Thursday, December 2, 2010

Pope Approves Padded Pipes for Mugging

I'm sure all of you know about the Pope's recent comment on condom use; but just in case, here it is:

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.

Peter Seewald, interviewing B16: Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

She of course 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.


This has caused quite a firestorm amongst the news media, as the Catholic position is (or, in their minds, was) that condoms are never morally justified. I think quoting smarter people than I is the best way to go about expaining the truth of the matter; these guys are way more succint. Fr. Fessio on the Condom discussion:

Here’s an example of [the] distinction that parallels what the Pope said. Muggers are using steel pipes to attack people and the injuries are severe. Some muggers use padded pipes to reduce the injuries, while still disabling the victim enough for the mugging. The Pope says that the intention of reducing injury (in the act of mugging) could be a first step toward greater moral responsibility. This would not justify the following headlines: “Pope Approves Padded Pipes for Mugging,” “Pope Says Use of Padded Pipes Justified in Some Circumstances,” or "Pope Permits Use of Padded Pipes in Some Cases.”

Of course, one may morally use padded pipes in some circumstances, e.g., as insulated pipes so that hot water flowing through them doesn’t cool as fast. And one may use condoms morally in some cases, e.g. as water balloons. But that also would not justify the headline “Pope Approves Condom Use”, though in this case it could be true. But it would be intentionally misleading.


Fr. Fessio then continues in a later article:

But didn’t the Pope say that sex cum condom to prevent infection is a lesser evil? Well, the Pope didn’t say that, at least in his book...[b]ut the Pope could have said it, because in one sense it’s true. [The problem is that] many educated people no longer understand the ethics of the “lesser evil”. It’s not difficult to understand, though. The crucial distinction is: one may tolerate a lesser evil; one may never morally do something which is a lesser evil. In the case of condom usage, the good of protecting against infection cannot justify the immoral sexual act, even though performing that act with a condom may be a lesser evil than performing it without one.

Is the use of a condom in the intent to prevent death a lesser evil than ignoring the possibility of death completely? YES. Yes, yes, yes. Of course it is. And the Church can and (I think, in many cases) does "acknowledge" lesser evils in that they are happy to see any movement towards a life of virtue and morality. But the problem, as Fr. Fessio says, is that tricky second word, the word that follows 'lesser'...the word 'evil'. The Church is not interested in pointing out less evil options for the world to consider; it is interested in pointing out the good, the true, and the beautiful. As my humorous fictional title suggests, it would be ridiculous for the Pope to go around all the time encouraging people to be slightly less evil. "Pope Encourages Smaller, More Contained Genocides." "Pope Upholds Charity in Some Cases." "Occassionally Loving Others Might Be Wholesome, Says Pope." I mean, we could go on and on and on!! The point is, the ideal is always more important than the various shades and shadows of it. It is the duty of Christians to maintain the truth. Not the half-truths.

And the truth is that condom use is not the ideal, and it is not moral. The immediate response to this is that condoms provide the only protection from STDs, most specifically the deadly AIDS virus - and how can it be immoral to protect oneself and others from death?? Well, probably because it doesn't fully protect you even when used perfectly, and, as a whole, it is not used properly. Upholding condoms as an answer to the STD/AIDS epidemics in 3rd-world countries only aids the spread of AIDS. And this ain't even me talkin'. This is massive amounts of research on the subject talkin'. Yes, those are 4 hyperlinks to 4 different studies that all agree on these few points:

1. Used properly, effectively, and absolutely consistently (a.k.a., perfectly), condoms are 85% to 90% effective at preventing the transmission of most sexually transmitted diseases.

2. Condoms are generally not used perfectly; either they are not used properly, or their use is inconsistent, or the condom breaks or otherwise "malfunctions" - and each study notes that transmission can occur with a single act of intercourse.

3. Each study further notes that (and here I'm just going to quote the last study)"[t]he most reliable ways to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, including human immunodeficiency virus, are to abstain from sexual activity or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner."

4. Finally, these studies have consistently found that the real way to address HIV/AIDS epidemics is to break down the sexual networks through which the virus spreads. This breakdown occurs only through the abovementioned two strategies - no sex or sex with one partner. Otherwise the connections are so vast that entire communities are sexually connected to one another.

