The CDF’s condom conclusion, and mine

When the pope’s comments on condoms ignited (yet another) controversy over the Church’s teaching on the subject one month ago, I and others were criticized for allegedly reading into the pope’s words what we wanted him to say. It was claimed we were twisting the pope’s words to suit our opinion.

Yesterday the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a clarification statement which supports our claim – that the pope introduced no new teaching and suggested no new pastoral practice in his condom comments – was correct. By a process of simple logic, this means that it was the revisionists – individuals who argued the pope had changed or “updated” the Church’s teaching – who were guilty of reading into the pope’s comments (as I have claimed from the beginning). Matt Bowman has already done a fine job of explaining the CDF statement. I want to examine the debate which led up to it.

This was not a debate between two valid views, one of which was vindicated and one of which was ruled out. Rather, it was a debate between those who approached this issue with the totality of the Church’s teaching and those who viewed this issue through a biased personal lens. Some people want the Church to change its teaching on condoms, and are thereby prone to getting the pope’s comments wrong.

Some at the Huffington Post were so misguided as to claim that two saints supported the pope’s statement on condoms (that is, back when the author thought the pope was allowing their use). Will they now admit that the pope’s actual comments are truly supported by the saints?

Some at Commonweal hailed the pope’s comments as “literally life-saving” (odd, considering the type of behavior under discussion). Will they now admit the pope’s actual comments are soul-saving?

Some at America Magazine accused us of unfairly “narrowing” the pope’s comments because “Change can be frightening” (to us, apparently). Will they now admit they unfairly broadened (and in fact, misunderstood) the pope’s comments and were needlessly afraid of unchanging truths?

Some at National Catholic Reporter sputtered nonsense about our being guilty of “binary analysis” and that we fail to see that “we live our lives in a world of grey?” Will they now admit the pope’s actual comments suggest a world of moral laws to be followed both day and night? 

Some at the UK Telegraph claimed we were “secretly cross at the pope” and couldn’t bring ourselves to admit that we disagreed with him. Will they now admit to secretly having disagreed with the Church’s teaching before they thought the pope had changed his mind and are now back to secretly disagreeing with the Church’s position – in effect, being cross at him?

I cite these examples and ask these questions because I want my readers to see what I saw when I first saw all these usual (and a few unusual) suspects instantly taking the pope so seriously once they thought he had given up a position they disagreed with and had embraced their own: I saw hypocrisy. This hypocrisy came out the most strongly when they proceeded to charge me and others who agreed with me of holding to our views more closely than the teachings of the pope and the Church.

So I’ll make this simple and ask them to follow suit: I’ve always agreed with the Church’s teaching on contraception and that “an action which is objectively evil, even if a lesser evil, can never be licitly willed.” Therefore, the pope was never saying the choice of using a condom for an immoral act can be licit. And I never disagreed with the pope on this issue because I never believed he had modified this teaching of the Church or departed from it. Now that the CDF has authoritatively commented on the question and confirmed my original understanding of the pope’s comments, I renew my firm commitment to that teaching, having never strayed from it in the first place.

The above is a statement which none of those who disagreed with my “interpretation” of the pope’s comments can say. Because they can’t, only one question remains: who was actually guilty of twisting the pope’s words to suit their personal opinion?

I’m harping on this for one reason: this same problematic comes up time and time again when Catholic issues are debated. On the one hand, you have Catholics who proudly support the Church’s teaching (and say so), and on the other, you have those who have at best a conflicted support of the Church’s teaching. I have no problem debating these issues, but I think I can remain reasonably pessimistic of making any progress on these debates if my interlocutors refuse to debate the issue as Catholics, and refuse to admit they are debating their personal views, not the views of the Church.

I believe that to be Catholic means to be joyfully following the teachings of the Church. And I propose that my position throughout this debate over the pope’s comments have reflected this commitment.

As for those who disagreed with my position, what do they believe?




  • TrueCatholic

    Bruce, I tried to respond earlier but there seems to have been some problem in the transmission of the message. I’m sorry if I’ve offended you or anyone else by my comments. That was certainly not my intention. In your post you say that God is truth and love. And you are right. He is surely truth AND love. We can’t have one without the other. It just seems to me that if we demonstrated by our example the love to which the Lord calls us, if those who do not believe or who have stopped believing could see that we who believe and who are willing to die for our Faith truly loved each other and them (1 John 3:11) that they might be moved to believe also. Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has told us more than once that we have to do all things with love, with true charity. That’s all that I was trying to say. I just don’t see us making any progress in changing society by sniping at each other or at those who don’t believe or who even ridicule us for our beliefs. Sorry if I offended you or anyone else. I wish everyone a truly blessed Christmas!

  • Bruce

    You know, I have been uncharitable. I’m sorry. But here is what I see just a little over a day before Christmas. (1) People defending abortion and misinterpreting/misstating Church teaching and the ERDs (2) People defending dissent against our Bishops and the Magisterium. Now, I may be an awful person, capable of violence and terrible sexual perversion. I admit it. I am a terrible sinner probably worse than all of you combined. But at least I admit it. I also admit that the Church has saved my life, and I would have taken it years ago without Her. I have studied Her in graduate school. I have taken abuse for Her. I know Her to be the only bulwark of truth in this terribly broken world, filled with hollowed-out losers like me. I know this. And I get ANGRY when I see Her abused with illogical, irrational, and just plain stupid comments, suggestions, and views. There is no such thing as “liberal” or “conservative” Catholicism. Just Catholicism. And we have rules based upon reason and Revelation. If you don’t like it, tough. I hated the Church’s views on sex and violence for thirty years, and I hated the Church too. Only by the Grace of Jesus Christ did I come to realize that She is right…about everything, and always will be, because She is the Body of Christ and He is our Head. There is no salvation outside of Her for me or any of you either. THAT is Christmas to me, and it is everyday for me. My life belongs to Christ and if you gave me no choice, I would die for Him. So keep your “venom” comments. Keep your “he is hurting my feelings” garbage. You’re libeling my Mother and my God and you’re going to have to kill me to get rid of me defending them. Abortion is always wrong…always. Sex that is not open to life nor within marriage is always wrong…always. Deal with it. I have because I know I have to. So do you. The alternative is death and Hell. That is the truth. Good night and Merry Christmas.

