View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Condoms: The key is intention

The Vatican is considering the issue of condom use by married couples when one of the partners is HIV positive.

I don't know what the powers that be will ultimately decide, but I would be in favor of condom use in this circumstance -- and I think there's precedent for allowing this "exception" to church teachings.

The church is very clear in its teachings opposing abortion. But the church allows that when a pregnant woman is seriously ill she may take medication to treat the illness that will, as an unintended side effect, likely result in the loss of the child. The key is that the medication must be intended to treat the illness, not terminate the pregnancy.

In this condom case, if the intention is to prevent the spread of a serious and potentially fatal illness to an uninfected person, and not simply to prevent pregnancy, then I think it can be legitimately permitted for married couples.

Such a rule would would - and should - not "cover" (I couldn't resist) unmarried folks of any sexual persuasion who choose to fornicate.


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1:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interestingly, the “lesser of two evils” argument could be applied to the issue of homosexuality. For example, given the statistics on GLBT persons, substance abuse, and suicide, a gay man could legitimately argue that it’s a “lesser evil” for him to seek and build a loving, sexual relationship than be in a lonely, potentially depressed state wherein he would be prone to self harm through alcohol abuse and/or suicide.

Of course, many people view the whole “lesser evil” argument deeply flawed. After all, the Vatican’s deliberations and pontifications on many of the sexual matters to which the argument could be applied, stem from the dubious belief that the sole purpose of sex is procreation.

Such a contention, theologian Daniel Helminiak notes, emphasizes “the generically animal (biological), rather than the distinctively human (interpersonal)” dimension of human sexuality. In addition, the “sex = procreation” argument ignores contemporary research and personal experience with regards human sexual relationships.

Helminiak, and others, argue (the rather obvious reality) that in Church practice, procreation is not essential to sex.

“Stoic philosophy,” Helminiak writes, “held that conception of offspring is the only ethically acceptable reason for having sex. Especially through St. Augustine, early Christianity incorporated this notion, and some churches invoke it to condemn homosexual acts. Yet many Christian denominations allow the use of contraceptives and marry couples who plan to remain childless, and all [including the Catholic Church] allow marriage and sex between known sterile couples or between couples beyond childbearing age. Even the Catholic Church has recently emphasized the emotional bonding and loving sharing that are central to sexual intimacy and, while forbidding use of ‘artificial contraceptives,’ does allow the use of the ‘rhythm method’ to deliberately avoid conception – which distinction is questionable. Evidently, the churches do not really believe that the essential purpose of sexual sharing is procreation. Religious insistence on procreation is disingenuous.”

And thus so too is the “lesser evil” when contemplating and discussing non-procreative sex between loving couples - gay or straight.


The Wild Reed

6:03 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

Not quite the same. In this case, the homosexual choses to use the drugs and to commit suicide - thus it is not the lesser of two evils.

And the Vatican does not teach that the sole purpose of sex is procreation. If that were the case, then it would not support sex involving a person who is sterile, for example, or post-menopausal women.

6:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what you’re getting at when you say that if I person "chooses" substance abuse or suicide that doesn't make either of these things a “lesser evil”.

By this logic, if someone “chooses” to use a condom, than that’s not a lesser evil in the eyes of the Vatican.

The case of a gay man choosing to be in a loving, sexual relationship with another man in order to prevent him from possibly choosing future life-threatening self-destructive behaviours, is no different from a straight man choosing to use a condom in order to prevent him from choosing to engage in an unprotected sex act that may contribute to the future spread of a life-threatening sexually transmitted disease.

Both are choosing something that, in the eyes of the most people, would be considered a “lesser evil”.

Explicitly, yes, the Vatican states that the procreative and unitive aspects of the sex act can't be separated. Yet implicitly, it's by no means of a stretch to say that the Vatican teaches that the primary purpose of sex is procreation. For a sizable percent of the human population (including all those passed the age of procreation), this statement doesn't speak to their reality.

Also, as Helminiak and others have documented, the emphasis on “the emotional bonding and loving sharing that are central to sexual intimacy” have been a relatively recent development (so much for the moral teaching of the church never changing!)

And the fact that the Vatican supports, for instance, sex between a couple where one or both individuals involved are sterile, does not mean that the church doesn't implicitly teach that the purpose of sex is procreation.

Instead, what it effectively does is highlight the "intellectual dishonesty" of the Vatican's sexual theology.

The Church teaches that the procreative and unitive aspect can never be separated, yet on one hand it allows sterile couples to engage in sex (where there's no possibility of biological procreation), while on the other denounces gay sexual expression (equally incapable of biological procreation).

Neither form of sexual expression satisfies the "procreative" dimension, though both have the potential to fulfil the "unitive".

However, if one form of expression is to be denounced for failing to be "open to [biological] life", then so too should the other.

To not denouce both highlights what Gary Wills calls the Vatican's "intellectual dishonesty", in his book Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit.



The Wild Reed

10:37 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...


I may be in a situation of despair, but the act giving in to that despair and comitting suicide is a choice I make. Suicide is still evil (though the level of sin might be mitigated by the circumstances).

Thus suicide is a choice, not a lesser evil under most circumstances.

The drug addiction comparison actually is apt here.

Homosexuality (despite what some politically motivated psychiatric groups might say) is an illness. I liken it to drug addiction.

I may have the compulsion to take a drug, but I ultimately choose whether or not to use the drug. I commit no sin just by having the compulsion. Sin enters when I make that choice to give in to that compulsion.

In the same way, homosexuals may have a compulsion that is, in itself not sinful, but when they give in to that compulsion - even with the excuse of being in a "loving relationship" (the same argument heterosexual fornicators often use, by the way) - they sin.

I am not stting here in some ivory tower judging myself pure and innocent and above those who sin, by the way. I am myself a sinner. I have made mistakes. I often have to seek God's healing and forgiveness in my own life.

And I have to be constantly examining my acts to make sure I am not justifying my sins with excuses.

5:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uh. Lee, back in 1994 the AMA removed homosexulaty from its list of 'illnesses".

6:13 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

Ah yes, the AMA, the same group that accepts abortion as a legitimate.

6:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Lee,

In relation to the “homosexuality as illness” issue, I’d like to offer the following:

If you were to develop a heart condition would you consult physicians whose training was based primarily on medical information from 25 years ago? Or would you seek out physicians who continually update themselves on the scientific findings endorsed by professional organizations in the area of cardiology? I think the answer is obvious. Yet for some reason I sense that you would not apply this same logic to the issue of homosexuality. There’s now no longer any debate within the mainstream medical and mental healthcare communities: homosexuality is not an illness nor, in the words of the Vatican, a disorder.

In addition, the vast majority of gay people do not experience their sexual orientation (or its expression) as an “illness”. And increasingly, people of faith (including Catholics) are discerning God’s loving presence in the lives and relationships of their gay brothers and sisters.

These realities – science and human experience, along with the Gospel mandate to love one another (a love which must include listening to others’ reality and not merely interpreting it for them) - have proved to be rich and revealing sources for theological reflection for ever-growing numbers of people of faith.

Given all of this, I wonder what you acknowledge as your sources for theological reflection on the issue of homosexuality. I’m interested in learning what have been the sources you’ve relied on and trusted so as to compel you to conclude that homosexuality is an “illness”.



The Wild Reed

8:55 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

This is a Catholic blog and I am a Catholic, so my authorities naturally include the teachings of the Catholic Church. The Catechism is very clear.

As for medical experts, check out the reports, statements and documents of the Catholic Medical Association, such as its report "Homosexuaity and Hope."

I would refer you there.

5:27 AM  

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