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Posted by on Jul 26, 2007 in aquinas, Condoms Catholics and HIV, homosexuality, religion | 22 comments

Condoms, Catholics, and HIV

I have had a chat going on about Catholics, condoms and HIV with onthesideoftheangels, here (scroll down)

He defends the Catholic Church’s position not to recommend condom use (except in v special medical circumstances), not even in Africa, where, I suspect, they might save millions of lives by blocking the transmission of HIV.

Thought it now worth dragging into the main postings. Here’s my latest comment:

So now let’s suppose condoms are 90% effective in preventing infection. That seems an underestimate, in fact. Here’s one quote I found:

“In a study of discordant couples in Europe, among 123 couples who reported consistent condom use, none of the uninfected partners became infected.”

Seems condoms are pretty effective in preventing infection when used properly, doesn’t it?

In which case, were those having sex outside of marriage in Africa to use them, millions of cases of infection could be prevented.

That is current medical opinion, isn’t it (at least among non-Catholic experts)?

Let’s suppose that this is the case, and let’s also suppose what seems very likely, that very many Africans are going to continue to have sex outside of marriage, whatever you or the Pope happen to say.

Then why not say, “We’d prefer you not to have sex, but if you are going to, please use a condom”?

Can I suggest that saying anything else puts you onthesideofthedevil?


  1. On the contrary. The Catholic Church seems willing to go to extreme irrationalities to promote celibacy.Two years ago I watched a documentary featuring the Archbishop of Brazil speaking on behalf of the Church on the issue of condoms and HIV. He mentioned (without specifics) research which showed that, in 30% of cases where neither partner has HIV, the use of a condom could cause one or both partners to contract it. The program was intended as an argument against Carnival.

  2. I wonder how much longer the catholics can hold on to these obviously harmful policies. Do they still believe in Papal infalibility?Would that mean that the pope can’t change his mind about anything? If he says something he can never change his position?

  3. Stephen,One thing that you need to take into account in your criticism of the “othordox” Catholic opinion, the view proclaimed by the Holy See, is that the use of condemns is not just immoral, but gravely immoral. As a result, the use of condemns should not be recommended, even in extreme circumstances, such as the enormous prevalence of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. If that is right (and I do not think it is), then it is not morally permissible to recommend it, even if the consequences are favorable. The condom issue strikes a lot of people (Catholics and non-Catholics alike) as a no-brainer, but it is not. The Church’s position flows from its philosophical-theological vision of human sexuality (natural law), and refuting the Church’s position on condoms requires confronting its larger vision.

  4. Stephen,I do want to clarify something! Re-reading my previous comment, I did not intend to insinuate that you have not considered the Catholic, natural law view in detail. I mean only to say that many people take the issue to be a no-brainer when it is not.

  5. Thanks Timmo – I am sure you are right. Check the Aquinas link to the left for something on that (the thing that gos onthesideoftheangels started, in fact.

