How can we miss you when you won’t go away?

How can we miss you when you won’t go away?

Cardinal Carlo Martini, the retired archbishop of Milan who’s supposed to be doing Scripture study in Rome, is making international waves again, this time by saying that married couples could use condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS. Just to be clear, Martini has long been the darling of progressives in the Church and was long their great hope as successor to John Paul. There were even claims that he came in second in balloting in last year’s conclave, although since the cardinals and all involved take the most solemn oath of silence, I don’t know how anyone can know that.

Anyway, Martini told the Italian periodical L’Espresso that condoms could be okay, and then said that life does not begin at conception, but shortly after. Both of these statements are in contradiction to the Church’s teachings.

Vatican officials are being typically cautious. While certain progressives are happy to fight doctrinal battles through the media, the more responsible bishops prefer to deal with these problems one on one. Of course, unless the dissenter recants to the press, the rest of us are left hanging with no formal response from the Vatican.

In any case, Martini may think he’s daring or breaking new ground, but it’s the same, old tired schtick. No one is shocked by it anymore. Martini was addressing the problems of AIDS-ravaged Africa, but African Catholics—who are living in the situation—know better. By and large, the vast majority know that condoms do nothing but encourage promiscuity.

In an article in the upcoming issue of Catholic World Report, Cardinal Emmanuele Wamala of Kampala, Uganda, had something to say of efforts to increase condom distribution in his country:

Cardinal Wamala likened the distribution of condoms to giving poor people bicycles without brakes, and encouraging them to ride downhill in the rain. “No matter how good you are at riding,” he said, “there are few chances of escaping an accident.” According to the cardinal, the funds invested in procuring condoms from Western countries, if they were channeled into projects aimed at improving the plight of the rural poor, would make a dramatic difference in the lives of needy families.

I think Wamala is much more familiar with the challenges of AIDS than Martini. I think Martini should return to his retirement and his books and quietly fade away.

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  • How can he “fade away” when he gets a public lift like this just a few days ago?  Read it and guess who said it!

    “We must let ourselves be aided by the great masters of “lectio divina.” We have, for example, many wonderful books by cardinal Martini, a true master of “lectio divina,” which help us to enter into the living world of Sacred Scripture.”

    Did you guess?  Right!  Pope Benedict recently in audience with young people.  No one asked him about Martini, he just volunteered it. 


    On the condoms issue, isn’t that called “double effect”?  If your intention isn’t to kill the robber, but to stop him and there’s no other effective way of stopping him, you can stop him by killing him if the two moral facets are part of one action.  So, if your intention isn’t to contracept, but to prevent the disease being passed on, you can use a condom (if you’re married, at least.)

    There might be an ARGUMENT against it on prudential grounds, but I don’t think one can say it’s not morally licit.  Unless one doesn’t understand double effect.

  • Jeff,

    You’re missing the fact that there is another option in the contraception situation: Don’t have sex. Sex with contraception is a moral evil. Period. It is not morally licit.

    With the robber looking to kill your family, if you don’t act, there is a massive evil effect. With sex, if you don’t have sex…you just don’t have sex. No one dies.

    I think you’re the one not understanding legitimate employment of double effect. Of course, you have good company in a Cardinal of the Catholic Church, God help us.


  • Sorry about posting twice in a short period. I wanted to back up my assertion that Jeff is missing something basic about the principle of double effect. Here are guidelines for applying this principle:

      1. The act done must be good in itself
      2. The agent must have a right intention, that is he or she must desire the good effect and not the evil one.
      3. The first effect must be good or at least equal first with the evil effect. This impedes the good effect resulting from an evil one.
      4. There must be proportionately grave reason to justify the act (3).

    The act done must be good in itself. The use of artificial contraception is a moral evil. Hence, the fact that there is a good outcome (avoidance of disease) and the intent to do good do not overcome that fact.

    The overall level of culpability is, of course, known in a precise way only by God. However, the act is objectively evil.