This is why Fr. Fessio says:

...[I]t has been shown (and it makes sense) that when there is widespread use of condoms, the sense of security against risk leads to greater promiscuity: more frequency; more partners. And this leads to overall greater risk of disease among the sexually active population. So, in this sense, condom usage is the greater evil. (Emphasis mine).

Unfortunately, the Hollywood hook-up culture has decided that 85 to 90% effective condoms which when (perfectly) used would result in 10 to 15% of the population being infected is acceptable. Which is horrific, when you actually think about it. Nobody would get on an airplane if they had those percentages of dying. No one would go swimming if they said there was a 10-15% chance of being attacked and slaughtered by sharks. So why are we willing to take THIS risk? Because we are unable, or unwilling, to live life according to reality. The last thing we want is someone criticizing our free-sex society, and the last thing we want to do is give in and say, "You know what? Maybe, when it's really, really important, we should be able to abstain from sex. Or maybe I'll just stick with one person. I guess. Maybe."

Which is such a stupid attitude to take, considering that monogomy is the secret to more than just halting the AIDS epidemics. It's the secret to child-rearing, too. Oh, and wealth.

But whatever...who wants to stop AIDS epidemics, raise a great family and be well off?

Much thanks go to Fr. Fessio, who did not authorize my post but who put his words out on the internet. Which means I feel no shame for using them. Unless I get a phone call from him about it. In which case I will indeed feel ashamed. So only tell him about it if you think he won't strike me down.

25 comments:

  1. If you think about it, Religion is not unlike the condom: It is used only when one needs it (especially to screw someone), most people use it incorrectly, and nobody really wants it, but you feel guilty if you don't have it (and sometimes you don't). What this boils down to is the Catholic church finally coming around on its ignorant, medieval policy and it's honestly quite refreshing. You heard the man, pad your pipe! Only a priest would equate sex to armed robbery. Get out there and please somebody mane! There's wealthy people that have sex too!

    Love all the research Danny boy, but I don't see how it strengthens your/the church's argument. Condoms reduce the risk of disease... but what? They increase the risk of sex? Laughable. Do seat belts increase the risk of driving? Your solution, like always, is simple but quixotic: everybody be a lobster. I hate to say it, but you shouldn't get your sexual advice from a bunch of 60 year old virgins.

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  2. this is great daniel.. really great. Im going to share this link with everyone lol
    well done :)
    -Jenny

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  3. Interesting post. I have to admit that I hadn't actually taken the time to click my way past the scores of headlines about Pope Benedict apparently "approving" condom use. I should have known it was too good to be true.

    I mean absolutely no offense by this, but this type of reasoning sums up, in a nutshell, what I find so troubling about Roman Catholic moral theology. It's not that I disagree with you that the object of the Church should be to point the way towards "the good, the true, and the beautiful" and not simply the less evil. At a certain point though, dogma has to give way to reason and realism.

    To expect that people will act solely according to either rigid doctrine or risk, especially when it comes to something as basically human as sex, is fundamentally unreasonable.

    Though you're certainly right that condoms aren't foolproof (in any sense of the word),it is, I think, reckless to claim that condoms --> increased promiscuity --> greater risk of infection. Its been shown time and time again that the second jump in that logical chain just isn't the case. Of course monogamy is the only 100% foolproof answer to the AIDS epidemic. It's also the only 100% unrealistic one.

    The bottom line is that the places where the AIDS epidemic has spun out of control are not the places where contraceptives are readily available. Nor are they the places that have adopted what you term "the Hollywood hook-up culture." They are places where people are desperately poor and outrageously misinformed. This is no coincidence. For the RCC to claim otherwise is self-serving and simply irresponsible.

    I'm not a Roman Catholic, but I do believe that there is one holy Catholic and apostolic Church, and as I said I certainly don't disagree with you that its purpose in the world is not to point out lesser evils, but to be a moral beacon. But what use is morality when it stops being functionally useful?