    • Vincent

      As someone who spends a lot of his time defending the Church’s teaching on lots of different topics, I appreciate the passion that you feel. I would just ask that you not see honest questions about how and when different definitions apply as somehow being disloyal or malicious. Abortion is always wrong. But is an operation which removes an irreversibly dying child from its mothers womb in order to save the mothers life an abortion? That’s a legitimate question. The answer might end up being yes, but there is nothing malicious or heretical about having a robust discussion of the question. Sex that is not open to life is wrong. But what does it mean to be open to life? Is a couple open to life if they are gladly willing to accept any “surprise” baby that comes along, but uses condoms as opposed to NFP to reduce the likelihood of conception? Does the answer to that question depend only on the physical mechanism by which the couple reduces the likelihood of conception? Does the comparative likelihood of conception of the two different methods matter? (What if NFP was actually less likely to result in conception?) Our principles may be black and white, but their application in a complicated world rarely is. At this point you are likely to say, “But that is why we have the magisterium to guide us in applying them.” And you are right. We must give due weight and deference to episcopal and papal teaching. But we must not give it total weight or blind allegiance. Our highest allegiance in discerning the will of God must be to conscience. If (important caveat!!!) I have made every effort to correctly form my conscience (studying Church teaching, trying to live it, praying about it, investigating relevant facts, seeking spiritual guidance, etc.) and my conscience still tells me to do and believe something different than Church teaching, then the Church says that I am duty bound to follow my conscience. And any half-honest review of Church history will reveal that it is only because people of faith have done this through the ages that the Church has been rescued from error. I trust that the Holy Spirit is at work in the Church. But that doesn’t mean that the Church is right in everything it teaches at every moment in time. It has happened often enough that the voice of the Holy Spirit in the Church comes through faithful people asking tough questions, not just through the hierarchy. I think those on the Catholic right (whatever that means) need to be more open to that idea, just as those on the Catholic left (whatever that means) need to be challenged to recognize that God does quite often speak through the institutional hierarchy. May God help us all. Merry Christmas.

    • TrueCatholic

      Bruce, My comment about the uncharitable approach here was not meant to indict anyone. We must stand up for the truth, always. But our Holy Father Benedict XVI has told us always to do it with charity. There are ways to make logical arguments, to defend the truths of our Faith, to stand up for Christ without spewing venom and hate. In your post in response to my first post you say, and rightly so, that God is truth AND love. You can’t have one without the other. We are to witness to that truth AND love. Perhaps if those who do not believe, or those who choose not to believe, would see the love of God reflected in our lives and in the way we treat one another (1 John 3:11) they would be moved by our example and come to the truth. Sorry if I offended you. That was the very thing I wanted to avoid. Blessed Christmas to you and to all who defend our Holy Mother Church.

  • Chris F.

    Funny thing about this, is that the Church never granted exceptions for condom use in marriages where one spouse has an incurable STD, such as genital herpes, while the other doesn’t. HIV is not any different, so why do we suddenly expect the Church to grant an exception. The truth, Vincent and others, is that She cannot, because that would be a lie. She knows that once God is taken out of the sexual act (i.e., open to life at all times, even if the couple is 80 years old and infertile…God can still work miracles as He has done time and time again), the sexual act is emptied of meaning. THERE WILL BE NO EXCEPTIONS FOR HIV MARRIED COUPLES, JUST AS THERE HAS NOT BEEN FOR ALL THESE DECADES OF OTHER STDS. HIV is no different. No exceptions. No condoms. If it is not open to life (and that means open to God’s creative power…infertility or monthly timing need not matter…which is why the Church approves of NFP – it is always a full act of completed intercourse that God can choose to use even if we consider it “scientifically” impossible). So, there you go. Case closed.

  • TrueCatholic

    The hate and truly unchristian venom that is spewed forth on this blog by both Thomas and some of those commenting is more than just a bit unsettling. Is is any wonder that so many people are turned off by those who profess total orthodoxy and unfailing devotion to the Magisterium — that is, until the Magisterium (read a Bishop) says or does something with which the bastion of orthodoxy disagrees. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus perhaps we might tone it down and at least practice civility.

    • Bruce

      Well, God is truth. Truth is love. God is truth and love. If you do not like truth, you do not like love, and you do not like God. Thomas and others have spoken the truth. I see no “venom”. Only truth.

  • Gunnar

    Thanks for staying on top of this. It was terribly disappointing seeing people reveal their hidden support of condom use, particularly the usually good Holy Smoke blog.

    From the beginning I was confused as to the confusion over the Pope’s statements. He never stated that condom use was good, but that an HIV infected prostitute who used a condom was simply beginning to think about others, a positive (but disordered) STEP in the right direction; not that the condom use was a moral good.



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