Thu 30th Oct 2014 | Last updated: Thu 30th Oct 2014 at 16:43pm

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo

Comment & Blogs

Has Benedict XVI changed Church teaching on condoms?

In fact, the Pope has merely confirmed what is already well established

By on Sunday, 21 November 2010

Pope Benedict XVI's comments on Aids and condoms have lit up the headlines (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Pope Benedict XVI's comments on Aids and condoms have lit up the headlines (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

The Pope’s statement that condom use is acceptable “in certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection” has lit up the headlines. But put the lights out: nothing has changed.

The prohibition on artificial contraception in the two major documents – Casti Connubii (1930) and Humanae Vitae (1968) – and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, speak only in terms of marriage. No ruling on contraception outside marriage, homosexual or heterosexual, has been made, nor has there been any particular reason why the Magisterium should make one.

The most that the Pope has done is to confirm what is already well established: that condoms, used properly and invariably, give a high rate of protection. This perhaps clarifies his former remarks that tackling epidemic Aids through condom programmes has not historically been effective and may contribute to the problem. In many cultures, condoms are very unpopular and promiscuity is common. However the condom promotions may well be giving a false sense of security and thus increasing this promiscuity.

Had the Pope given as an example a serodiscordant married couple, instead of a prostitute (whether male or female is not currently clear) he would really have said something dramatic; and answered a question which many senior churchmen have asked and the Vatican has declined to answer.

When asked whether in fact the Church is not opposed in principle to the use of condoms, he replies, “She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more humane way, of living sexuality.”

This may be a hint, though carefully no more than a hint, that he approves of the step by step pastoral approach, which is already commonly used. However, a warning against taking this approach too far is implicit in John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio (1981): “They cannot however look on the law as merely an ideal to be achieved in the future: they must consider it as a command of Christ the Lord to overcome difficulties with constancy. And so what is known as ‘the law of gradualness’ or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with ‘gradualness of the law,’ as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations.”

  • paulpriest

    The Vatican has NOT declined to answer the question of condom use for serodiscordant married couples [i.e. where one partner is hiv+]

    The answer is blatantly obvious – condoms are not 100% safe – therefore their use as an unreliable prophylaxis would contravene the fifth commandment ; therefore continuous abstinence is the only moral solution.

    The Rhonheimer argument for condom use in serodiscordant marriages [promoted by Opus Dei and Catholic Voices' Austen Ivereigh among others] is contrary to Catholic teaching.

    End of story.
    Next ?

  • Wittgenstein

    Conception is not 100% safe; Natural Family Planning is not 100% safe. Therefore its use would contravene the fifth commandment. Therefore continuous abstinence is the only moral solution. Thank you, paulpriest

  • alex

    I hope you two practice what you preach

  • RJ

    One of the reasons why the use of a condom is wrong is that it destroys the procreative nature of heterosexual intercourse.

    Another is that it breaks the intrinsic link between the unitive and procreative dimensions.

    It seems to me that these would apply also to heterosexual relations outside marriage. In other words, using a condom would actually make the evil more grave, not less so.

    Homosexual relations have no procreative dimension so the first objection would not apply.

    I'm not sure that they are unitive either. So maybe these particular reasons that make the use of a condom wrong do not apply to them. This does not alter the fact that homosexual acts are wrong, I also understand that “safe sex” is rather an unsafe assumption and that condoms may give a false sense of security that could increase promiscuity and therefore actually increase the prevalence of AIDS.

  • Wittgenstein

    Don't worry Alex; it's not a problem for me. My wife menopaused so many years ago that if she conceived now we would have to add another book to the Old Testament.Is it just possible that my reply to Paulpriest was ironic?

  • Rosella

    Conception and NFP does not kill you or anyone else, they are natural and lead to life.

    Condoms are porous and the AIDS virus is smaller than the holes in a condom which leads to death. It's very simple really.

  • pedroerik

    Excellent explanation, Bedoyere.

  • Ratbag

    Thanks for clearing that up succinctly, Rosella. You have summed up the Roman Catholic Church's teaching on contraception and condoms brilliantly.

    Sex outside marriage IS a mortal sin – it applies to those who are married and those who are not. Period.

    As for what the Pope has said…as has been explained, it is an interview and not a magesterium decision, Papal Bull or a pronouncement from the chair of Peter with ferula in hand.

