In addition to the litany of unhelpful distortions and indulgence in wishful thinking on the part of some religion opinion writers over the weekend, some of the more rigorous in their ranks have provided helpful bits of writing on the Pope’s “condom comment.” One is Dr. Janet Smith’s helpful analysis, which offers this useful analogy on the condom-use question:
If someone was going to rob a bank and was determined to use a gun, it would better for that person to use a gun that had no bullets in it. It would reduce the likelihood of fatal injuries. But it is not the task of the Church to instruct potential bank robbers how to rob banks more safely and certainly not the task of the Church to support programs of providing potential bank robbers with guns that could not use bullets. Nonetheless, the intent of a bank robber to rob a bank in a way that is safer for the employees and customers of the bank may indicate an element of moral responsibility that could be a step towards eventual understanding of the immorality of bank robbing.
Still better is Jonah Goldberg’s excellent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, where he gets to the heart of Church critics’ philosophic error. He also reveals respect for the rationality of the Church’s view, even while he doesn’t fully accept it himself:
Over the weekend, the media (mis)reported that Benedict had renounced the Roman Catholic Church’s longstanding “policy” against condom use. I put “policy” in quotes because the media have a tendency to portray all church positions as if they were like rules for trash pickup; easily changed or abandoned upon papal or bureaucratic whim. That’s not how it works.
What Benedict said in a book-length interview is that in certain circumstances, using a condom would be less bad than not using one. To use Benedict’s example, a male prostitute with HIV would be acting more responsibly, more morally, if he wore a condom while plying his trade than if he didn’t.
The pontiff understands that not all harms are equal. Assault is wrong, for instance, but assault with a deadly weapon is more wrong than assault with a non-deadly one. Recognizing and limiting the harm you do can be the “first step in the direction of a moralization, a first act of responsibility in developing anew an awareness of the fact that not everything is permissible.”
Ross Douthat also offers useful commentary on his blog, in “Condoms, Catholicism and Casuistry” pointing to a 1996 interview in which then Cardinal Ratzinger showed his deep appreciation for the human and supernatural questions raised by the culture’s contraceptive impulse:
…Today we find ourselves before a separation of sexuality from procreation such as was not known earlier, and this makes it all the more necessary not to lose sight of the inner connection between the two. . . . [Third], the Church wants to keep man human … we cannot resolve great moral problems simply with techniques, with chemistry, but most solve them morally, with a life-style.