    Again, my apologies for the double post. I should have been more explicit in my original reply.


  • No, sex without conception is not a thing to be avoided otherwise old people who are infertile wouldn’t be allowed to do it.

    And of course, natural family planning is okay because an act of sexual intercourse not resulting in conception can be a perfectly good thing.

    What you CAN’T do is deliberately contracept in any given act.  But if the purpose of the condom is not contraception, then clearly it’s double effect.  Condoms are just a piece of plastic.  It’s not bad to use condoms; it’s bad to use condoms for contraception.

    What’s the good being sought?  Sexual unity between spouses is a good.  Losing it is NOT a good and it’s not a matter of indifference.  Having to do without it is a sad necessity, but only if it’s a NECESSITY.  It’s not a question of whether you’d die or not, but it’s hardly trivial.

    Look:  some people could use this for an excuse when their real intent is contraception.  Sure.  Just as some people might kill the robber when the really didn’t need to.  But imagine a couple who WANT to have a child, but who use the condom because they don’t want to spread the disease. 

    Most people don’t understand double effect.

  • A thought experiment.

    Suppose a woman has a hysterectomy to remove a cancerous growth.  No possibility of conception anymore, right?

    Suppose her husband gets AIDS from a blood transfusion.  Now, let’s assume that condoms are effective against AIDS, for the sake of argument.  (Some say they aren’t.)

    The couple decides to use condoms, not as a contraceptive, but merely to prevent the transmission of the disease.

    In this case, condoms are not contraceptives, obviously.  No moral theologian would argue that there is anything wrong with condoms in such a case.  There’s nothing “contra conception” about them, because no conception is possible.  So, there’s nothing morally illicit there.  And the couple here are pursuing a perfectly good and legitimate end.  No one says they have to abstain from sex.

    Now, if the woman ISN’T infertile, it doesn’t suddenly mean that the act of using a condom for a non-contraceptive PURPOSE is gone.  It has two EFFECTS and two possible purposes.  So long as your intent is not the illicit one, you are okay.  The “evil effect” in the analysis is simply failing to conceive.  And failing to conceive during a particular act of sex is not evil at all, otherwise natural family planning and any other infertile sex would be evil.  And it isn’t. 

    Suffering robbery and dying are both “effects” or ends.  Contraception itself is not an “evil effect.”  It’s not any kind of end at all.  It’s an illicit MEANS.  The end, the effect, is NOT CONCEIVING.  That’s not a bad end.  So you can’t put contraception itself into the analysis as the END desired.  No one likes contraception for its own sake.

    Contraception as a moral evil means deliberately frustrating the fertile potentiality of any particular act of sex.  Condoms not used as an intended means to that effect are not contraception.  Such a couple are not using condoms because their desired end is stopping conception.  Their desired end is preventing disease.  Their undesired but tolerated end is not conceiving in a particular case.  Which is NOT the same as contraception and not evil at all.

    It’s tricky, I know.  But this is how double effect analysis works.

  • Mike:

    “Again, what good is being accomplished?  If it is only sexual unity, then I would submit that no good is actually being accomplished.”

    But sexual unity between married couples IS a good.  It’s one of the two goods achieved by intercourse.

    That’s why it’s not just okay, but good, to have sex when there’s no possibility of conception.  It’s not just neutral, it’s a separate, positive GOOD and an end of marriage.  Read Humanae Vitae.

  • Sex is only contraceptive if that’s your INTENT.  If you use a condom intending another end, it’s not morally a contraceptive.  That’s just an undesired but tolerated EFFECT.  The ACT involved is sexual intercourse.

    It’s okay to have unitive sex without conception.  That’s infertile sex is okay.  It’s not okay to have conception without unitive sex.  Why?  Because the ACT is not sexual intercourse.  It’s a different moral reason.

  • One cannot do a bad thing in hopes of getting a good result. 

