USEFUL ANALOGY ALERT
“Pope Approves Padded Pipes for Mugging”
You would do well to read this carefully and use it in conversations.
Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, wrote a piece for Reuters which means that it will get a little visibility.
Did the Pope “justify” condom use in some circumstances?
No. And there was absolutely no change in Church teaching either. Not only because an interview by the Pope does not constitute Church teaching, but because nothing that he said differs from previous Church teaching.
Then why all the headlines saying that he “approves” or “permits” or “justifies” condom use in certain cases?
With a tip of the biretta to Ignatius Insight:
[…]Equally problematically, “giustificati” = justified, was used in the Italian translation of “begründete”, and arbitrarily resolves the ambiguity one-sidedly.
The Pope responded: “She [the Church] 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 human way, of living sexuality”.
In the first place a solution which is not “moral” cannot be “justified”. That is a contradiction and would mean that something in itself morally evil could be “justified” to achieve a good end. Note: the concept of the “lesser evil” is inapplicable here. One may tolerate a lesser evil; one cannot do something which is a lesser evil.
But the crucial distinction here is between the “intention” of the male prostitute, viz. avoiding infecting his client, and the act itself, viz. using a condom. Since this distinction has been missed in almost every report I’ve read, it calls for some elaboration.
This distinction, in moral philosophy, is between the object of an act and the intent of an act. If a man steals in order to fornicate, the intent is to fornicate but the object is the act of theft. There is no necessary connection between stealing and fornicating.
In the case of the Pope’s remark, the intent is preventing infection and the object is use of a condom.
Here’s an example of this distinction that parallels what the Pope said.
Muggers are using steel pipes to attack people and the injuries are severe. Some muggers use padded pipes to reduce the injuries, while still disabling the victim enough for the mugging.
The Pope says that the intention of reducing injury (in the act of mugging) could be a first step toward greater moral responsibility. This would not justify the following headlines: “Pope Approves Padded Pipes for Mugging” “Pope Says Use of Padded Pipes Justified in Some Circumstances”, Pope Permits Use of Padded Pipes in Some Cases”.
Of course, one may morally use padded pipes in some circumstances, e.g., as insulated pipes so that hot water flowing through them doesn’t cool as fast. And one may use condoms morally in some cases, e.g. as water balloons. But that also would not justify the headline “Pope Approves Condom Use”, though in this case it could be true. But it would be intentionally misleading.
In sum, the Pope did not “justify” condom use in any circumstances. And Church teaching remains the same as it has always been—both before and after the Pope’s statements.