    If the secular media took more notice of what the Church actually teaches, they'd have better things to fill their columns and have less to whoop about…

    Comes to think of it, what are they whooping about anyway?

  • paulpriest

    There you go again Wittgenstein – stringing words together as if they make sense and waiting for someone to think you're disproving an argument by being 'deep' or 'postmodern ironic'.

    UN statistics state that condom usage leads to seroconversion in 101 person years – yet even they admit that it should be over 900 person years if condoms were as safe as purported !
    The epidemiology shows that hiv is very difficult to seroconvert after exposure – even intravenous injection leads to only 90% seroconversion – for passive gay men it's 0.5% risk of seroconversion after viral exposure . women 0.1%, straight men 0.07% active gay men 0.05%]

    This shows that irrespective of the slippage/breakage figures within condom use – 'correct' condom usage is unsafe [whether it be through misapplication and viral cross-contamination pre-intercourse or integrity failure within the manufacturer's own safety limits].

    The statistically determined condom safety rate is therefore a 98.75% – meaning the risk of encountering condom failure only requires 82 sexual acts with 'correct non-failure' usage!!?

    When 70% of the hiv+ gay men in London attest that they contracted hiv by constant condom use [even imposing statistical deception rates of 60% this still lies at 28%] we must ask why are 12.9% of gay men in London now hiv+ [ it's one gay man in every six in Brighton!] when the epidemiology says that after adjusted figures for condom use they should be 16,400 to 1 seroconversion !

    Continuing to have sex using a condom in a serodiscordant marriage will mean that many spouses would ultimately seroconvert – albeit only a few per cent over as many years ; but even if it was only one – it automatically negates their usage within the remit of the fifth commandment as false prophylaxis not covered within humanae vitae.

    Advocating or promoting condom-use rather than abstinence is a gravely immoral offence against the human person.

  • aisake

    The use of condoms outside of marriage is unacceptable, as the bible said man is only allow to have sex through marriage. I am still support the Church view before to go against the use of condoms.The health ministry, NGO's and other relevant organisation uses the time of promoting condoms to teach people that sex outside marriage is unacceptable, i think the disease have already been reduce and overcome

  • mawst

    I'm sorry but I don't seem to be able to find a single news site that's reporting anything remotely based in reality according to the words in quotations from the Pope.

    The Pope is merely acknowledging that the use of condoms can be seen as an earnest attempt to stop HIV/AIDS from spreading.


    Why is it so hard for “Catholic News” sites to say this plainly?

    Wishful thinking, and dangerous thinking at that. These sites have a responsibility to not suggest people act contrary to what the Church teaches in it's official capacity.

  • Maya Gates

    Pope is not in way whatsoever agreeing to the use of condoms. In fact condoms are not humane, and neither is casual sex. Sex is a means that God made to continue and ensure procreation. All the people in the world, please come to think of it, if every body kept whatever is used in transmitting HIV/AIDS in their pants, then of course we would never have to discuss or talk about it here on earth ever again. Be disciplined why is it that people must have multiple partners for sex?

  • Wittgenstein

    Paulpriest, your calculations seem a trifle confused. Perhaps the following extract from the UN Fact Sheets will help you: “The most convincing data on the effectiveness of condoms in preventing HIV
    infection has been generated by prospective studies undertaken on serodiscordant couples, when one
    partner is infected with HIV and the other is not. With regular sexual intercourse over a period of
    two years, partners who consistently used condoms had a near zero risk of HIV, whilst inconsistent
    use carried considerable risk averaging 14.21%
    (an incidence of per 100 person years).

  • paulpriest

    Not in the slightest – but nice try !
    Near zero is quite duplicitous of the UN given that its own figures concede 1 in 101 person years [this was later revised by the WHO figures [which the UN now uses] to 1.14 in 100 person years.

    But – tell you what let's just ignore what I'm telling you and let's consult the major report on the issue.
    The Cochrane report:

    which concludes that condoms are only 80% effective in reduction of seroconversion amongst discordant heterosexual couples.

    The studies most prevalently used by the media had results of 1-in-100 [12 mths] , 0-in-123 [70wks], 17-in-185 [19mths] seroconversion results for consistent condom users
    [Martin Rhonheimer of Opus Dei uses the first set to justify the use of condoms among serodiscordant couples; as did Austen Ivereigh in America magazine - only one seroconversion out of a hundred!!! If they were going to argue the point one should have thought they'd have used the more favourable second set ? maybe they didn't know about them ?]

