Condoms for Catholics?

Related Rants

Is Catholicism Catholic?

Pope John Paul II and execution, another instance of the Catholic Church following secular progress.

Catholic Doublespeak

[2010] Summary: The pope after Benedict will probably allow limited use of condoms in reducing the spread of disease, as the Roman Catholic Church once again gets pulled along by secular progress.


[2005] It’s hard to imagine that Pope Benedict XVI might reverse the Catholic Church’s ban on condoms, but popes have reversed policy before. The issue isn’t whether it’s thinkable that the new pope will OK condoms. The issue is whether it would be a prudent political move.


The Catholic Church has stuck steadfastly to its opposition to condoms despite the AIDS crisis and widespread use of contraceptives by Catholics around the world. As long as the church holds out, it can depict itself as bravely championing the truth against the pressures of secular society. To reverse positions now would make past opposition to condoms look backward. The church would lose a good deal of face with such a reversal.


But the church has been forced to reverse itself on lots of big issues before. The Catholic Church instituted hereditary slavery of Africans and now calls slavery “intrinsically disordered.” It forbade usury (charging interest on loans) and now allows it. It championed geocentrism and creationism but now accepts modern cosmology and biology. It sanctioned monarchy and now advocates democracy. It called for Crusades but Pope John Paul II spoke out against the invasion of Iraq. The church practiced capital punishment and now opposes it. It opposed modern scholarship applied to the Bible and now accepts it within limits.


At some point with each issue, the church found it could no longer afford to stick to its guns. It has had to revise its stand to remain within the pale. Its stand on an issue can be different from the secular consensus, but it can’t be so different that people can no longer take the church seriously. If the church still promoted slavery and monarchy, it would lose more by having stuck to its traditions that it lost by accepting social progress and following the advance of humanism.


So the question isn’t whether the church is capable of reversing itself after making such a big deal about opposing condoms. The question is whether the church stands to lose more by sticking to an increasingly outrageous position or by fessing up that it’s been mistaken, sorry about that, let’s move on.


The Vatican is so far removed from the laity on the condom issue that the church is starting to see high-level dissent. A spokesman for the Spanish Bishops' Conference, for example, said, "Condoms have a place in the global prevention of AIDS."


Given the distance that secular culture has put between itself and the Catholic church on the condom issue, it might look as though the Pope is due for a change of policy. But there’s another factor in the decision whether to accept condoms—population. The Catholic church is struggling in South America and Africa against evangelical Christianity and Islam, both of which threaten to reduce the church’s share of the population. Softening opposition to contraception might lead to a lower birth rate and to a smaller generation of future Catholics.


Furthermore, a large part of the condom controversy, and competition for adherents, is playing out in Africa. Africans, compared to citizens of the developed world, tend to be unfavorably disposed toward homosexuality and contraception. These attitudes are apparently part of a general sexism, the same attitude that gives us female genital mutilation. Reversing policy on condoms might not win the church any points in Africa.


Which is worse, to lose adherents because you’re out of step, or to lose adherents because you admit you’ve been wrong and because more of your faithful start using contraceptives? That’s the dilemma that the new pope faces.


And there’s also the issue of what God tells him to do.


My prediction: Benedict strengthens opposition to condoms, but the next pope finds a way to accept condoms as a way to prevent the spread of disease. Maybe the reversal starts with a clarification that a culture of life must include policies that prevent the spread of fatal diseases. General acceptance of contraception, apart from disease prevention, is even further off.


May 2005, Mar 08



Condoms in the News

June 2006

Condoms Effective Against HPV
For years the anti-condom crowd has raged about the alleged ineffectiveness of condoms in protecting people from HPV as a way of condemning pro-condom campaigns. A new study shows that condoms are effective at reducing the spread of HPV.

May 2006

Cardinal Says Condoms Sometimes OK
Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini said condoms were OK for married couples in which one partner has HIV/AIDS, directly contradicting the Vatican’s stance.