Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Pope is not "changing doctrine"

Well, if you believe the press today you would think that the Vatican is about to change Church teaching on whether or not married couples can use condoms. The Pope is not changing Church teaching, nor is he about to. The Holy Father has ordered a study about whether or not the use of condoms by married people is medically effective in reducing the spread of AIDS, because AIDS is a particular problem in heavily Catholic sub-Saharan Africa. If the Pope were to decree that married people with AIDS may make use of a condom, he would be expanding on a doctrinal understanding that already exists within the Church.

In his 1968 Encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI explained the doctrine and dogma of the Church that the primary purpose of married love was the procreation of the human family. Hence, explained the Holy Father, the use of artificial means of birth control for the purpose of preventing pregnancy according to the plan of God while continuing to engage in sexual relations is sinful, because human beings have utterly no right to interfere in God's ability or will to create new life. It was understood, however, that the hormones in the birth control pill could be useful for other medical purposes, including regulating a woman's cycle to assist her in fertility. These medical purposes are not inherently sinful, and if those hormones are being used in these unsinful ways, then the use of "the pill" for these other medicinal purposes is not sinful. The key is whether the intended use is to prevent having a child, or to assist with some other medical condition in which the hormones might be of use.

If Benedict were to say that the use of condoms BY MARRIED PERSONS WITH AIDS is permissable to PREVENT THE SPREAD OF AIDS, that means that the Pope is allowing for a medical use because of necessity. If the Pope said this were permissable, it would be under the same conditions that the "pill" might be allowed namely:

A.) The intended use is as a result of a medical condition not related to the process of childbearing and

B.) The intended use has nothing to do with the prevention of pregnancy, but to prevent or cure some other health problem (in this case, to prevent the spread of AIDS)

C.) The persons utilizing that method of preventing AIDS would be doing so within the context of married life.

That is an expansion of an already existing understanding, not a change in doctrine, as the press would have us all believe. If I were the media, I wouldn't hold my breath. All the Pope has done is order a study, not make a final decision. Popes have a habit of "ordering studies" and then using it as a chance to shoot down whatever liberal notion it was that has been studied in Mount Sinai-esque fashion.

The long and the short: When you hear the press talking about "the Pope is changing such and such" consult a real Catholic to see what the truth is behind what the media is saying.


At Thursday, May 04, 2006 1:54:00 PM, Anonymous BAREFOOTED Ray said...

Dave, I would like to indicate that, while I agree with all of what you say here, I would inject one remark. Humanae Vitae was published in 1968, not 1976. Barring that historical inacuricy you are correct

At Thursday, May 04, 2006 2:35:00 PM, Blogger Dave Oatney said...

Ray is indeed correct, and in fact, I knew this (the date is on the encyclical)-I do not know why I wrote '76 in there. I am getting senile in my old age, I suppose. I will change it.

At Thursday, May 04, 2006 4:55:00 PM, Blogger Matt Daley said...


While I understand the message contained within the actions regarding this issue by the Vatican, it may be that the interpretation of the message is more important here than the message itself.

At least, it may be so here in America, especially among the so-called "American" Catholics.

There is already a gulf (often wide in places) between the Vatican and many Catholics here in the US. Particularly regarding this issue, many American Catholics either strongly disagree with the Church's stance on contraception and wish it to be changed, or they outright disobey Church teachings on the matter.

Part of me really believes that the Church is sending the wrong message here by clarifying further acceptable (nonsinful) use of contraceptives. While you and I both know that there is no fundamental change in doctrine occuring, many people will believe that there is, or they will believe that fundamental change is coming, just incrementally.

Of course, you can blame part of this on the liberal (anti-Catholic) press, whom you've called out in your post. However, our Catholic brothers and sisters bear the responsibility for knowing the true nature of what's going on here.

Unfortunately, due to a multitude of factors, we can't really count on that to happen. It's a shame, but one would think that maybe the Church would be better off by not travelling down this road, even if it is technically the right one to travel.

What do you think?


At Thursday, May 04, 2006 8:44:00 PM, Anonymous BAREFOOTED Ray said...

I fear that in this, Matt is quite and indeed sadly correct. let's face it. Many American Catholics don't understand their faith beyond the Kindergarten level. That has the sad effect of making us appear simple minded; and, I hate to say it, but, since perceptions such as this often have a nasty way of becoming reality, the misunderstandings will tend to perpetuate themselves unless a very strong and firm hand from Rome is smashed down on us to correct it!!!

