Vatican On Condom-Pope: Move Along, Nothing To See Here

The BBC reports the Vatican is downplaying Pope Benedict’s comments that it might be sort of okay if male prostitutes use condoms to minimize the risk of AIDs infection. Snort.

Behind convoluted, baroque theology, behind facades of morality is a church that has failed to convince its followers to follow its teaching s on sex. Roman Catholics world-wide ignore the Pope’s instructions. In the real world,  Catholics have sex. They have sex out of marriage. They have multiple partners. They cheat on their partners. If catholics live in a stable country with reality-based sex education, they use condoms and birth control. If they’re in a war zone and/or live under economic and social catastrophe with no access to birth control and condoms and sex education, they’ll still have sex. But the consequences will be unwanted children and the spread of diseases like AIDS.

So why keep up the bullshit? Why keep attacking condoms? Well, as with any crime let’s look for a motive. I can suggest a few.

1.) Condemning condoms lets Catholic officials pretend they’re important and that people pay attention to them. Everyone–me, you, your mother-in-law, Darian Durant, Stephen Harper and the Pope–wants people to listen to them and respect their opinions and experiences. The Church can’t stop it’s followers from having unsanctioned sex. And you have to believe that this is a problem for priests and bishops and cardinals and popes, who correctly see real, actual human sexual behaviour as a rejection of their authority. Not to mention a challenge to their views on reality. But the Church can and has sabotaged education about sex and condoms, especially in developing countries (so have other religious and political groups, but we’re talking about Catholics today because the Pope said something off-script). This creates the illusion of authority and relevance. It’s not quite the same as actual obedience but it’s at least the appearance of it. Catholic officials will take what they can get.

2.) Allowing condoms and birth control empowers women at the expense of traditional male authority. Give women birth control and all of a sudden they have control over their lives. They can’t be shackled through child-rearing. They won’t die in childbirth as much, and the children they do have will have better lives. They’ll start owning property and voting and gaining economic clout and daring to challenge male authority and generally thinking, hey, we’re equal to men. They might even want to be pope themselves. This is a real threat to both the actual power and the egos of Club Sausage Vatican. And no one–not me, not you, not your father-in-law, or Henry Burris or  Stephen Harper or the Pope, likes genuine challenges to their power and ego. And the more someone stands to lose, the less they like these challenges. The Catholic Church has a lot to lose.

3.) Condoms and birth control empower the poor and powerless at the expense of the wealthy and powerful. It’s not just women who benefit from control over their health and reproduction. Fewer children means less stress on local resources, better economic prospects for families, more time for people to join the labour force, start a business, work for community’s well-being, seek education and participate in politics. Smaller families lift economic fortunes and rising economic fortunes means less dependence on the charity of the rich and the psyche-in-crisis soothing pronouncements of religious authority. People who are healthy and having their basic needs met — food, shelter, social participation — aren’t dependent on religion. They may of course choose to be in the Catholic Church but they’re not being economically and psychologically blackmailed into participation. No matter how you slice it, that means less power for the Roman Catholic Church.

Given all that, the the Roman Catholic Church’s re-affirmed opposition to condoms should be seen for what it is: a disgusting, despicable, sexist and self-serving heap of steaming bullshit from privileged and delusional men.

I can only imagine how infuriated I’d be if I was Catholic.

If you want something else to read on this topic, here’s Dan Savage, who links to Andrew Sullivan. Both writers, by the way, have suggested the current pope is probably gay. Which is obviously relevant to this discussion.

And with that the floor is now open. Have at it. Tell me I’m right, I’m wrong, I’m over-simplifying, I’m anti-Christian, whatever. Personally I really want to read what Malcom+ thinks — hopefully he’s still following our blog.

Author: Stephen Whitworth

Prairie Dog editor Stephen Whitworth was carried to Regina in a swarm of bees. He's been with Prairie Dog since May 1999 and will die at his keyboard before admitting his career a terrible, terrible mistake.