  6. Hi Stephen,We’ve never met before. I’m a former fundamentalist, editor of Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists, and I work at a campus library. I sometimes get into discussions at the blogs of Christians, mostly moderate Christian theologians (the type who compose articles for the Biblical Studies Carnival) and Christian philosophers, though I have also had my share of discussions with blog-pologists for conservative Christianity as well. *smile* Your blog caught my eye recently. Since you’re a philosopher I’d be interested to know what you thought about the blog of moderate Evangelical Christian philosopher, Victor Reppert, author of C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea? Getting back to the topic at hand however, below are some pieces on AIDS, condoms and Catholicism: Thousands of Aids and HIV patients are risking their lives by refusing medication in favour of holy water.God and the Fight Against AIDS by Helen Epstein appeared in The New York Review of Books. Epstein mentions her experiences in Uganda, seeing Pentecostal and Evangelical revivals in huge stadiums and huge amounts of money being given to various “abstinence only” groups that use the money simply to try and make more converts, while the number of AIDS cases continue to rise higher and higher. The article mentions that even the animistic religions are preaching abstinence to no avail. (Zulus even have huge rallies in stadiums where young women are all checked out to see if their hymen is still intact.) The article also mentions that Africans are forming increasing numbers of “abstinence only” groups, partly because that’s the easiest way to obtain relief money from the American government, which gives millions to “abstinence only” groups. But the statistics demonstrate the failure of such policies, and why a more varied policy should be undertaken, including condom promotion. AIDSIf AIDS represents “God’s condemnation of homosexual behavior,” what do measles, mumps, small pox, tuberculosis, and polio represent, “God’s condemnation” of “childish” behavior? Half the children who were born two hundred years ago never reached the age of eight, due mainly to diseases like those. When the influenza epidemic of 1918 to 1920 made half the world sick and killed nearly 40 million people what did THAT represent? Was “God” “condemning” people for touching the same things and breathing the same air?E.T.B.____________________________If I read them correctly some Religious Right figures seem to be saying that AIDS is “God’s punishment” for homosexuals, as well as for babies perverse enough to be born of women raped by hemophiliacs, drug abusers, or Haitian men. (According to data collected in Africa in 2003, “God’s anger” appears to have been poured out only secondarily on “sexual offenders,” and primarily on hundreds of millions of people unlucky enough to share needles being reused in poor hospital and immunization facilities.–E.T.B.)Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, Pope Paul II, Pope Julius III, King James (who decreed the production of the King James Bible), Erasmus (who collected the Greek and Latin manuscripts for that Bible), Lawrence of Arabia, Oscar Wilde, Chief Crazy Horse, Sigmund Freud, Florence Nighingale, J. Edgar Hoover, as well as famed comporsers Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Schubert, Copland and Leonard Bernstein were all gay or bi. Why didn’t God give them AIDS? Did God think that the sexual acts they committed were less wicked than those practiced in California and New York today?On the brighter side, this tragic disease has prompted more research into immune processes in twenty months than we have gained in the last twenty years. If and when AIDS is cured homosexuals will be safer than ever before. And where will God’s efforts have succeeded then?Frank R. Zindler, “AIDS: A Blessing From God?” Dial-An-Atheist, Greatest Hits from Ohio____________________________If AIDS is God’s punishment, why is a little piece of rubber so effective in avoiding it?Rev. Jim Huber____________________________If AIDS is a divine punishment does that make lesbians God’s chosen people?____________________________CONDOMS AND CATHOLICISMThe Vatican recently admitted that Catholics in Third World countries are failing to practice “church-approved methods” of birth control. Isn’t it about time the Vatican threw in the towel (or “the sponge”) on this one, and just started selling their own condoms in the shape of the Pope’s hat with cross-shaped ribs (for her pleasure and an added “heavenly” dispensation)?E.T.B.____________________________Didn’t the Catholic Church and its contributions to civilization peak centuries ago? Now it seems to distinguish itself from the rest of the world’s splintering Christianities by merely being the one that prohibits condom use, and teaches that Mary rose into the sky after her son did. Again, speaking of the Catholic Church, exactly how many millions did it accept from Mussolini? And how much money did the Vatican Bank eventually have stolen from it decades later? Where was God then? Why didn’t he warn the Pope? I guess God didn’t think the Catholic Church could or should have all that money. Or maybe the God of Catholicism, just like the God of all other Christianities, just can’t handle money. He’s always begging for more. E.T.B.____________________________ My Mom and Dad were Catholics and used the rhythm method of birth control. At the end of eight years they had their own rhythm section. Steve Wolski____________________________If God is Catholic how come he only had one child?____________________________Mother Teresa used to say, “God always provides. He provides for the flowers and the birds, for everything in the world that he has created. And those little children are his life. There can never be enough.” “God provides?… There can never be enough?” Scientists who study birds have found that one-third of adult birds and four-fifths of their offspring die of starvation every year. (David Lack, “Of Birds and Men,” New Scientist, Jan., 1996). Frank Miele, “Mother Not So Superior?” The Skeptic, Vol. 4, No. 2, 1996____________________________THE WISDOM OF MOTHER TERESA (and E.T.B.)Mother Teresa On Aids: “It is the retribution for ‘improper sexual misconduct.’” (Then what were the Black Death, smallpox, influenza, measles, mumps, polio, and TB “retribution for?”–E.T.B.)Mother Teresa On Poverty: “It is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot. The world is much helped by the suffering of poor people.” (The more poor people there are who “accept” their suffering, the more rich people there will be who manipulate them. The rich complain that the poor want something for nothing. But the rich often stop at nothing to get everything. Where is Mother T.’s indignation at the “rich” like Jesus displayed?–E.T.B.)Mother Teresa On the Intense Pains of a Man with Cancer: “You are suffering like Christ. Therefore Jesus must be kissing you.” (Mother T. was against the use of anesthetics to deaden pain, and she repeated the above story of intense suffering as an illustration of that belief. However, she also revealed the man’s reply to her. In response to Mother T. telling him that “Jesus must be kissing you,” he replied, “Then I wish he’d stop.”–E.T.B.)Mother Teresa On Overpopulation: “There is no problem of overpopulation, only of God’s will.” (So if you live in a country whose population growth is outpacing its food production and economic growth, then you ought to throw away those rubbers and birth control pills, and get down on your knees and embrace starvation and poverty, because according to Mother T. that’s “God’s will.”–E.T.B.)Mother Teresa’s statements are drawn from The Missionary Position by Christopher Hitchens____________________________ EXCERPTS FROM “THE LOST ENCYCLICAL AGAINST PENICILLIN” (A PARODY)Beloved children, I [the Pope] write to you today to offer you loving guidance against the unnatural use of antibiotics. God created bacteria and viruses for the purpose of infecting organisms sometimes seriously, sometimes less seriously–and we must never presume to interfere with the right order of God’s creation. Just as all forms of birth control go against the natural purpose of conjugal relations–namely, procreation–so the use of all forms of man-made antibiotics interfere with the God-given design of bacteria and viruses and how He intends them to interact with the human body. Each and every bacteria-body interaction must remain open to the transmission of bacteria. It is immoral to impede development of a natural process. That is why we have so exhaustively spoken out against artificial birth control and now antibiotics. We cannot impede a process that God has created. No impeding, no impeding! God created syphilis to infect sexually immoral people, and cause them suffering and eventual death. In no way should a man-made antibiotic interfere with this God-given process. Also, the fear of syphilis is a natural encouragement toward marital fidelity, which could not otherwise hold its own in a free market. Christopher Durang, Free Inquiry, Spring 1996____________________________Christropher Durang’s parody is not very far from the truth of a genuine papal decree: Pope Leo XII (1823-1829) decreed that vaccination against smallpox was “against God’s will.”E.T.B.

