Thursday, 13 January 2011

Pope and Condoms - The misunderstandings continue...[Pt 2 in a series]

[Note : I was still refusing to comment on the issue - I was certain that everyone who thought the Pope was advocating condom-use was mistaken - that Damian had got the wrong end of the stick - and once a clarification came through  the issue would soon vanish - I sincerely thought there was no need to start a fight. Damian had made a simple mistake - it was a 'least said: soonest mended' scenario - and surely the misunderstanding wasn't going to last more than 48hrs???
Nevertheless - I'll provide you here with something similar to my thoughts while reading his article for the first time - but please note - I didn't say them! It may all seem highly uncharitable - and may look like I was being deliberately hostile  - but I absolutely adore this man [always will - he's a star!]- and I was so dumbstruck - then incredulous - then livid - that he should come out with this all this - I wanted to wring his bloody neck!!! But keep this is mind - even though he was wrong - he  was sincerely wrong - I'm relating this to ensure you understand where I'm coming from - and to make sure any reader realises that I was equally critical of friends as well as enemies ]
 
Pope Benedict's extraordinary comments about condoms and HIV reflect his charity and common sense

By Damian Thompson

The Pope will surprise this critics with these remarks [wonder if the 't' from 'this' or the 's' from 'critics' is the misprint?]

The news is confirmed:[It wasn't] Pope Benedict XVI is modifying[no - he's not - that would be impossible] the Catholic Church’s absolute ban[what's that?] on the use of condoms. In doing so, however, he is not radically[he would be if he was] departing from Church teaching but, rather, helping to clear up years of disastrous confusion [er..what is this confusion - pray tell?] relating to the specific area of condoms and Aids.[Ahhh! I get you now - you're referring to YOUR misunderstanding of Church teaching]

The Pope’s comments, in an interview to be published on Tuesday, are wise, humane[if you're going where I think you're going in this argument ? I think Pope Benedict and yourself have diammetrically opposing views as to what might be considered 'humane' in this regard ] , carefully balanced [doesn't it scare you when someone uses the word 'balanced' ? It usually it means someone's trying to sneakily get away with something] – and another reminder of the 83-year-old pontiff’s ability to surprise the world by refusing to conform to the stereotype of “hardline conservative”.[By hardline conservative I think Damian's referring to those few poor deluded misguided and lethally dangerous  African clerics who had  erroneously declared that if you're still going to have sex if you're hiv+ you must never use the evil condom! But moving on...]

Benedict XVI is not contradicting the teaching of Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae [No - he's not - but he would be if he was saying what I think you think he's saying Damo] that the use of artificial birth control is wrong.[wrong?!! Perhaps a little bit more than that dude? decaffeinated coffee is wrong - wearing purple y-fronts is wrong - Cliff Richard trying to sing the Our Father to the tune of Auld lang syne is wrong - but wilfully denying God the opportunity to bring new human life into Creation? Let's say it's somewhat more grave than being a bit naughty]
But, on the basis of the reports published this afternoon, he is softening its application in circumstances that could not possibly have been anticipated in 1968. [Sigh! What has the hiv/AIDS issue to do with contraception?]

Contrary to media reports, it has never been entirely clear whether the Church forbids the use of condoms to stop the spread of HIV. [Now - that IS WRONG!!! Catholic teaching is absolutely clear!]

Is it a sin to use a condom where not using one would condemn one partner to the horrors of HIV infection?
[It's a sin to have sex if one is hiv+ dude - you should know that]
Statements by leading [???!] clergymen, including African archbishops [the few whack-jobs], have indicated that the Church’s answer was “yes” – but several cardinals strongly disagree. [Sigh! What about telling us what the Church teaches ? You don't really know do you dude? If you seriously think there's a major fight among Catholics over condom-use by those who are hiv+ and sexually active ? You're mistaken dude! The fight is that they shouldn't be having sex in the first place! ]

In a controversial interview en route to Africa in March 2009, the Pope appeared to sign with hardliners when he suggested that the use of condoms helped to spread Aids in the continent. [Actually he said 'reliance...aggravated the problem' - something distinctly different and more informed]
The science behind that claim is contested, to put it mildly, and the Vatican seemed shocked by the almost universally hostile response it produced. [You can't tell the world that the Emperor has no clothes: Ideologically it was impossible for the West to promote the only effective solution - abstinence! It was seen as too unreasonable - too ridiculous to contemplate - The last taboo is telling people they can't have sex whenever and however they want]

Actually, it was not certain even then that Benedict XVI had come to a fixed view on the subject [absolutely,irrefutably UNTRUE!!!] and the interview to be published on Tuesday indicates that he has been giving the matter deep thought. [In a word? Bollocks! Church teaching on the issue is easy enough for a child to understand : If you can kill by having sex - you MUST NOT have sex ; if you're defiantly going to gravely sin - you MUST mandatorily decrease the gravity of the sin - there's no 'deep thought' required !!!]