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  4. Thanks for linking Fr. Fessio's whole article. This was very well done and definitely needed :)

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  5. "Condoms reduce the risk of disease... but what? They increase the risk of sex? Laughable. Do seat belts increase the risk of driving?"

    ^^ Actually, there has been some scholarly research that suggests that seat belt laws increase the number of driving fatalities for this very reason. Like any topic in academia, there are scholars who agree and disagree, but to dismiss this phenomenon as "laughable" is incredibly premature, in my opinion. This discussion lends itself to other risk-compensating areas, as well.

    Regarding the birth control in Africa debate, Edward Green published an editorial affirming that increased usage of birth control has not improved the AIDS epidemic in Africa (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/27/AR2009032702825.html). Green is no 60-year-old priest; he is a respected scholar who, as the article indicates, is affiliated with the Harvard School of Public Health.

    I am definitely not arguing that birth control should be outlawed, although I agree with the Catholic Church's position on birth control. (I actually had not heard of the Pope/condom controversy and was pleasantly surprised to read his commentary.)

    And finally, I can't help but respond to B. Kyber's point that "at a certain point though, dogma has to give way to reason and realism." I completely disagree. I don't want dogma to make what it considers moral compromises for me. Goodness knows I make enough of those for myself. I want the theologians and moral philosophers to indicate what they consider the ideal toward which I should be striving, not the tolerable compromises I can make.

    Thanks for posting, Daniel! I was totally unaware of this entire discussion, and you covered it really thoroughly. And as a side note, I think you have a future career as an editorialist for the Onion.... I was cracking up at your mock headlines.

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  6. I certainly wouldn't take sexual or moral advice from the Pope. Do priests pad their pipes when they rape children? Does that make it a lesser evil?

    Inextricably linking sex with sin is dangerous to the psyche and human connectedness. Not to bash your beloved Fr. Fessio, but I think his analogy is completely off and the discussion itself seems to hinge on the fact that the act of sex is presumably malum pro se. And it just seems so provincial, American-centric and narrow.

    If people are informed and opt not to take care of themselves in order to prevent disease...survival of the fittest, I say. However, it is more important to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

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  7. Don't worry, Monty, I won't tell Father...although I think he would be proud of you. :) As to your friends Garrett and "SpaceDawg"...they need to read your article again, because they totally didn't get it. Catholics certainly don't believe that sex is a sin, in fact we uphold it as something sacred and beautiful, which is why we HATE it to be mistreated....'nuff said.

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  8. What about the fact that condoms are made from silicone which is a form of mesh and the mesh stretches to roughly 4 times the size of a HIV virus size...I believe that this would be letting a rat in through a dog door...Condoms still do not protect from disease...people have gotten HIV while wearing a condom...
    thus...wait till you love and trust someone enough to share your body and everything else with them

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  9. I'm catholic. I know sex is not a sin in the eyes of the church (as long as its between 2 consenting married heterosexual adults using the missionary position). I'm not arguing that condoms are the solution to AIDS, or to anything for that matter. But please acknowledge that condoms help prevent disease wayyy more than anything *except abstinence*. If you think the solution is to convince everyone to be abstinent by damning alternatives, then please, continue to do what's been done by the church since its inception. Vatican roulette baby, its catholic for rhythm.

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  10. actually Garrett...abstaining from sex for 7 days during the womans fertile period proves to be 95 percent effective...about the same as condoms, also I have a quam not with the debate or arguement, but with the snide remarks towards Daniels intellect. Not one person has gone after his research with facts or more research, but rather they call into question his faith and never challenge the arguement at hand...this has turned into a lets mock Monty session rather than lets refute his evidence session...do your Fucking research douchebags
    Benjamin

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  11. research shows: comments not made toward monty's intellect, monty not offended, the adage "don't talk about religion and politics" evidently still true

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  12. yes...and you are not a catholic sir...you are someone proclaiming to be Catholic who is not...you have to follow the ruberics of a religion in order to affiliate with it. Otherwise you are just something else that is sort of like it

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  13. Garrett: You amuse me greatly, and I am not offended (as I'm sure you know, I write these for the sole purpose of getting some spark of intellectual fights going). I acknowledge that condoms help prevent disease wayyy more than anything except abstinence. I just don't think that prevention is a serious alternative because of all the things I've pointed out by linking research. Which you're missing, buddy. Hint. Hint, hint.

