May 04, 2006

The Rome office of "Human Life International": statement on AIDS and condoms

On the question of the morality of married couples using condoms in the case that one of the members of the couple is infected with HIV/AIDS

The Rome Office of Human Life International is presenting some reflections on the question of the morality of married couples using condoms in the case that one of the members of the couple is infected with HIV/AIDS. These considerations are presented on the basis of credible journalistic information that states that a document is being studied on this question. (Many articles can be quoted, perhaps the most reliable is the one published in the section Vita of L’Avvenire of Thursday April 27th, p. 3, under the title “Barragan: Aids, non sarà la Chiesa a promuovere il profilattico” (Barragan: AIDS, the Church will not promote the condom) that admits the probability of the issuance of a document on this matter.)

HIV/AIDS is a death causing disease that can be transmitted through sexual intercourse. So a person that engages in sexual intercourse with his or her spouse knowing that he is infected with HIV/AIDS, becomes the cause of the death of his spouse. It has been proposed, that the Church might consider permitting a married couple, when one of the members is infected, to use condoms to prevent the contagion of this disease as a morally permitted lesser evil. It has been proposed, also by a significant source, that the use of condom in marriage “may be seen as form of self-defense”. The theory has also been advanced that the prophylactic device could be considered a form of therapy.

The first objection against this proposal is based on the nature of marriage. The use of condoms by a married couple that will separate the unitive and procreative aspects of marriage can never be accepted. Evil can never be wished or desired to prevent a worse evil. Here we do not have the case of an evil that is tolerated or permitted, like tolerating a degree of social evil that we are not in a position to combat, but were are confronted by a case in which an evil is directly desired and executed. So here we can not apply the Principle of Double Effect. To block the spread of the virus, the couple poses an evil act that is willed with conscience and knowledge which breaks asunder the two fundamental goods of marriage. Neither it can be considered a form of self-defense because here we have an artificially construed case of aggression, save in the case that the infected spouse would try to force his way and then if that risk exists that would justify a physical separation of the couple. The prophylactic devise can not be considered either a therapy, first because it does not heal any conditions, second there is totally secure alternative which is abstinence. All these theories would lead to a disintegrative vision of human sexuality. A vision of sexuality that instead of being life giving is death giving.

The second objection is more serious, because it affects the right to life of the healthy member of the couple. It is in blatant contradiction with the fifth commandment. Condoms always lead to a partial risk and as a consequence to a partial failure that leads to the contagion of a deadly disease. If condoms are so effective at preventing HIV/AIDS transmission, why do nations that stress their use continue to experience at a rapidly escalating rate an exploding HIV/AIDS epidemic? Condoms do not guarantee protection against HIV/AIDS. Condoms may even be one of the main reasons for the spread of HIV/AIDS as we will demonstrate below.

A reasonable way of demonstrating the condom’s lack of effectiveness in preventing the transmission HIV/AIDS and STD’s is its limited effectiveness in preventing pregnancy. Taking into account that many instances it can be used not in accordance with the specifications, the failure rate can be from 10 to 14%. That many times this device is not going to be used in accordance with the instructions, should be obvious to any person that is not blind to the limitations of wounded human nature in particular in moments of passion. If pregnancy might happen in spite of the use of a condom, it is reasonable to conclude that transmission of STD would also occur. To that we have to add the obvious fact that pregnancy can happen during the limited five to eight days of women’s fertility cycle, while HIV/AIDS can be transmitted any day.

Condoms can fail due easily demonstrable causes that affect the integrity of this product: 1. Manufacturer errors or irresponsibility. There is plenty of evidence of batches of this product that have been found flawed, both in developed and developing countries. 2. Ill handling in transportation or storage that leads to the deterioration of this product. It is well known that this product can be adversely affected by either extreme heat or cold. 3. Diverse forms of imprudent or erroneous handling by the consumer, like keeping the prophylactic for a long period in his pockets. 4. Scientific literature demonstrates a plurality of causes of accidental breakage.

Besides the different manufacturer errors and accidents that hamper its effectiveness, the prophylactic has the permanent structural problem, as a defence against HIV/AIDS that the viruses of this disease are far smaller than the pores of the standard latex condom. It is difficult to evaluate how of many of those viruses can pass through those pores taking into account different factors like hydraulic tension of the walls of the condom and the fact that many are associated with spermatozoids that would not be able to pass through those pores. But also there is scientific evidence of the free viruses that could be able to pass through those pores.