His comments to Peter Seewald reaffirm his belief that the use of condoms is not “the answer” to Aids – but he goes on to say that “in certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality”. [He was referring to the INTENTION 'in certain cases' - not the means of exercising that intention [i.e.condom-use] dude - unless you're saying he's wilfully contradicting himself and everything the Church has taught for millennia?]

He also says: “There may be justified individual cases, for example when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be … a first bit of responsibility, to redevelop the understanding that not everything is permitted and that one may not do everything one wishes. But it is not the proper way to deal with the horror of HIV infection.”

Arguably, the subtlety [???!!!!]of this moral judgment simultaneously pulls the rug from under the feet of certain Catholic conservatives [Does it?] (who oppose any softening of the line on condoms)
[what is this 'line on condoms? Damian - do you sincerely believe that 'conservative' Catholics are saying that anyone with hiv who is having sex must never use a condom ? It looks like you do ! Conservative Catholics are saying you must Abstain - only a few residual misguided African clerics maintain the position you seem to think the majority of conservative Catholics hold - news dude: They don'! ]
and liberals (who want Church teaching drastically changed to permit condoms within marriage).

We shall have to wait to see how the Pope expounds his views – but the common sense reading of these remarks is that he regards the use of a condom as a lesser evil than the transmission of an infection that he rightly describes as a “horror”. [Lesser evil ? Sorry dude - but you aren't getting this at all . The action - risking another's life - is already gravely evil - reduction of the risk by condom use is not 'lessening' the evil - it's simply not aggravating an already deplorable contravention of the fifth commandment. You seem to be under the impression that this is an innovative Church position to make this action 'permissible' or 'recommended' - instead of it being eternal MANDATORY Church teaching - if you're going to do something you are expressly commanded not to do - there is still the absolute obligation to not aggravate or compound one's grave sin - rather than the Church saying you should use a condom in such circumstances - it commands you MUST]

If that is Benedict’s considered opinion, then I suspect that only a small minority of the faithful will disagree with him.
The argument that it is better to infect someone with a deadly virus than to use a condom is a cruel misjudgment, [Who in the name of all sanity - apart from the odd misguided African nut-job - ever said that ?] particularly when it is backed up by pseudoscience claiming that the virus can jump through holes in the rubber.
[Yet again - Who said that ? Apart from the aforementioned rare misguided few ? Yes they've been widely reported with their exaggerated figures of condom failure - gravely irresponsible African archbishops declaring most condoms have holes etc...
....but Does Damian truly believe that the major proposed argument against the safety of condoms is microlesions ?
Does he think those who oppose condom use on safety grounds are so unscientific? 
This is the author of 'Counterknowledge' - Yes ?!!!
Why should anyone expressing grave concern over condoms appeal to microlesions rather than misapplication, cross-contamination, slippage and breakage ? 
When 12.9% of London gay men are hiv+ ; and 70% of them say they seroconverted while using condoms ? When the Cochrane report [2007] states that condoms are only 80% effective in the reduction of seroconversion among heterosexual couples.
Anyone who's using a condom thinking it will guarantee them safety and prophylaxis should be deeply concerned!!!]

The core of Catholic teaching on contraception – that artificial birth control interferes with God’s purpose – remains intact, as the Pope certainly intends it to. He upholds the teaching of Paul VI and John Paul II [Dude- actually it's 2000 yr old moral teaching of Christ, St Paul and the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church from its inception - and 1800yrs of Judaism before that] that sex should take place only between a married man and woman and must be free of artificial contraceptive devices.

But today’s news does raise one intriguing question. Would the Polish Pope, who consistently sounded a stern note on matters of sexuality [somebody hasn't read 'Theology of the Body' sic!], have adjusted the application of church teaching in this fashion?
[Adjusted what application ? Dude you're still not getting this are you ? and do you honestly think that Pope John Paul II thought and taught that sexually active people with hiv must never use a condom ? JPII would be outraged that any were continuing to have sex and potentially murder their partner - but just as outraged if they didn't use a condom while doing it]
It is, shall we say, hard to imagine him doing so. [No harder than imagining that you could think so many Catholics were so evil as to think that someone hiv+ using a condom was more sinful than someone not using one!]