    To both Garret and Ben K: I would love to see the research or the studies that talk about "the second jump in the logical chain" being "laughable" (namely, that condom use does not result in increased promiscuity). I'd actually really, really like to see it debunked, and that's an honest statement - not because I believe there is none, I just haven't ever seen it. So please...Show me the money.

    Ben K: Why is it so unreasonable now to ask for sexual restraint when that is actually what was practiced (by and large, please understand I'm generalizing) by the many generations before us? We don't hear about any of them exploding from sheer frustration! Hmm...perhaps it's possible again. On another note, you should look again at the research that talks about the necessity to break down what they call the 'sexual networks.' Call it whatever you like, but the bottom line is that there is indeed a culture of liberal sexuality through which the virus spreads...and spreads quickly. Like I said earlier, I didn't pull this stuff outta nowhere. It's what the research says. I completely agree that these epidemic areas are incredibly poor and misinformed, and that is part of it. But the sexual networks have to be broken down.

    Little Miss SpaceDawg: Please read what I actually wrote. Nowhere in my article is sex inextricably linked with sin. You know that I don't hold that, and it certainly isn't true about the Church considering Catholics are the ones who keep makin' babies (only to be outdone by the Muslims, and not for much longer if I have my way!!). But the most disturbing part of your post: "If people are informed and opt not to take care of themselves in order to prevent disease...survival of the fittest, I say." Obviously you're not even involved in this conversation because the whole thing is about saving lives. Not about survival of the fittest.

    On a final note: Priests have raped children. It was evil; very evil. Everyone....EVERYONE acknowledges this. Why keep bringing it up? Obviously it shames Catholics, as these were supposed to be our highest and best examples. But what other purpose does it serve? If you'd like to argue about the topic at hand, do so. If you'd like to continue bringing up the evil things done by priests which the Church and all it's members continually condemn as evil...please go elsewhere. I'm not interested in these sidenotes anymore. It is a jab which bothers me not because I don't want to acknowledge it's truthfullness but because I am tired of repeating that it was wrong and that there are evil people within the Church. I know this. You know this. Can we move on and talk about the real controversy, please?

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  14. SpaceDawg...veryyy laughable
    I mean really i laughed... did you actually read the blog?? any part of it??

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  15. Just to quickly respond to a couple of points:

    First, the second jump in the logical chain that I'm talking about is not that encouraging condom use increases promiscuity. I honestly don't know whether that's true, and I'm far too lazy to do research because its inconsequential to my argument. The second jump was that condoms can be more evil because that increased promiscuity leads to an increased risk of infection.

    I think you'd be hard pressed to find a study that shows that, even if condoms DO increase the propensity of folks to be promiscuous, that this necessarily leads to a higher risk of infection overall. If I'm not mistaken, the effectiveness ratings on contraceptives reflect their proper use by study participants over the course of a year. Its not a one shot deal.

    I'm not a stats expert, but even assuming universally improper usage and only 75% effectiveness, for there to be a net increase in infection, condoms would have to increase promiscuity by a whole hell of a lot.

    My point is this: Statistically, even if condom use increases promiscuity, it VASTLY decreases the overall risk of infection. To say that encouraging condom use in 3rd world countries actually increases the risk of HIV is just plain wrong and not borne out by the facts. Rather, it's a self-serving attempt by the RCC to twist logic to support the position at which they've already arrived.

    Secondly, no one is disagreeing that "breaking down sexual networks" or encouraging abstinence are the most effective ways of limiting risk of HIV infection. Obviously they are, and the research you point to reflects that. The point is that, no matter how hard the RCC wants it to be so, expecting people to remain abstinent or to stick to one partner is totally unrealistic in the grand scheme of things. People aren't going to do it. In reality, despite your comment about generations before us "showing restraint," people have NEVER done it. It was just taboo. I think Alfred Kinsey pretty adequately showed that to be the case in like 1948.