Besides the risks that are incurred in every “protected action” in which the condom is used, we have a cumulative risk factor. Even if the risks were constant (and we know that they are not, because there are variants that change increasing or decreasing these risks) the repetition of the conduct at risk increases the probability of infection. What has to be considered therefore is not only the risk of each single condom use, but also of its continued use, a risk which dramatically increases in the medium or long term. One author, very reasonably claims that repeating seven times the “protected sex” by an HIV positive “protected” individual annuls from an “epidemiological” view point the hopes of receiving any protection at all. This means that the safe sex Russian Roulette becomes even more serious with repeated condom use. A person that persists in playing this ghastly game will eventually kill himself, in the same way that a person that persists in having sexual relations protected by a condom with someone infected with HIV/AIDS.

Even if the principal body fluids that can be a vehicle for the HIV/AIDS contagion are directly connected with sexual activity other body fluids can transmit this disease, so close physical contact can be an occasion for the transmission of this disease as there are many skin surfaces not covered by the condom. Also we have to keep in mind as scientific literature demonstrates to be the case that the external surfaces of the prophylactic device can be cause of infection.

Last but not least there is an important pastoral consideration that should be taken into consideration to maintain the current teaching of the Church, which is the scandal that many persons of good faith are suffering at the publication of the news of a possible change in the moral teachings of the Church. This office has received a multiplicity of messages expressing this concern, so it would be a very desirable pastoral measure that the rumours on possible changes in the moral teachings of the Church should be put to rest.

In 1930 the Anglican leaders used the same arguments for changing the centuries-long Christian consensus on contraception. They also said that married couples could use them “responsibly” and for “proportionate reasons” etc. and gave endorsement to the very immoral forces that eventually brought us the culture of death.

On the basis of the arguments put forward in this brief presentation Human Life International is of the considerate view that the teaching of the Church with regards to the use of condoms should not be changed or qualified to permit its use by a married couples in the case that one of the spouses is HIV positive.

Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro Carámbula
Director, HLI-Rome


I have taken the liberty of copying from Fr. Tim Finigan who himself obtained permission to post the statement on his blog, "The Hermeneutic of Continuity."
Click HERE for it.

7 Comments:

Blogger Be said...

The use of condoms by a married couple that will separate the unitive and procreative aspects of marriage can never be accepted.

I wonder if that should be "the unitive and procreative aspects of the marriage act" (C.f. HV 12).

6:43 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Hello, Vincent.

Good distinction.

However, if a condom is used, is it even a "marriage act"?

Further, outside of marriage, is the act authentically unitive?

9:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent piece from the Vatican. This announcement won't sit well with the sexually-obsessed culture of the USA.

The use of condoms to prevent HIV infection doesn't do it with the efficiency needed, but additionally it again runs into the basic theological precept of the sexual act between a married pair. It was very important to point out this lack of efficacy and I am glad to see the Vatican add that important note to what is otherwise a theological point.

8:30 AM  
Blogger Be said...

Hi Fr. Stephanos!

Based on my reading of William May, "condomistic sex" between spouses is not a "marriage act" because the former materially negates, at the very least, the unitive signification that's intrinsic to the latter.

Sex outside of marriage wouldn't be authentically unitive either because it doesn't embody personal self-giving in its entirety to which human sexuality is ordered (c.f. Patrick Lee and Robert George, "What Sex Can Be")

Extramarital "condomistic sex" goes further to emphasize the utter lack of interpersonal communion between the two involved.

The missing "act" in the HLI statement caught my attention because some argue from the principle of totality that the unitive and procreative significations in individual conjugal acts can be sacrificed to preserve the unitive and procreative dimensions of the whole of married life.

While the HLI statement is extremely helpful, the missing distinction between "marriage" and "the marriage act" could leave it vulnerable to the erroneous argument described above.

11:15 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Vincent, yes.

My questions were rhetorical.

I acknowledge the liability that can be present by omission of the word "act":
The use of condoms by a married couple that will separate the unitive and procreative aspects of marriage can never be accepted.

However, the statement is extremely strong by itself. Notice what the following alteration does.
The use of condoms by a married couple can never be accepted.

The phrase "that will separate the unitive and procreative aspects of marriage" is an explanatory inclusion that indicates the use of a condom disrupts the integrity of marriage--including but not only "the marriage act." It broadens the danger that a condom presents.

Introducing the word "act" could introduce the liability of seeing condom-use as affecting only the act of sexual intercourse and not the totality of the marriage.

A couple planning to marry but to use contraceptives is rendering invalid not merely their physical sexual intercourse, but the validity of their entire marriage.

1:30 PM  
Anonymous Mac McLernon said...

BTW, it's Fr Tim Finigan, not Fr Tom!!

1:16 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

I'll make the change right away.

1:23 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

Click HERE to go back to the front page of this blog.