  7. Thanks Edward – this is v. interesting. Especially interested in C.S. Lewis, for reasons that may become apparent shortly….

  8. Sorry to budge in and start a nitpicking disucssion but:Where is the proof that Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Alexander the Great were homosexual or bisexual?And please spare me of the cliches that back in the day in Classical Greece homosexuality was widely practiced.It’s all nonsense. There was no homosexuality in the modern sense, itself a modern construction. In one of Plato’s dialogues, I can’t remember right now but if you really want me to I will drag up the reference, Plato does discuss the love between an older man and a young boy. Should it be sexual or simply a tutoring relation. And Plato clearly is on the side of a platonic love between the old man and his young protege. Hence the term Platonic love.So please do not abuse history so lightly just to make a point about homosexuality or to reclaim homosexual pride however one defines it. Different age, different ethos and sexual norms. Of course this is not to say that homosexual intercourse did not take place, of course it did, but I am extremely sceptical whether people back then were self-consciously homosexual or bisexual the way present day homosexuals are.

  9. I’d like to add that there is a flaw in the arguement of Catholics who assume that condoms stop the creation of a living being. Not every sexual act creates a living being and since that is the case, what then was the purpose of the act of sex when no human being is created? I can only conclude that creation is not the only reason for sex and so there must be another, more pleasurable reason.If we can conclude that sex is not always for the purpose of creating a human being, then we can say that the sex with a condom is the equivilant as having sex without a condom but with no creation of a human being. So it is okay to have sex with a condom.Steve

  10. stevie bIf I wanted to construct a coherent justification for the Catholic position I would invoke the idea of sex being a gift from god which is intended by him to be used in the context of marriage. Marriage would then be defined as the union of man and woman with the intent of procreation.Individual sexual acts would take place within that context. Each would culminate in an act that does in some instances give rise to new life.

