Wednesday, November 24, 2010


My headline above is a take off of Fr. Z's blog, "What Does the Prayer Really Say?"

In that blog, there is a excerpt of what Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J. writes for Reuter's:

The Pope responded: “She [the Church] does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality”.

In the first place a solution which is not “moral” cannot be “justified”. That is a contradiction and would mean that something in itself morally evil could be “justified” to achieve a good end. Note: the concept of the “lesser evil” is inapplicable here. One may tolerate a lesser evil; one cannot do something which is a lesser evil.

But the crucial distinction here is between the “intention” of the male prostitute, viz. avoiding infecting his client, and the act itself, viz. using a condom. Since this distinction has been missed in almost every report I’ve read, it calls for some elaboration.

This distinction, in moral philosophy, is between the object of an act and the intent of an act. If a man steals in order to fornicate, the intent is to fornicate but the object is the act of theft. There is no necessary connection between stealing and fornicating.

In the case of the Pope’s remark, the intent is preventing infection and the object is use of a condom.

Here’s an example of this distinction that parallels what the Pope said.

Muggers are using steel pipes to attack people and the injuries are severe. Some muggers use padded pipes to reduce the injuries, while still disabling the victim enough for the mugging.

The Pope says that the intention of reducing injury (in the act of mugging) could be a first step toward greater moral responsibility. This would not justify the following headlines: “Pope Approves Padded Pipes for Mugging” “Pope Says Use of Padded Pipes Justified in Some Circumstances”, Pope Permits Use of Padded Pipes in Some Cases”.

Of course, one may morally use padded pipes in some circumstances, e.g., as insulated pipes so that hot water flowing through them doesn’t cool as fast. And one may use condoms morally in some cases, e.g. as water balloons. But that also would not justify the headline “Pope Approves Condom Use”, though in this case it could be true. But it would be intentionally misleading.

In sum, the Pope did not “justify” condom use in any circumstances. And Church teaching remains the same as it has always been—both before and after the Pope’s statements.

Read the entire article here from Reuters.

My Comments: I like what Fr.Fessio says and his analogy. Just imagine if I got up on Sunday and preached about moral conversion and used the following analogy. "There were two home invasions. One man broke into a home, murdered the occupants and stole their belongings. Another man broke into a home, bound and gagged its occupants and then took only that which he really needed. Which of the two was more morally developed, that is, more human in their approach to home invasions? Certainly, we can say the second man was more developed morally."

Let's pretend that the Macon Telegraph has interest in local religious affairs and gets wind that I preached that homily. Let's even say that someone taped what I said and mailed it to their reporter. The headline might well be the following:


Is that what I really said?

With what Fr. Fessio wrote and with my example, read now this morning's New York Times take on what Pope Benedict really said by pressing New York Times!


SqueekerLamb said...

and the Pope smiled.

Go Pappa!

Gene said...

I have a little trouble with this. So, let me get this straight...if I kill my victim quickly, as with a shot to the head, I am morally less culpable than if I were to torture them slowly to death. If I hit them in the head with a stick instead of a steel pipe, then I am on the road to moral rehabilitation...and, then, there is this actual quote from my uncle when I was a kid in the 50's: "I don't know why they put old Tom in jail. He only shot that s.o.b in the a..."

I think that, at some point, a quantitative difference becomes a qualitative one. In other words, past a certain threshold (called 'intention'), the incidentals of a sin ("well, we didn't take off all our clothes," "we didn't do it in a bed," "I didn't really enjoy it.") or crime do not matter. So, it does not matter how I kill my victim; the intent to murder is the threshold. If I break into a house and rob it and tie up its victims and choose no to kill them, it is likely not from any altruistic motive, rather my fear of execution or life in prison, or my desire not to leave further evidence of my presence (blood, etc.). I have difficulty attributing humane motives to those of a criminal mindset. Any moderation on their part is likely due to a sociopathic self-interest or calculated self-concern.

This whole debacle seems to reflect some naivete on the Pope's part, which is both excusable and understandable. However, this is a very slippery slope. Absolutes are good... "Thou shalt not kill" (even if you do it quickly), "thou shalt not commit adultery" (even if it was with a nice girl and you didn't take off all your clothes),
"thou shalt not steal" (even if you don't take much). I don't know FR., I think this is dangerous thinking on everyone's part, especially in an age when the moral relativists will seize any opportunity to further their sophistry.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Pinanv525, I agree with what you are saying, but I don't think the Holy Father is naive. It does seem to me that if a prostitute, male or female has some empathy for his/her possible victims, if the prostitute carries the HIV virus, then for that prostitute to use a condom or ask her partner to do so is an act of charity and a sign that God's grace may well be at work in him or her and that they may one day repent of their prostitution and thus stop using condoms since these won't be needed for protection against spreading the AIDS virus.

Or let us put it another way, if a husband contracts aids and his wife is oblivous to the fact that he has done so, while it would be advisable to tell her that he has this virus, wouldn't it be morally justified for him to use a condom to protect her from his virus? And then when he tells her and she still wants to have marital relations with him, would not using a condom be paramount to playing Russian Roulette with one's life?
Isn't this what the Holy Father is suggesting? Moral development?

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Also, I do believe that a woman can use the pill to regulate her minstrel cycle it the intent in using the pill is not to prevent conception, but to accomplish another purpose. I think the pill has also helped teenager with severe cases of acne, if I'm not mistaken.

Also, I believe it is morally pemissilbe to start a course of chemotherapy if one has cancer, knowing that if one is also pregnant at the time, that the chemotherapy may cause a spontaneous abortion of the fetus. At the same time, not to start the chemotherapy would certainly cause the fast growing cancer to spread and thus become terminal very quickly. So if the intent is to treat the cancer not to kill the baby, then it is permissible to choose the chemotherapy despite the side effect of causing a spontaneous abortion.

Gene said...

Fr., I agree with and understand your examples. My concern is with how the enemies of the Church and its teachings will use such statements. They seem to me to be an unnecessary chink in the Church's armor.

SqueekerLamb said...

Too much adieu about little...

The Pope simply gave a bit of clarification, to the faithful and to priests and bishops.
What the worst case scenario, people start liking the Pope based on misunderstanding his point? Seems like he wins no matter what.
If folks understand the point, he certainly wins.
If folks read too much into it, he still wins (in the PR department that is).

The Pope is one sharp man.