But the point I’m making here is that the second statement is less surprising than the first, not more. And it doesn’t “broaden” the application of his principle to include heterosexuals as well as homosexuals. The condom prohibition has always applied to heterosexuals, and for stronger reasons because it involves the evil of contraception.
But didn’t the Pope say that sex with a condom to prevent infection is a lesser evil? Well, the Pope didn’t say that, at least in his book. Fr. Lombardi said it. But the Pope could have said it, because in one sense it’s true. (I’ll explain why this is only “in one sense” in a moment.) Unfortunately, however, for those whose profession is reporting news, there is nothing new in this at all.
What may be new is the fact the many educated people no longer understand the ethics of the “lesser evil.” It’s not difficult to understand, though. The crucial distinction is: one may tolerate a lesser evil; one may never morally do something which is a lesser evil.
An example: A gunman is holding 10 hostages. He says that unless I kill the police chief, he will kill the 10 hostages. The death of one person is, in this case, the lesser evil. But I cannot morally kill the police chief. One can never do something that is evil in itself to achieve something good or to avoid some evil, even a greater evil.
In the case of condom usage, the good of protecting against infection cannot justify the immoral sexual act, even though performing that act with a condom may be a lesser evil than performing it without one.
The “may be” in that last sentence refers to what I said above: that condomized sex is in one sense a lesser evil. That is, in the case of a single individual act, the prevention of infection by condom usage makes that particular act less evil. However, it has been shown (and it makes sense) that when there is widespread use of condoms, the sense of security against risk leads to greater promiscuity: more frequency; more partners. And this leads to overall greater risk of disease among the sexually active population. So in this sense, condom usage is the greater evil.
So: Round One went to the Pope: no change in Church teaching, just “clarifying and deepening” the same old, unchanging, beautiful but difficult Catholic teaching about the true meaning of sexuality.
Round Two goes to the Pope as well. Still no change in Church teaching. No broadening of exceptions (there are no exceptions in either case). Still the same old, unchanging, beautiful but difficult Catholic teaching about the true meaning of sexuality.
And no news.
Is it too much to hope that now we can hear about what really is new: a pope responding to so many interesting or controversial questions in a published interview?
Father Joseph Fessio, SJ, is a theologian in residence at Ave Maria University, and the founder and editor of Ignatius Press, the English language publisher of Pope Benedict’s books, including his latest, “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times.”
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