  11. Psiomniac,I’m sorry, but you’ve contridicted yourself in your statement.You first state “the idea of sex being a gift from god which is intended by him to be used in the context of marriage.” Or in other words you can only have sex if you are married.Then you state “Marriage would then be defined as the union of man and woman with the intent of procreation.”In this sentence you state that marriage is only for procreation. Therefore, since sex can only be done in marriage and marriage is only for procreation, then sex is only for procreation. However, you then state “Each would culminate in an act that does in some instances give rise to new life.” which contridicts your first point because if sex was only for procreation you wouldn’t state that the act creates life in some instances.If sex was meant for procreation, then the act of sex should create life in all instances. Thus, you can conclude that sex isn’t meant for only procreation. There must be multiple reasons for sex. If there are multiple reasons, one of which is pleasure, then sex with a condom is okay as it is one of the multiple reasons for sex.The merit of my arguement is based on the fact that sex doesn’t always create. Because of that reason, you can conclude that sex has multiple reasons. Only if you can show that sex only has one purpose then the catholic arguement is correct.

  12. Stevie b :You claim that Psiomniac is contradicting himself. He is not.He stated ‘Marriage would then be defined as the union of man and woman with the intent of procreation.’If sex does not always result in procreation, does that alter the intent? It seems like dodgy logic to me to suggest that because sex does not always result in new life that there must therefore be other reasons for it. This is a false conclusion. You are assuming that the process is perfect. The reproductive systems are complex and reliant on very many factors. Is it at all unexpected that it does not always work?If a weapon system was designed to shoot down incoming missiles but was not 100% reliable, would that therefore mean it has other uses? It MAY have, but it is not logically sound to be certain that it does.It is also possible to use something in a way which was never intended. If someone uses a calculator as a paper weight, does that mean that a calculator was intended to more than calculate.The Catholic position on condoms is really odd though. Is it, even by their own standards, morally better to allow many people to die when you can prevent it or allow then to use condoms?

  13. “If sex does not always result in procreation, does that alter the intent? “I am stating that there are multiple intents for any one act. I know this because there are multiple results from one particular act. Since I could choose to enjoy one of those results, I could continue to refine my act in a way to get that enjoyable result all the time. Therefore, my intention determines the result, not the act. So you cannot state that one act is meant for one intention because I can choose from a multiple of results outside of that act. For example, I can have sex for multiple reasons and not only one (i.e. showing someone I love them vs. creation or even both) and I know this is the case because I don’t always create but I do show my love. If I wanted to keep showing my love and not create, I could then keep acting in a way that doesn’t create.I think you would agree as your examples show that a missles and a calculators have the potential to do more then one thing. What determines its use is the intent of the person using that one thing. Thus the act of sex cannot be for one intent, as the world will let you use it for whatever intent you have. So sex cannot be only for creation, as it will have other intents as well. If there are other intents, and showing someone you love them is one of them, then using a condom is okay if that is your intent.As for the point around a missile not doing what it is intended to do, one can keep learning until the missile does do what it is intended to do. However, if your intention changed to one of not intercepting a missile, then you know how to do that too. So realize that the missile isn’t only there for the purpose of intercepting, as it can also be there for not intercepting. In fact, you could probably think of a dozen other purposes for the missle and the only correct one is based on the person who is intending it.So if you intended on creating during sex, you would probably do some things differently then if you didn’t want a baby and it is this learning that will help you to create. However, you cannot state that creation is the only reason for sex because there are multiple reasons for it. I know this because creation doesn’t happen everytime people have sex.

  14. Stevie b :I think you are conflating the reasons people have for doing things with the reason something might be created. To pick up anonymous’ analogy, you are saying it is fine to use a calculator as a paperweight, this just demonstrates that calculators have multiple uses. I agree. This does not address the issue of intended use though. Now, in the calculator case we probably don’t worry about the manufacturer calling us to account for not using their product in the proper context. Those who believe that god gave us sex as a gift to be used responsibly will not be persuaded by your arguments.

  15. Anonymous,The Catholic position on condoms is really odd though. Is it, even by their own standards, morally better to allow many people to die when you can prevent it or allow then to use condoms? Well I wonder whether this is a matter of perspective. After all, within the Catholic worldview, the innocent are headed for eternal bliss. They already have to justify so much arbitrary suffering, famine pestilence, tsunami, earthquake. AIDS is just the new kid on the block.