    You fail to see the point even in your own argument – near zero is not zero !
    zero would be the only applicable remit with humanae vitae art 15

    The scientific research wholeheartedly concludes that irrespective of condoms massively reducing seroconversion rates – they don't absolutely prevent seroconversion and most certainly do not prevent viral transmission [remember for every woman who seroconverts there are statistically another 999 women who came into contact with the virus but did not; for every passive gay man who seroconverts there are another 199 who were infected but didn't]

    thus advocating condom use for a serodiscordant married couple is gravely immoral and contrary to the fifth commandment.

  • Wittgenstein

    Yes the figures roughly correspond to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious
    Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services. Report of 2001. What you are confusing here (and you're not alone) is the difference which constant use of condoms makes and the absolute rate of cross infection.. “Overall effectiveness, the proportionate reduction in HIV seroconversion with condom use, is approximately 80%.” (Cochrane). The rate of actual risk (depending on the study and its quality) is around 1 for every 100 women years..

  • David Lindsay

    The facts have not changed, any more than has the Teaching of the Church (which cannot), hence the tiny coverage given to this in L'Osservatore Romano. Certain people might consider applying some journalistic or scientific objectivity to the question of where in Africa the condom use relentlessly promoted by Western NGOs and compliant governments has ever arrested, never mind reversed, the rate of HIV infection. There is nowhere.

    However, such a reversal is under way in Uganda, where the government's message is the same as the Catholic Church's: “Change Your Behaviour”. Huge numbers of condoms have been distributed in Botswana, and the result has been for President Festus Mogae to declare, “Abstain or die”. Who, exactly, is incapable of fidelity within a monogamous marriage and abstinence outside such a marriage? Women? Black people? Poor people? Developing-world people? Or just poor black women in the developing world?

    And then there is our own country, where condoms are practically thrown even at very young children as part of their publicly funded grooming during compulsory schooling, yet the rates of underage pregnancy and of STIs among teenagers are now such that the true figures are not even disclosed, with abortions, miscarriages, the clap and so on routinely recorded as other things.

  • David Lindsay

    In the course of the weekend's non-story, the BBC displayed its characteristic objectivity by having on Lavinia Byrne, to whom the matter does seem rather academic. Dr Byrne has lived for many years, since long before she formally left the Religious Life, with a former Catholic RE teacher who is now an Anglican cleric. A lady, one need hardly add.

    Anyway, Dr Byrne used to opportunity to trot out that old favourite, “reception”, which the ageing, declining band of liberal Catholics uses to mean “when we happen to agree with something”. Their theory has nothing whatever to do with that of Blessed John Henry Newman, and even his has no Magisterial authority, although, unlike his theory of the development of doctrine, it was at least conceived while he was a Catholic.

    No, they hold a concept of “reception” which, like the notion that provinces of the Anglican Communion are autonomous, was invented in the 1970s by proponents of the unilateral ordination of women among American Episcopalians. In which vein, it is worth pondering today's opening of a new General Synod of the Church of England. Had this Synod been in place 20 years ago, then it would not have passed the women priests legislation. Some “reception”.

    Much like what Dr Byrne insists is the non-reception of the teaching on condoms. How can that non-reception be the case, if in fact people (in Africa, if it matters) are refraining from using condoms and other artificial contraceptives in accordance with the Teaching of the Church? Even in the West, the simple, inevitable outbreeding of the dissidents by the orthodox is now a readily observable pastoral reality. That is reception, as articulated by the only person in a position to do so, the Holy Father.

  • Tiggy

    Indeed. Dr Byrne was described, more than once, on the broadcast, as a “Catholic commentator” Tosh!

  • tim

    Rosella, first sentence Yes, second sentence No. A cardinal said this, who ought to have known better. (the Church, unfortunately, is not infallible on scientific matters). The AIDs virus does not pass through a sound condom. 'Correct' use of condoms will cut infection quite considerably. However, 'correct' use is an unattainable ideal: in real life failure rates will always be substantial. And even a zero failure rate still wouldn't make such use right.

  • RJ

    Those who think the teaching of the Church has changed should read this:

    particularly the last 3 paragraphs.

  • Anonymous

    The idea that a double agent is correct, because the sale of the house is not a hostile situation, but if the parties wish to reach an agreement, it is interesting.

    Criminal Lawyers QLD

  • Paul

    Misguided fools