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Monday, 22 November 2010

Pope/condoms IV - "Do you think that's wise, Sir?"

Having given some background in the previous posts, I must offer a reaction of my own to the Holy Father's comments on AIDS and condoms. It would be along the lines of Sergeant Wilson in Dad's Army: "Do you think that's wise, Sir?"

On the one hand, we know that the widespread distribution of condoms to tackle the problem of HIV/AIDS has not worked in practice: the Holy Father affirms that and it has been the subject of much comment around the internet over the years. On the other hand, secularists and militant gays use the condom issue to attack the Church as heartless and out of touch since in some individual sexual acts, a condom will reduce the risk of infection. (There are, of course, acts in which condoms do not apply, so to speak.)

The Holy Father uses the example of a male prostitute (Prostituierter in the original German), saying that the use of a condom 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."
I think that this is an unfortunate example. Many male prostitutes are not doing whatever they want to do, on account of being controlled by a pimp and compelled to meet the standard requests of their "client". If he is required to be the passive partner in a sexual encounter, wearing a condom will not do him much good - he would need the "client" to wear one. If he is required to be active, he might want to wear a condom out of an instinct for self-preservation but probably would not see it as a step in the direction of moralization. Surely the only proper response of a good Catholic wishing to help someone caught up in male prostitution is "Is there anything we can do to help you get the hell out of this?"

In Africa, the more common situation is that of men who go away to work, consorting with female prostitutes, and then, on returning home, infecting their wives or girlfriends. Again, the poor prostitute may well have little choice in the matter of whether a condom is used or not. In an individual encounter, if the man agrees to wear one, a condom will reduce the risk of infection but in the process of "risk compensation" may encourage him that his dangerous and immoral behaviour can be undertaken with an acceptable rate of risk to himself and his family. This seems the most likely explanation for the increase in infection rates when condoms are promoted aggressively.

One article I read today said that programmes promoting abstinence were irrelevant in some cases because of the incidence of rape. That is a fair point but it should also be borne in mind that condoms are also irrelevant here unless we are trying to persuade rapists to practise "safer sex". (If we did, would that be a step in the direction of moralization?)

I'm sorry. I love the Holy Father very much; he is a deeply holy man and has done a great deal for the Church. On this particular issue, I disagree with him and I hope that my having sufficient "initial goodwill" is not in question (cf. Pope/condoms I). I have read an embargoed copy of the whole of the interview with Peter Seewald and there is a great deal there to ponder and learn from. I'll now be moving on to that and other topics.
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