    One cannot contracept, while having sex with an infected partner, in hopes of avoiding the disease.  (The word “contracept” in this case means that both parties are fertile enough for contraception to matter.)

  • This is not a case of the double effect.

    This licitness of the use of a condom has NOTHING to do with the presence or absence of fertility or the presence or absence of a contraceptive intention.

    Condomistic sexual intercourse distorts the one flesh union of the married couple. This makes it sinful in all cases. What people are confusing is motivation and intention.

    In order to be married in the Catholic Church the male has to be able to deposit semen into the reproductive tract of the wife. If one can not do this at the time of the marriage, the marriage is invalid. The wife must be able receive the same. It is the deposition of ejaculate into a certain location that makes the sexual act licit or not. (leaving aside contraception since the intention is not to contracept so says this strawman).

    Oral contraceptives given for the treatment of disease do not distort the one flesh union although it has an unintended contraceptive side effect. Similarly, surgery to treat disease that results in sterility does not effect this one flesh union. These are a cases of the double effect. The nature of the act is preserved but the outcome may be altered. The intention with the Pill and with surgery is to treat disease. The tolerated “bad effect” is the suppression of ovulation or sterility trumps the good effect which is the preservation of health of the woman in this example.

    In a HIV positive couple, the INTENTION of using a condom is to prevent the deposit of semen (which is exactly what the condom is solely designed to do) into the reproductive tract of the wife. The motivation is to prevent disease. This intention, even in the presence of a noble motivation, is an evil act in Catholic Moral Theology. The intention is to prevent the deposition of semen into the only locale it is intended to be deposited into licitly. Condoms distort the martial act by altering the one flesh union and their use is always wrong. The “form” of the martial act matters in the Catholic Faith and always has.

    This is also why “alternative forms of sexual expression” within the married state that result in the deposition of semen into a locale that is not designed for the generation of children is also sinful. It is sinful regardless of the age of the couple or state of the fertility of the couple.

    A contraceptive intention magnifies the sin, the absence of a contraceptive intention does not mitigate the sin. This is a marginal at best example of the double effect.

  • JanJan:

    I know it has nothing to do with anything, but I love that you titled this post after a DAN HICKS and His Hot Licks song!!

    I assure you it was unintentional, but now that you point it out, I’m buying it on iTunes. grin

  • Yes, I think that Daniel is right and I am wrong. 

    My mistake was in analyzing the moral problem in condom use as one strictly of contraception, when it is really one of masturbation; i.e, the use of condom means that you are not really having sexual intercourse with a person.  Therefore, even in the case of a woman with a hysterectomy who cannot conceive, a married person cannot use a condom.  Double effect cannot apply, though it seems to me it might if this really WERE a problem essentially of contraception, strictly understood.

    Thanks to Daniel and my apologies to anyone whom I might have misled or scandalized.  I hope everyone understands that I have no interest in disputing any teaching of the Church, infallible or non-infallible.  Even non-authoritative consensus moral teaching seems to me a better guide to any questions on these matters than one’s unaided reason.

  • Jeff,

    Outstanding. You may have broken the cardinal rule of comment boxes, which is: Never admit any kind of error. smile

    All kidding aside, well done.

    For others that might not have come along with Jeff on this- The objective nature of the original act must be morally good, regardless of intent. Clearly intent must also be morally good for the use of double effect in moral analysis, but the objective nature of the act itself can’t be evil in order for DE to be validly applied to the moral analysis of a situation.

    That was the point of the rules I posted earlier, which I believe to be a fair representation of the Catholic understanding of the application of DE.


  • Right, Rob.

    All I would note is that if condoms are only evil in that they are contraceptive, the moral theologians seems to agree that double effect WOULD apply.  If double effect DOES apply, then the question IS, “Which effect do I intend; which effect to I merely tolerate.”  That’s where the intention question comes in.

    That’s why you can surgically remove an embryonic tubal embryo even though you know it will die, in order to save the life of the mother.