cardinal, who retired last April, told journalists at a press briefing in November 2006 that Pope Benedict had specifically asked his council to start “a dialogue with the CDF on condoms”. At that time, he said, the council had completed a thorough study that included “an enormous rainbow” of theological and moral positions, ranging from “very rigorous” to others that were “very understanding”. There were expectations that the study might result in a Vatican affirmation that married couples where one spouse is HIV positive would have explicit church approval to use condoms to protect the uninfected spouse. Cardinal Lozano and several other church leaders had espoused such a view in the past. However, Pope Benedict and CDF officials have never given public support to that position.
At America’s blog, Austen Ivereigh isn’t so pleased with the decision, arguing that it is tantamount to “the suppression of theological truth.” He notes that most anyone you speak with at any level of the church agrees that there should be an exception for the use of condoms in such cases.
I know this is true, [Austen writes] because in 2008, while in Rome, I asked a high-ranking CDF official (it was a private conversation, so I won’t give his name) why nothing had happened with the theological report. “Everyone knows that theologically there is a strong case for clarifying that teaching,” he told me, “but there’s just no way of doing it publicly without it being misunderstood.” Do you mean, I said, that the Vatican feared the headlines that would result? “Exactly,” he said. “It would be confusing for the faithful.” But don’t you think, I pressed him, that if something is doctrinally true, that was more important than whether it was likely to be misunderstood? “But there’s just no way,” he repeated.
I sympathize with Austen Ivereigh’s position, but I wonder if this might be one of those times when doing nothing is the best thing to do. Not every teaching has to be clarified, especially if it is still “in development,” and especially if most church workers “in the trenches” of the AIDS battle are not about to stop encouraging HIV-positive partners to use condoms (or any other protections).
Moreover, pressing for a definitive answer is likely to produce not the correct but nuanced response Austen and others would like, but the “very rigorous” definition that was among the options the CDF was apparently considering. If in doubt, the CDF — which is never in doubt — likes to go with rigor, and then of course they can’t backpedal because, well, you just don’t.
So count me down as a fan of of the pope’s for not swinging at every pitch. (Hey, spring training is in full swing and it’s Lent — I can be forgiven.)