PS: Several commenters on the thread below have accused me of misrepresenting the traditional position against condoms. So let me clarify: I’m not referring to the arguments for or against abstinence-based programmes of Aids prevention, but to crude advice given at local level to HIV positive people that essentially bans them from protecting themselves and others. [No - Sorry Damian : You can't get away with stating it's the Conservative [even previously Papal] and up-to-now pseudo-magisterial position to say 'no condoms for whatever reason at any time - even when you're violently assaulting another while infected with a deadly disease' - and then retreat to "well it's definitely the position of some in Africa" [which nobody will deny - but the majority of Conservative Catholics holding the same position????] - you've said one thing - either stand by it or retract it]
There are also plenty of unscientific claims about the ineffectiveness of condoms in preventing disease – and worse: in 2007, the Archbishop of Maputo said that western drug companies were infecting condoms with HIV. [Yes some terrible claims - shamefully lethal mendacious scandals - but I've yet to see you condemning Western health organisations and Gay men's medical advice websites that state a condom is 100% effective and it is impossible to get hiv from a correctly used condom - When the science says differently!! It's less than a year ago that it was reported in the Times that Spanish manufacturers of polyurethane condoms [the  'ultra-safe' variety - recommended for gay men and sexually active hiv+] were being produced with an acceptable safety limit of 95.5% !!!! A safety limit three times lower than for ordinary condoms ! Yes dude - we're perfectly willing to concede that a few African prelates have lied about condoms being unsafe - but what about the systemic Western misrepresentation [i.e. lie!] that condoms are absolutely safe! Play fair dude!]

Well? I didn't say anything on this thread - I tried to keep well away from the whole thing - It was certain it was all going to be resolved almost immediately. I was wrong!

Comment on Damian Thompson's blog by Joseph Yarbrough
 @HolySmoke, it sounds to me as though you never understood the argument behind the Pope's statement on the way to Africa. 
There's nothing pseudo-science about it: the use of condoms (and we're talking simple truths here) will increase promiscuity and lead, over time, to a greater number of new infections.
This is borne out by the reality in the field: where have condoms been successful in reversing AIDS? Abstinence, however, has worked.
The Pope was entirely right in what he said on his way to Africa: condoms are not a long-term solution to the problem, but they'll actually make things worse, as their availability will make sex "cheaper" and so more readily indulged in. 
And where do you get this nonsense about the virus jumping through the rubber?? What fool has ever said that?
The fact is that all contraceptives have a certain failure rate, and condoms among the highest. Used properly, of course they'll stop the disease; but there are lots of ways they can fail, and the substantive issue is what their availability and promotion does to promiscuous sex across population over time, not in a given instance of successful condom use.
But about this "change" in Church teaching; the Pope is gonna change Church teaching in an interview with Seewald? 
I'm skeptical. It seems more reasonable to say that the issue was never defined - has it been? 
No rulings from the CDF on this in response to dubia from bishops? 
Certainly, there really could be something interesting here: the issue is whether an infected spouse is required to abstain from intercourse or can use a condom to engage in "safe" sex with his spouse. For further reading.

Comment on Damian Thompson's blog by someone with the pseudonym "Starr"

Damian,
I am going to be a little presumptious here.

While I understand your issue with African bishops I nevertheless don't think you can make the case that the Pope's comments indicate they should say it is better to use a condom then infect someone or whatever it is you would prefer them to say. Reading your posts and your comments here, I get the sense that you are running away a bit off course, and possibly creating a misconception.

For a start, have you read the book? Can you tell us the entire context of this extract?

Is it perhaps of any relevance that the example which he addressed here was of a male prostitute? Is that likely to be someone engaging in homosexual sex (given most male prostitutes offer male-male sex)?
If so, is it relevant that homosexual sex is not inherently procreative?
If contraception is intrinsically evil (if I understand current Catholic teaching right) is it intrinsically evil in homosexual sex as well?
Is he making a distinction between homosexual and heterosexual sex?
Is he now saying it is circumstantially evil only in the case of homosexual sex (which would be a bit radical maybe?) And well how, relevant are male prostitutes in Africa given most AIDs in Africa is transmitted by heterosexual sex?

If a male prostitute would ask a bishop now, in view of the Pope's statement, should I use a condom what do you think a bishop should say?
Would a Catholic be a prostitute in the first place?
Would a non-Catholic even care to ask such a question or care about a bishop's answer?
Would the church say go forth prostitutes and use condoms?
Will they now support campaigns to distribute condoms to prostitutes?
Perhaps the church get involved in such programs as well?

Somehow, I don't think so.