At Thursday, May 04, 2006 9:58:00 PM, Blogger Dave Oatney said...

I fear, also, that Matt is correct. That's not to say that if the Holy Father is contemplating a doctrinal letter that further clarifies what is sinful abnd nonsinful in this regard, it would be a bad thing. As the Church's Supreme Pastor, he must care for all of the Catholic flock of Christ all over the world-and we all know that the Church is growing the fastest in Africa and Asia-places that also have the biggest problems with AIDS transmission. So rampant is AIDS in these places that people are being infected who have never had sexual relations outside of matrimony because they were born carrying the virus. Since many of these people are Catholics, I have to believe the Church is concerned for them, as she should be.

However, I wonder if the Pope won't just order the "study" and leave it at that, declaring that present practices must remain as they are very fear that the decadent and selfish West will abuse Christian liberty. (This is what I think he should do)

At Thursday, May 04, 2006 10:56:00 PM, Blogger Father Martin Fox said...

Thanks for your thoughts. Well expressed!

I'm not trying to be difficult, but I don't understand why it's so significant, to some, that the Church emphasize using condoms in marriage? My point being, what is the moral or theological significance of the condom when two people, well, fornicate?

It seems to me, the one situation of sexual intimacy where the condom really is theologically problematic is within marriage; but outside marriage, how is condomized fornication worse than the alternative?

Or, perhaps I'm missing something...

At Friday, May 05, 2006 12:19:00 PM, Blogger Matt Daley said...

Now, I could be wrong here (and if I am, someone please tell me), but I don't believe that the Church has ever made any distinction between use of birth control inside and outside of marriage. In other words, we only know that sinful use of birth control is wrong, period.

But the Father is correct in what he is trying to say. Sex outside of marriage is inherently sinful anyway, so whether or not one uses birth control during such an act is really irrelevant. Being non-sinful by not using birth control would not make the non-marital sex any less sinful.

I suppose it could be argued that adding sin on top of sin would make things somewhat worse, but then we'd really just be splitting hairs.

Of course, the birth control/non-marital sex issue is muddied a bit by whether or not one is concerned about pregnancies that would possibly result from such acts, given what studies universally say happens to children in non-traditional homes.

So, to sum up, condomized fornication really is no worse than the alternative, outside of marriage. However, depending on one's point of view, it might be better. Whereas, within the confines of marriage, use of birth control is certainly worse than the alternative.


At Friday, May 05, 2006 12:23:00 PM, Blogger Matt Daley said...

One other quick thing...I agree with David that the Church most certainly ought to be concerned with all her people. And the Church certainly has a right and an obligation to look into this issue, regardless of the impact it might have on American Catholics.

Nevertheless, it is pretty sad that the Church must do this in the shadow of the idea that many of we Americans could take it as a carte blanche to be even more sinful than we already are.


At Friday, May 05, 2006 2:11:00 PM, Blogger Dave Oatney said...

Generally, I think Father Martin is right, of course. It makes no sense to me to even consider the issue of condom use in marriage, even for medical purposes, when the end result will be contraception, even if unintentional.

However, my purpose in posting was to point out that no change in doctrine is happen or will happen, even if the Vatican were to rule that condom use can be limited to marriage-the doctrinal reasoning already exists.

I agree with Father, however-I scratch my head about this one.

At Friday, May 05, 2006 3:29:00 PM, Blogger Father Martin Fox said...

Matt, David:

Well, I will add this further point: the Church's teaching about contraception has always been in terms of "marital acts." It is important that marital acts retain their intrinsic qualities of being both unifying and procreative.

But why is it morally important that an act of illicit sexual intercourse -- which already is not "unitive," because they aren't married -- thus be procreative? After all, one of the harms of the sin of fornication is that there may result a pregnancy for which one or both parties is unprepared, and a child who does not have a family.

The sin of contraception (abortifacient acts are a separate matter) is against conjugal -- i.e., married, love. Fornication is not love, and not conjugal, in true sense of that word.

So, all I see are prudential matters: using contraception in acts of fornication might give a false sense of security against pregancy or disease, or invite the false idea that if neither of these things happen, there's no harm done.

