Briefly Defending the Pope

Hugh MacKenzie FAITH Magazine May-June 2009

Fr Hugh MacKenzie is Editor of Faith and Parish Priest of Willesden Green


What has been happening? The press have reported and supported various attacks upon the Pope, including from numerous heads of governments and even Catholics.

For instance? Just before last Christmas he was widely accused of attacking homosexuals.

What had he actually done? He hadn't mentioned this group but had said that the complementarity of male and female is important and is being undermined and obscured today in western culture. Certainly his speech was indirectly supporting traditional marriage - but then he is a Catholic.

Other examples? Last month he was widely accused of trying to undermine Jewish-Christian respect.

What had he actually done? An act of charity, for Christian unity: He had made the first tentative step along the long road of reconciling four Bishops who were excommunicated from the Church in the 90's. One of these Bishops had perversely denied the Holocaust gas chambers. But many of the Pope's statements show that he in no way supports such sentiments. Furthermore he has been a consistent defender of respectful Jewish-Christian dialogue. Some Jewish leaders defended him.

What's the latest example? In March he was accused of encouraging the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

What had he actually done? He unsurprisingly repeated another well-known position taken by Catholic authorities: condom promotion makes the problem as a whole worse.

What is this Catholic emphasis? Officially promoting and distributing condoms to those involved in promiscuous behaviour involves official support for and cooperation with this behaviour. All acknowledge that such behaviour is at the heart of the AIDS epidemic. Officially aiding and abetting such behaviour will make it more frequent - as well as implicating officialdom in the cause of the crisis.

What is the theory here? Catholic moral teaching and common law acknowledge that pro-actively enabling a behaviour which is wrong makes you party to the act. You are responsible for the act. You encourage the act. The Catholic Church is indeed alone in teaching that officially giving out condoms fundamentally undermines any other official discouragement of promiscuous behaviour. In a permissive culture such official ambivalence actually encourages the psychology beneath the behaviour, increasing its prevalence across the target group and beyond.

Why does this increase HIV? Whilst in a particular act condom use makes the spread of STD's less likely (as many studies have shown, though the actual failure rate is accepted as 30\%), still, over time, amongst many individuals and the society as a whole it makes the basic problematic behaviour more frequent and more ingrained, inevitably, after a certain period of time, cancelling out the extra 'safety' gained by the reckless promiscuous individual person starting to use condoms.

What example might illustrate the point? If a school gave boxing gloves to bullies, without parental consent, it would just make the problem worse. If the government prominently promoted free rubber bullets for armed robbers they would become party

to the violence and undermine their authority and role in civilization. Violent robbery would be encouraged and increase, and, eventually the rate of killing would increase.

Does condom use in a particular act of sex outside marriage make the act worse or better? Given that the act is in an intrinsically disordered context this is difficult to answer. In a particular act there might be, in one sense, a positive effect of partially mitigating the risk of killing the other partner.

Is there any independent support for these theoretical effects of public condom promotion? Yes. Increasing amounts of academic studies show that in the population as a whole promiscuity increases, the absolute amount of condom failures increase, etc. etc. (cf. Professor Paton's The Economics of Secret Abortions and Emergency Birth Control, Faith July '07).

What evidence is there? One example is Uganda, one of the very few places where official support for condom use is played down. It is one of the v. few places in Africa where the prevalence of AIDS has been significantly reduced. HIV decreases wherever & only wherever abstinence increases.

What about our own country? For decades we have had an increase in both official support for condom use amongst promiscuous teenagers, and teenage STD's and unwanted pregnancies. Both these processes look set to continue. The latest initiative is to advertise condoms on television before the 9 pm threshold: so the effective support continues apace. If Catholic teaching and our experience of recent decades are anything to go by the destructive physical and spiritual results of promiscuity and fornication will also continue.

What about condom use in marriage where one party has HIV? This is a very different question. Marital sex is a very different thing from promiscuous sex. The former is a fundamentally wholesome and holy thing, the latter a fundamentally disordered and false thing. The active introduction of artificial contraception into the former contradicts its fundamental nature and orientation, destroying its unitive power. Therefore the Church's moral teaching states that condom use in marriage is a grave injury upon a good act. This is not the case outside of marriage where the act is in its very nature gravely disordered. In the latter case the Church is not directly teaching about private condom use but public condom promotion.

What can such a couple do? Probably the most loving thing to do is to abstain, the only sure way of not passing on the deadly virus. If they mutually agree to take the risk, the act must be orientated to its true purpose: unitive through procreative (see Faith March 2006, Editorial, Confusion over the Meanings of Marriage). The attempt to mitigate, by a certain partial degree, the risk to physical life of their sexual act cannot involve destroying its orientation to the fostering of new and spiritual life (see Professor Luke Gormally's Note on the use of the Condom by a Spouse within Marriage to prevent the Transmission of HIV, in Faith, July 2006, and his fuller March article).

Isn't this lacking in compassion for those who are at risk? No - the

Catholic Church wants to support the dignity of all concerned. It has a good record concerning the fostering of families, communities and western civilization. And today it is acknowledged as one of the foremost providers of support for AIDS sufferers and for the development of appropriate health care facilities in Africa.

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