Monday, March 30, 2009

This is not the bishop who says condoms are sometimes needed.

A Portuguese bishop has said that people with AIDS must use condoms to prevent the spread of the disease, apparently contradicting Pope Benedict XVI, who said the distribution of condoms could endanger public health.
Speaking to journalists, the Bishop of Porto Manuel Clemente said condoms in such cases are "not only recommendable, they can be ethically obligatory."

On a trip to Africa earlier this month, the pope told reporters, "You can't solve (the AIDS crisis) with the distribution of condoms," adding, "On the contrary, it increases the problem."The Vatican insists AIDS should be controlled by changing people's behavior.

"The great solution to the AIDS problem, like any other problem, has to be behavioral," Clemente said.

However, AIDS sufferers "have a moral obligation to prevent and not provoke the illness," he said at a monument unveiling in the port city Sunday.

Clemente is the second Portuguese cleric to contradict Pope Benedict XVI. Armed Forces bishop Januario Torgal Ferreira said a week ago that to ban condom use was equivalent to consenting to the death of many people.

He added that the people giving the pope advice "should be more learned." (The trouble is if you think you already have all the answers you have no reason to learn anything more.)


Seems the Catholic world is in the midst of debate on two major issues, abortion and the use of condoms in AIDS prevention. Bishops are finally demonstrating they have differences with the Vatican. In the case of Archbishop Fisicella and the Brazilian rape case, there are differences even with in the Vatican. What's a Pope to do?

Apparently Benedict has opted to stick with the absolute bottom line. The best way to protect oneself from AIDS and abortions is celibacy. Sex itself leads to these problems so the way one avoids them is to be celibate or monogamous. This is all based on natural law, except in real nature, sex is not expressed either celibately and rarely monogamously, as those two conditions do not express the genetic diversity necessary to keep a species viable. That seems to be true for human nature as well.

Humans have compensated for the length of time it takes to raise their biological progeny and for males to spread their seed, by developing social systems which accommodate predominately male sexual expression. Humanity has been fairly creative in how these social arrangements have been constructed. Polygamy seems to have been a favorite choice as it crosses a lot of different cultures. Another favorite choice seems to be the public marriage and the hidden mistress, especially in Catholic countries. Sexual experimentation before marriage for males, is another all time favorite. The old wink and nod 'boys will be boys' before they become men kind of response. And then there's the tried and true oldest profession, prostitution in all it's forms. Almost all cultures, condemn in one form or another, a similar compensatory situation for women.

What the Church has historically failed to meaningfully address are these issues of social compensation for male sexual expression. The current Pope's take on condemns is one such case, which is why I find Bishop Clemente's take refreshing. He's honest about the fact most cultures do not demand sexual monogamy in males. If we aren't serious about this then we must get serious about the consequences of those attitudes. If males are HIV positive it must then become immoral for them to exercise their sexuality without using condoms, and it should be the right of a sexual partner to demand that they do. Or as Bishop Ferriera says, "to ban condom use was equivalent to consenting to the deaths of many people."

Africa's entrenched cultural attitudes towards the rights of male sexual expression is one of the major reasons that it has been difficult to get a handle on the HIV pandemic. This is especially true with regards to polygamy and prostitution. Every NGO understands that changing male cultural attitudes and the consequent attitudes of women to their own sexual rights is critical to the fight against HIV. Empowering women is most likely going to be far more effective than handing out condoms.

There are partner trust issues in which one partner feels to request the use of a condom implies lack of trust in their partner. There are issues of feel, in which males don't like the feel of sex with a condom. There are issues of power with in family relationships, and this includes mothers in law with their son's wives. Their are issues of stigma in which neither sex will get tested until it's too late. There are a lot of issues in Africa which need to be addressed and no one thinks the condom is the panacea, but neither is the Pope's approach.

Bishop Clemente is right. The Pope could shore up his own arguments if he insisted it is morally reprehensible for an HIV infected person to engage in sex without protection. Of course Benedict can't do that, because making this distinction undercuts Humanae Vitae and his own teaching authority. Popes have taught that non procreative sex is mortally sinful in all it's expressions. So once you have in theory deemed masturbation and the use of birth control as more morally reprehensible than rape, you can't exactly extol the use of condoms in any sexual situation. Even if it prevents the death of an innocent person. Mortal sin is after all mortal sin, nuancing mortal sin could be seen as relativism. God forbid.

I guess Benedict could say "as long as you're on you way to hell anyway, you might as well use a condom on the way down". Kind of like my mother use to say, "If you're going to be tactless, be nice about it." I doubt we'll ever hear even that lame reasoning from this Vatican.

I suspect we will continue to hear vague high blown statements about respect for women and women's genius, but no specific statements about men's direct contributions to the lack of respect for women and women's creative genius. Not when we demand nine year old girls carry products of incestuous rape to full term. No respect for women or innocent girls in that one, only the demand that they accept the fact they are at the mercy of their reproductive system as controlled by the whims of men.

That's true everywhere in the third world, women at the mercy of the sexual drive of men. The ban on condoms and the absolute stance on abortion makes it very evident that as far as the Church goes women will have to be dependent on men controlling themselves. Since society, including the Church, only gives lip service to that notion, I say Bishop Clemente is absolutely right. Pass out the condoms. I also say Archbishop Fisicella is absolutely right, it's time for some realistic compassion when it comes to abortion and viciously exploited female humanity.

Hopefully these prelates represent a small but growing contingency amongst the hierarchy that substituting absolutism for dealing with reality is neither Christ like nor effective in dealing with real life problems. One can hope anyway.


A spokesman for Archbishop Wuerl said church officials in Washington would act in accordance with the admonition from Kansas City. A church official in Washington said the admonition does not prohibit priests from serving Mrs. Sebelius if she does present herself, but declined to speculate on what would happen in that event. (Quote taken from Washington Times. Also there is this response as posted on the National Catholic Reporter.)

Apparently both bishops have decided to honor Bishop Naumann's request, except it sounds like double speak, especially Bishop Loverde's response to Archbishop Burke. What I really think is happening is that both Wuerl and Loverde are trusting Governor Sebelius will honor this and not make an issue of it. Exactly as she has done in Kansas. If that turns out to be the case, she has more integrity than two wishy washy bishops.


  1. How does one reconcile the stupidity and deceit that is so rampant within the leadership?

  2. The Holy Spirit is empowering and enlightening and it seems that those who have true friendship with Jesus are last in the hierarchy of things in the Church now, but they will be first, those priests and laity who proclaim the truth as gifted to them by the Holy Spirit. Within the Church itself, those who are last will be first, and those first shall be last.

    First we must undergo this painful last surge of fundamentalist extremism aka stupidity and deceit, and then the pruning of such dead limbs and the sound of them falling to the ground to return to dust.

    Is this not the Natural Law that dead limbs shall fall to the ground during a storm?

    Is it not the Supernatural Law that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against the Holy Spirit?

    Is the deposit of faith not placed within those who love God?

  3. One is not supposed to reconcile stupidity and deceit. One is supposed to point them out.

    I think our task may not be to under go fundamentalist extremism, we've had enough of that. The task is to over come fundamentalist extremism or let them over come themselves with their own deceit, narrowness, and rejection.

  4. Couldnt we just "nuke em till they glow?"