Finally, if we talk about those sex acts not involving intercourse, or involving two men -- clearly the injunction against contraception is irrelevant -- see what I mean?

At Friday, May 05, 2006 3:49:00 PM, Blogger Matt Daley said...

I consider myself to be corrected.

Certainly, I don't believe that it's morally important for illicit sex to be procreative. In fact, I'd strongly prefer it to not be, if at all possible. Not for the sake of the sexual partners, but rather because I'd rather not have an innocent life ruined in the process before it even gets started.

But yes, Father, I do see what you mean, and I agree. Any formal stance against contraceptive use outside of marriage is unnecessary and would be irrelevant.

At Friday, May 05, 2006 4:09:00 PM, Blogger Dave Oatney said...

Father's point is well-taken. If you are engaging in fornicative or adulterous sexual relations, it really doesn't matter if they are using contraception-the fornication is a sin. Contraception on top of that is merely adding to the sin that is already being committed.

No sense in taking a stand against something that is already done in the context of sin (literally, sin within sin-all sin is bad).

I am curious: Father Martin, what do you think will come of this "study" the Holy Father has ordered? Considering what we've discussed here and what the Church's constant teaching is, why did he order such a study? What do you suppose will be the outcome?

At Friday, May 05, 2006 9:10:00 PM, Blogger Father Martin Fox said...


I don't know, to be honest. It may be that the holy father wanted someone to do some "internal research"; and it also could be that this information is being leaked, as an attempt to leverage the holy father.

In any case, I'm not going to worry about it.

At Friday, May 05, 2006 9:17:00 PM, Blogger Father Martin Fox said...

There is another problem with premarital sex being contracepted, part from the intrinsic morality -- and that is, that it accustoms the couple to a contraceptive mentality.

But the thing is, when you start off with a wrong answer, trying to "fix" it, without fundamentally fixing what's wrong, only yields more wrong answers. There really is no fix other than dealing with the fundamental error.

At Sunday, May 07, 2006 12:31:00 AM, Blogger Dave Oatney said...

There is a truth in the reality that a premarital sexual relationship where contraception is being used breeds a contraceptive mentality, as Father says, among the couple.

However, I should point out that we live in a society where fornication (sexual relations outside of the marriage bond) is considered acceptable, especially among the young-fornication is grave matter and a mortal sin. If fornication (and using contraception within it) is breeding a contraceptive mentality, then accepting fornication is also breeding a wider acceptance of sin. Point being, if the couple is fornicating, and they are fine with that, they are embracing sin and endangering their souls, and they do not care!

I wonder if this study were not, as Father says, intended to be some kind of an internal look at the AIDS epidemic in Catholic Africa and was leaked to the press, becoming something it was never intended to be.

At Monday, May 08, 2006 12:39:00 PM, Anonymous coco said...

Allow the Vatican to dictate the moral policy of millions of people is a crime, while they claim the condom "is a sin", and while this people is dying
If we affirm the radical islam is medieval for how they treat women, what the Vatican is?..
More about what I think in:

At Monday, May 08, 2006 1:48:00 PM, Blogger Dave Oatney said...

Does this person even know what sin is?

As a refresher: Sin is "the willful transgression of the Law of God"-which this poor soul is advocating.

At Monday, May 08, 2006 7:30:00 PM, Blogger Matt Daley said...


Unfortunately, this person's misguided views are far too prevalent -- even among some Catholics. Rather than embrace traditional (and correct) Catholic doctrine -- and thus, the teachings of Christ -- these folks would rather the Church change it's policies to reflect a more "modern" and "progressive" view.

Personally, the idea makes me ill, but it's undeniable that many people believe this now.

By the way, David...I haven't talked to you on the phone for a few weeks, and I wanted to let you know that Renee has accepted a new position on campus for the 2006-2007 school year. She will be the new Vice-President for FALCONS FOR LIFE on the BGSU campus. Of course, I will be involved as well.

Anyway, I thought that you would be pleased to hear this.


At Tuesday, May 09, 2006 9:21:00 AM, Blogger Dave Oatney said...

That is truly wonderful! I sure wish I could help.

At Tuesday, May 09, 2006 10:25:00 PM, Anonymous BAREFOOTED Ray said...

in the belief that sometimes, much less is much more, all I have to say is this. From the foregoing remarks of both Matt and Dave above, it would appear that coco is a servant of the enemy. Enough said.


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