  16. Stevie b:I think you are missing my point. I entirely agree that almost everything has many uses, or can be put to many uses. YOU may have many different intents for sex but catholics are arguing that GOD meant only one intent.New life is not created every time people have sex. This is not sufficient evidence to conclude that GOD intended more than one use for sex.As in the missile system analogy, the system designers may have had only one intent for how it should be used. If it does not perform this function every time it is used, is this sufficient evidence to suggest that the designers intended other uses?Catholoics are not arguing that sex can only be used for procreation, they are arguing that it should only be used for procreation as that is what GOD intended.

  17. “Those who believe that god gave us sex as a gift to be used responsibly will not be persuaded by your arguments.” My goal is not to persuade, but to understand. I have a position that I need to understand by seeing how it stands against other thoughts, which is why I stated what I stated.”YOU may have many different intents for sex but catholics are arguing that GOD meant only one intent.”My question would be then why did God allow for multiple results if God’s intent was to only have one?I can understand God’s intent of giving me energy every time I eat food, which happens all the time and never changes, but why have multiple results of something if God’s intent was to only have one result?

  18. “As in the missile system analogy, the system designers may have had only one intent for how it should be used. If it does not perform this function every time it is used, is this sufficient evidence to suggest that the designers intended other uses?”This would be similar to looking at an apple and stating that it should be an orange. Intention doesn’t make an apple an orange. It is only in understanding that the apple is an apple and that you must continue to look for an orange in order to make the statement “This is an orange”.In otherwords, the missile is not a missle that intercepts, even though that is the intention. Just like an apple isn’t an orange. It is only until you find a missile that will intercept can you state that I intend this to intercept, or that this orange is an orange.

  19. stevie b,My goal is not to persuade, but to understand.Well I don’t think you have met that target either.I think the idea that sex has different purposes in different situations seems so persuasive to you that you have failed to engage with the alternative viewpoint. That is not to say I would expect you to agree with it, neither do I after all, but I can see how it might make sense from the perspective of somebody who thinks that god is remotely interested in our activities, sexual or otherwise.

  20. Stevie, The apple and orange analogy doesn’t really fit. An apple was not designed specifically to be an apple. It simply is an apple. Missile systems dont grow on trees. The difference between the two is that with the apple we apply a purpose or a function after it exists. In the case of a missile system, it is built in response to a particular need or are you suggesting that military weapon system designers build something and only then decide what it might be good for?It’s intended function is the reason for its construction. If it consistantly fails to function in the desired manner, then the designers have failed.You said “It is only until you find a missile that will intercept can you state that I intend this to intercept, or that this orange is an orange.” Surely weapon system designers say something like “I intend to build a missile interception system.”If they build something that isn’t able to intercept missiles, does that alter the intent for the system?Also, if it only successfully intercepts missiles 70% of the time, is it no longer an interception system? – I would say it is, it’s just not perfect.

  21. Anonymous said:It’s intended function is the reason for its construction. If it consistantly fails to function in the desired manner, then the designers have failed.Spencer Silver from 3M was trying to design a super adhesive. Instead what he created was what is now called a post-it note. Is that a failure? My point is that a product or service can have multiple results. Take coca-cola for instance. Here are but some of the results you can get from coke:- It removes gum from your hair- Clean ancient coins- Remove oil stains from a driveway- Power a TVIn fact the list goes on forever. Here’s the website where I pulled this from: are we to say that Coca-Cola’s only intended use is to drink it, or can it be said that the person’s intention with Coca-Cola actually determines what happens?I’d say intention determines the outcome. With the added dimension that if Coca-Cola can not create a result that I want, such as give me wings to fly, then I cannot intend Coca-Cola to give me that result unless it is refined to change my dna somehow.However, if it can give me wings, then I can use that as the intention of Coca-Cola.This is similar to the missle analogy such that if it cannot create the intended result, then it cannot be used based on its intention. If the result gives the intention, then the intention determines the use of the object, given that there are multiple results an object can have.Therefore, if sex has multiple results, then it can have multiple intentions. If it can have multiple intentions, then it is okay to have sex with a condom beacuse it is just giving the same result as having sex without a condom and not having a child.I hope that makes sense…Steve

  22. Well worth listening to – Archbishop Tutu gives his ‘take’ on this subject pretty succintly on the Radio 4 Podcast:’Radio 4 Choice, November 30th – Michael Buerk reports on the divide over homosexuality in the worldwide Anglican Church. He talks to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who gives vent to his feelings of shame over homophobia.’

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