    Fortunately for my case, here in the good ole USA, we've had a little experiment in what happens when kids are discouraged from having sex rather than encouraged to have SAFER sex IF they do choose to have sex. The results were...well...lets just say less than stellar:

    http://www.siecus.org/_data/global/images/research_says.pdf

    TO ALP: I completely empathize with your point about wanting the Church to indicate the ideals to which we should strive. I guess I just fail to see how hardheaded resistance to the complexities and challenges of an ever-changing world is an admirable ideal. Then again, I'm just a leftist Anglo-Catholic who thinks Vatican II successfully removed all the beauty, meaning, and significance from the mass while retaining a markedly backwards social agenda. So I should probably take my love for the Tridentine mass, incense and bells, women priests, gay bishops, and sacramental socialism and leave y'all be...

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  16. I just tried to post an excessively long response, but alas, it disappeared into cyberspace.

    I'm too lazy to type it all again, but trust me, it was good.

    I will say this: That wasn't the "second jump in the logical chain" that I was talking about. Even assuming that condom use DOES increase promiscuity, it would have to increase promiscuity by a whole hell of a lot to actually increase the risk of infection. I had all these studies and statistics, and just wasted a solid hour of my life.

    Also, I do want to say that no one is arguing that "breaking down sexual networks" or encouraging abstinence is not the MOST EFFECTIVE way of preventing the spread of infection. It's just not a realistic solution on a global level. As for your point about the restraint of previous generations, it never really existed. Not even generally. As Alfred Kinsey pretty convincingly pointed out in like 1948, sex was just taboo back in the day. It wasn't that people weren't having it. Rather, people just didn't TALK about it. Sure there's a major link between changing cultural mores and increased promiscuity, but that doesn't have much to do with condom use, does it?

    When it comes to contraceptives, I think the RCC essentially tries to twist logic to arrive at an already decided position that isn't borne out by science or statistics. It's a classic "perfect solution" fallacy in action.

    To ALP: I certainly empathize with your point about wanting the church to point us towards the ideal to which we should strive. I guess I just don't see hardheaded resistance to the realities of a changing world as an ideal. Then again what do I know. I'm just a leftist Anglo-Catholic who thinks Vatican II successfully removed all the beauty, meaning, and significance from the mass while retaining a disturbingly backward social agenda. I should probably just take my love for the Tridentine mass, incense and bells, women priests, gay bishops, and socialism and leave y'all be...

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  17. Ask and ye shall receive

    "This lack of an increase in sexual activity as a result of promoting and distributing condoms is consistent with previous research. Generally, providing adolescents with in formation about reproduction and contraception has not increased sexual activity."

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1615376/pdf/amjph00463-0082.pdf

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  18. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1615376/pdf/amjph00463-0082.pdf

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  19. See above
    "This lack of an increase in sexual activity as a result of promoting and distributing condoms is consistent with previous research. Generally, providing adolescents with information about reproduction and contraception has not increased sexual activity." 546

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  20. It would seem that the best course of action would be abstinence until marriage. After all it IS 99.999999999999(ad infinitum)% effective.

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  21. While we're at it, the solution to world hunger is that everyone should eat something. Most people that eat food don't die of hunger.

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  22. B. Kyber, you used a lot of BIG words! I would give a "C" for effort with 25% research done on your part. Probably thanks to google. You get a cookie! No chocolate chips or sprinkles.

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  23. Garrett, the Church stopped using the Rythm method a long time ago, so get with the program...NFP is NOT the same. And if you compare roulette to the chance of having a child, are you saying that having a child is comparable to death? Not very tactful...

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  24. It wasn't a jab, it was a point that the padded pipe thing was a completely illogical analogy. I was pointing out the ridiculousness of it. But to ignore the issue is also wrong. It is shameful and it is still going on in a very real way. Systemically.

    Yes I read the blog, and its ridiculously wrong statistics and inferences.

    Daniel, I do not question your intellect at all. I think you know this. But I do disagree with the way the Church views sex.

    Also, I know that the article was about saving lives. The survival of the fittest comment was a joke. But, you know how I feel about 50% of the population.

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  25. Not all roulette is Russian, so I was just using an old adage that it's a gamble. However, from what I have heard about the joys of child birth... death may not be such a bad analogy.

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