In fact IS the Pope saying anything about the use or non use of condoms or is he REALLY pointing to what their use in certain contexts may signifiy in terms of an awakening or formation of one's moral conscience which may guide one towards the proper view of sex, towards a 'humane' sex.

I am not claiming to know the answers myself, but I have read some commentary from various people who have read the book and will act as a sort of PR team/frontline for the press. Each and every one of them say that even in a few 'controversial' sections the Pope is entirely consistent with what he has always taught.

You however, seem to be suggest he has changed (can you reconcile this with his comments on the plane on his visit to Africa and elsewhere) or at the very least, you seem to have seized on this as the very club you have been seeking to bludgeon those African bishops and whoever else over the head.

I'm not a Catholic but you are, and you have a high profile which affords you the opportunity to influence others and/or disseminate a particular (perhaps erroneous, incomplete, misinformed) view particularly here on a blog where you can express a personal view. Given you have a deep love for the Church and have also made some pretty wild whacky guesses and predictions in the past, should you perhaps be treading a little more carefully on this? Maybe just lisen to what he was trying to say rather than try to mould it to fit into your agenda?

[later Peter Williams adds his four-penn'orth to the conversation]

As I remarked in the last post, and rather seriously, I do wonder what traditionalists like @OTSOTA and pharasaical conservatives like John Smeaton will make of this, especially given their smearing of anyone who even seems to affirm (whether they actually do or not) the 'double effect' argument on sex between a serodiscordant married couple, as 'dissenters'.

As Damian Thompson rightly points out, this is not yet a matter that has been decided by the Magisterium, and consequently faithful orthodox Catholics can disagree on this in good faith and conscience.

The Church has had the opportunity to clarify this question, but I reckon that it doesn't want to, due to the confusion this might cause. However, given that the Holy Father has now made this very humane and rational comment (which, as I have also stated, in no way liberalises the Church's fundamental opposition to Contraception, or its evidence-based policy on HIV prevention), despite the clear potential for confusion amongst lay-people on this point, perhaps this will pave the way for this very contentious bioethical issue to be settled?

In any case, let the crypto-Lefebvrists and liberals wail, but orthodox Catholics will recognise the humanity, rationality, and moral truth, of the Holy Father's position.

[...and yet again I will refrain from commenting on Peter Williams's statement  - but please keep it on a back-burner - because it's going to be important - very soon]

Here's Joseph Yarbrough's link

From Joseph Shaw's Philosophy Blog
The Pope on AIDS and condoms

My attention has been drawn to a very interesting article on Alligator online by Michael Webb, which goes into some detail about the research on the effectiveness of condoms. The Pope's claim that condoms 'make things worse' with the AIDS epidemic in Africa has overwhelming plausibility to those who have watched the failure of contraception to reduce so-called 'unwanted pregnancies', and, for that matter, ordinary sexually-transmitted diseases, in the West. If fire-hosing condoms at people doesn't reduce pregancies, it is not going to work with AIDS either. In fact we actually see an increase of pregnancies, and abortions, where contraceptives have been pushed at people; a similarly tragic consequence, one may infer, is likely to happen with AIDS. The fact that the advocates of condoms refuse to accept that this is happening, and insist the situation would be even worse without the condoms, just shows the blind attachment to ideology when you face ostracism and redundancy for dissent.


Why condoms might be counterproductive as preventers of pregnancies and AIDS is, intuitively, that promoting contraception promotes a culture of promiscuity, and the culture of promiscuity is actually not very friendly to putting those rubber things on just at the moment life is getting interesting. Webb, however, uncovers some very interesting research which not only supports the casual empiricism against condoms but gives a slightly different (though not conflicting) explanation, that of 'risk compensation'. When you make an activity safer, people performing the activity will take more risks with it: see 'The Pope was right' on the Cornell Society.


Everything we do is based on an assessment of benefit and risk. We have a certain appetite for risk (as they say in finance), and if something becomes safer, we'll tend to go for the extra benefits associated with taking on another slice of risk. This is really not controversial; the only question, in making things safer in any given situation, is whether the risk compensation will end up making the situation worse over all. It will depend on how much safer people are made to feel, and what the opportunities for greater risk-taking might be.


People in countries afflicted by AIDS are still willing to engage in promiscuous sex: hence AIDS continues to spread. Whatever the (perceived) risk they are running is, that is a level of risk they are happy to live with. If you give them condoms and they wear them 50% of the time, thinking that makes them 50% safer, they would rationally double their number of partners to get back up to the old level of risk. The reward of doing this, of course, is fantastic: twice as many partners! There may, of course, be other factors.


