Here's a very sad story from Great Britain. Twenty-two-year-old Nick Wallis suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which leaves him physically but not mentally disabled and which will probably kill him sometime in his thirties. Mr. Wallis, quite naturally, tries to lead as full a life as possible, and when he went to university he had hoped to form a romantic attachment with a suitable young woman. This didn't happen. So, convinced that he's very unlikely to experience sexual intercourse in any other way before he dies, he recently hired a prostitute.
Now, this is not something of which Christians should approve. Fornication, the Christian tradition has always taught, is gravely wrong, and fornication with a prostitute is especially bad. "Do you not see that your bodies are members of Christ? Would you have me take Christ's members and make them the members of a prostitute? God forbid! Can you not see that the man who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her?" (1 Cor. 6:15).
Nor is this only the Christian view. Plato took a similar position in his Laws. More generally, we ought not view sexual pleasure as merely one aspect of a full life for ourselves, something like seeing the Grand Canyon; it's something that by its nature is interpersonal and ought be ordered to larger goals with a view to the final end of human existence. Still, Mr. Wallis' case is sympathetic. The guilt of any sin depends not only on the action performed but also on the circumstances, which can mitigate (though not fully remove) guilt even when the action is of the kind that ought never be performed. Given Mr. Wallis' very difficult circumstances, we should all feel sorry for him and not judge him harshly.
But there's more to this story. We know about Mr. Wallis' encounter with the prostitute not because it was somehow accidentally disclosed but because Mr. Wallis is willingly telling his story both on a BBC special about disabled individuals living in hospices and in an interview with the Telegraph. (You'll be interested to know that the sexual encounter was "not emotionally fulfilling, but the lady was very pleasant and very understanding"; she apparently specializes in meretricious sexual services for the disabled--a division of labor that even Adam Smith could never have foreseen.) Mr. Wallis is going public with his story, he explains, "in order that people may understand the issues that face people in my situation." Really? I think anyone of normal intelligence with decent human feelings can understand that seriously disabled people miss out on large parts of human life and that this very often includes romantic and erotic relationships. Couldn't Mr. Wallis have made this point to the BBC without disclosing that he patronized a prostitute?
"I suppose," Mr. Wallis continues, "some people may be judgmental." By judgmental, of course, Mr. Wallis means that some people might think that what he did was wrong. He's right about this; I think what he did was wrong. But, to be clear, when I say this, I'm not thinking of his sexual adventure with the prostitute; that's a natural, human, very understandable kind of wrongdoing that I think we should look on with compassion. I think he's gone far wrong, however, in deciding to publicize this escapade and hold it up as something good and noble and worthy of imitation by others similarly situated. That is not a sin of the flesh. That is a deliberate, intellectual form of wrongdoing. It's calling evil good and so leading others astray.
The saddest part of this story, however, is that Mr. Wallis seems to have no friends who were willing to speak the truth to him about this. His parents, for example, accommodated his desire by providing the family home as a safe environment for his assignation with the prostitute. And, oh yes, the Anglican nun who runs the hospice where Mr. Wallis lives, Sister Frances Dominica, supported him in his decision. "It is not our job to make moral decisions for our guests," says Sister Frances. "We came to the conclusion that it was our duty of care to support Nick emotionally and to help ensure his physical safety."
A word to Sister Frances: Real nuns don't run brothels.
Robert T. Miller is an assistant professor at the Villanova University School of Law.