4 thoughts on “Vatican On Condom-Pope: Move Along, Nothing To See Here”

  1. Well, I am a Catholic, and this event left me gobsmacked. I’ve since worked my way through puzzlement, anger, embarrassment, and back to puzzlement. And if that’s me, what about people of other religious persuasions, or none?
    First off, Catholic teaching on sex is that it is reserved for married heterosexuals, that its purpose is procreation, and that sexual acts not open to the possibility of procreation are verboten. That’s it in a nutshell, and I might add that this is a view of sex that was widely shared among Christian denominations until well into the 20th Century. Of course, Catholics like others have made personal decisions regarding their sexual behaviour for a long time, and have done so in spades since Pope Paul VI wavered in the face of advice on contraception and came down on the side of tradition. It just defies logic that a celibate has anything relevant to say about sex, marriage, and the conduct of family life (“you no play-a da game, you no make-a da rules”.) Now, for the gobsmacking part: why come ‘way out of left field to justify the use of condoms by male prostitutes, and yet still condemn their use by married men and women in high-risk situations, to save their lives and those of their children? Both homosexual sex and prostitution are sins, in church teaching.
    When this pope was elected, I thought that a major mistake had been made, and events since his election have only confirmed me in that opinion. He has been slow-acting on issues where he should be decisive, and every time he opens his mouth, it’s a public-relations disaster. He’s still in academic/bureaucrat mode, when he should be a pastoral leader. I don’t think he has it in him to be such a leader, and I wish he would resign.

  2. I’ll take a minute to respond – though at the moment, I’m quite deeply engaged in a struggle to keep Anglicanism rooted in at least the 20th century, if not the 21st. ;-)

    While international Anglicanism is not structured as one amorphous denomination, but as a family of national and regional churches, we do have meetings. And the oldest and most significant meeting, historically, has been the Lambeth Conferences of Anglican bishops from throughout the world.

    The 1930 Lambeth Conference marked the first time that a major Christian body affirmed the responsible use of contraception, recommending to the member churches of the Communion that the matter be left to the judgment and individual consciences of married couples.

    The Book of Alternative Services (the form of services most commonly used among Canadian Anglicans, although the Book of Common Prayer is still the official standard) describes the purpose of marriage thus:

    “Marriage is a gift of God and a means of his grace in which man and woman become one flesh. It is God’s purpose that, as husband and wife give themselves to each other in love, they shall grow together and be united in that love, as Christ is united with his Church.

    “The union of man and woman in heart, body and mind is intended for their mutual comfort and help, THAT THEY MAY KNOW EACH OTHER WITH DELIGHT AND TENDERNESS IN ACTS OF LOVE [and that they may be blessed in the procreation, care and upbringing of children.”

    So the purpose of marriage is not (principally) procreation, but the creation of a sacramental relationship between two people which acts, if you will, as an icon or lens through which the world can perceive the love of God.

    You will note the section I capitalized, which is explicitly clear that sensual and sexual pleasure is a proper part of the marital relationship. You will also note that the prayers for the “procreation, care and upbringing of children” may be excluded where and when appropriate. Thus it is implicit that it is a distortion of the doctrine of marriage to suggest that procreation is part of the inherent essence of marriage.

    I suspect I may be reaching the maximum length, so I’ll continue in another comment.

  3. The upshot of that for me is that the Roman Catholic prohibition of contraception has never made much sense to me per se.

    In college, I took a class at a Roman Catholic seminary on “Ministry in the Sacrament of Penance,” where each week the tutorial consisted of one student acting as the confessor while another student “confessed” based on a scenario provided by the professor. One week, the “sin of the week” was *masturbation* (yeah, I know). In the critique phase, one student said, “I’d have asked the man how long he’d been married and how many children he had.” The “penitent” said, “seven years and two children.” “You see?” said the first student – and the rest of them nodded. It took me two hours to grasp that they were all assuming the couple were obeying Humanae Vitae and that, if there were only two children in seven years, the reason he was *masturbating* was because the man and his wife weren’t having sex.

    All that said, I can understand (and even partly share) the concern that freely available and consistently reliable contraception has gradually led to the hypersexualization of our society, and even encouraged some forms of sexual behaviour which can be dangerous and / or degrading. However, I don’t believe contraception has caused these problems.

    In the end, I agree with the Lambeth 1930 position that decisions about contraception belong properly to the couple involved. While some may use contraceptive methods – including oral contraceptives or condoms – to enable unhealthy behaviours, that is not a sufficient argument against them. People use Bibles for some pretty unhealthy purposes, and I have no interest in banning Bibles.

    (I’ll note here that I haven’t touched on the issue of same sex marriage because that wasn’t particularly germane to the question. It is a subject that Anglicans are debating at some length and with some uncharacteristic passion. Stand by for developments.)

  4. Just to be clear, the “confession” referred to in the story was entirely a role play. Both the “confessor” and the “penitent” – and the student who made the comment – were all Roman Catholic seminarians. I was the only non-Roman Catholic in my tutorial.

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