So much for the principle. But this is exactly what many researchers have found. Over to Michael Webb:


Dr Edward Green, Director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at Harvard. “The best evidence we have”, he says, “supports the Pope’s comments. There is a consistent association shown by our best studies between greater availability and use of condoms and higher (not lower) HIV infection rates.” He told me:

In epidemics that are population wide, where most HIV is found in the general population, for whatever reason we can't get people to use condoms consistently, and when they use them at all, that seems to have the effect of disinhibiting people's behaviours so they end up taking greater sexual risks and cancelling whatever risk reduction they have gotten from the technology they're using.

Webb points out that the studies making this point are fairly limited in number: no surprise there, since this is not a conclusion the AIDS industry wants to hear. He also points out that there is agreement accross the debate that IF condoms were used 'consistently and correctly', and IF behaviour didn't change, then condoms would help with AIDS: true, but irrelevant.


More interstingly, Webb makes the odd conclusion that 'the Pope should not make claims that can be interpreted as being scientific.' This is odd because he adds that the Pope's remarks were interpreted as making a claim not supported by the evidence. But the body of Webb's article has shown that it is perfectly scientifically respectable to hold that view; it may not be the view of the WHO but there is plenty of evidence for it, and the WHO is not infallible.


A deeper reason for Webb's criticism of the Pope, however, is that the Pope's position is, or ought to be, really a matter of moral teaching: against promiscuity, and against contraception. Webb seems to think that if this was made clearer, criticism of the Pope would have less traction.


It is true that the Pope's position is driven by moral concerns, and the moral teaching of the Church. But it is because voicing this moral teaching has been condemned as tantamount to mass murder - as Jon Snow gently put it, the Pope is responsible for 'millions of deaths' - that it become necessary to look into the claims being made about the effectiveness of condoms.


Catholic reseachers and all people of good will can and must refute the lies which are used to justify crimes. The Nazi genocide was unjustifiable, but people were persuaded to go along with it on the basis of grotesque lies about the Jews. The Church has had to contend with 'black legends' in every age; the work of the Bollandists on Church history is an example of her response. It is true that even if they were successful, condoms would not be justified, but the Pope in concerned to influence opinion and policy, and the lies must be opposed.


The idea that Catholics should leave the 'facts' in the hands of their opponents to distort at will only has to be stated to be rejected.


...and meanwhile other Orthodox commentators were also jumping into the fray.


Did the Pope “justify” condom use in some circumstances?
A close look at the text reveals no change to Church teaching.
By Father Joseph Fessio, S.J.

Did the Pope “justify” condom use in some circumstances?

No. And there was absolutely no change in Church teaching either. Not only because an interview by the Pope does not constitute Church teaching, but because nothing that he said differs from previous Church teaching.

Then why all the headlines saying that he “approves” or “permits” or “justifies” condom use in certain cases?

That’s a good question. So good that the interviewer himself asked virtually the same question during the interview.

The Pope made a statement in the interview, which statement has now been widely quoted in the worldwide media. Immediately, the interviewer, Peter Seewald, posed this question: “Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?”

The Pope clarified and expanded on his previous statement.

So let’s look at the two statements.

After saying that

“we cannot solve the problem [of AIDS] by distributing condoms…”

and that “the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality…”

the Pope says: There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants.
But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection.
That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality”.

That is a heavily qualified, very tentative statement. Nevertheless, it prompted Seewald’s question, quoted above.
But let’s first take a closer look at this statement.

The original German for “There may be a basis in the case of some individuals…” is “Es mag begründete Einzelfälle geben….” The English here is a faithful, accurate translation.“Begründete” comes from “Grund” = “ground,” and it means both the soil we stand on and a logical foundation.
There is some ambiguity because it could have the weak sense of “some basis for” or a strong sense of “a logical or ethical foundation for.” This is perhaps why Seewald asked the follow-up question, so we’ll turn to that in a moment.

It is important to note that there are two very serious mistranslations in the Italian version of the Pope’s remarks, upon which many early reports were based, since the embargo was broken by the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. (That’s another story.) First, the German speak of “ein Prostituierter,” which can only be a male prostitute. The normal German word for prostitute is “[eine] Prostituierte,” which is feminine and refers only to a woman. The Italian translation “una prostituta” simply reverses what the Pope says.

Equally problematically, “giustificati” = justified, was used in the Italian translation of “begründete,” and arbitrarily resolves the ambiguity one-sidedly.

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” (emphasis mine).

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.

...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.

Well? So far things were looking ok - Sure the media had got it all wrong, a few commentators had misunderstood what was being said - but it was only a case of minor damage-limitation...
Little did I have any idea what would follow.....

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