Absolutist

I wrote this letter to the Editor. It deals with AIDS, condoms, and contraception.

Dear Sir:

I wish to make a clarification. In the August 6, 2012 editorial of the Inquirer, the author challenged the “absolutist view of contraception” by citing Pope Benedict XVI himself. The article stated, “The absolutist view of contraception was forever undermined when the Pope in late 2010 signaled a shift in his attitude toward the use of condoms to help stop the AIDS crisis in Africa, seeing it as possibly ‘the first step of responsibility’.” Talking about absolutism, this affirmation does indeed have an absolutist ring to it.

But in the interest of truth and fairness, even to the Pope himself, let us read the entire script where the editorial got its cue. The text comes from the book Light of the World, a compilation of interviews of the Pope conducted by Peter Seewald.

Seewald: On the occasion of your trip to Africa in March 2009, the Vatican’s policy on Aids once again became the target of media criticism. Twenty-five percent of all Aids victims around the world today are treated in Catholic facilities. In some countries, such as Lesotho, for example, the statistic is 40 percent. In Africa you stated that the Church’s traditional teaching has proven to be the only sure way to stop the spread of HIV. Critics, including critics from the Church’s own ranks, object that it is madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms.

Pope Benedict: “The media coverage completely ignored the rest of the trip to Africa on account of a single statement. Someone had asked me why the Catholic Church adopts an unrealistic and ineffective position on Aids. At that point, I really felt that I was being provoked, because the Church does more than anyone else. And I stand by that claim. Because she is the only institution that assists people up close and concretely, with prevention, education, help, counsel, and accompaniment. And because she is second to none in treating so many Aids victims, especially children with Aids. I had the chance to visit one of these wards and to speak with the patients. That was the real answer: The Church does more than anyone else, because she does not speak from the tribunal of the newspapers, but helps her brothers and sisters where they are actually suffering. In my remarks I was not making a general statement about the condom issue, but merely said, and this is what caused such great offense, that we cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms, Much more needs to be done. We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help them; and we must do this both before and after they contract the disease.

As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work. This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.

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, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.”

So it seems that the editorial writer just read the Pope up to the point where he said using condoms is a first assumption of responsibility. He did not read up to the point where the Pope said this “is not really the way”. In the end the Pope was not endorsing the use of condoms. He just considered that hypothetically “there may be a basis” for its use where “this can be a first step towards moralization”. These statements were made in the subjunctive mood. But when the Pope said “it is not really the way” he was making a declarative sentence in the indicative mood. So that was where he was speaking his mind.

The Vatican moreover clarified the affirmations of the Pope. It its official statement the Vatican Press Office stated, “In the light of this broad and profound vision of human sexuality and the contemporary discussion of it, the Pope reaffirms that ‘naturally the Church does not consider condoms as the authentic and moral solution’ to the problem of AIDS. In this the Pope does not reform or change the Church’s teaching, but reaffirms it, placing it in the perspective of the value and dignity of human sexuality as an expression of responsible love.”

In the matter of contraception, just like in any matter related to morals – to what is good or evil in human actions – the Church cannot make any changes because goodness or evil is not a matter of what anyone thinks or wishes. It is not relative to one’s subjective feelings or situations. Its absolute character comes from an ordering that comes from way above us, from the Creator himself. Fortunately, we can discern this ordering if our reason works uprightly. The Church is simply the authentic interpreter of that law – the natural law.

In the tradition of having high and good standards of fairness and truthfulness, I suggest you might also consider rectifying what this editorial asserted.

Respectfully yours,

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