Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the African continent continues to provide ammunition for opponents of Catholic teachings on artificial methods of contraception and artificial methods of birth control. During the apostolic flight Tuesday, Pope Benedict once again reaffirmed the Church’s position against the use of condoms as a preventative method of protecting individuals against AIDS and other communicable diseases.
Speaking of AIDS and the toll it is taking on Africa, the Pope said, “You can’t resolve it with the distribution of condoms…. On the contrary, it increases the problem.”
Almost immediately, the global secular press took this statement by Benedict as the chance to condemn his moral teachings as quaintly old-fashioned and geopolitically out-of-date with the sexual mores of contemporary society. The continued progression of AIDS on the African continent, according to the secular media, is destined for cure only with the distribution of prophylactic medical treatments and the use of condoms.
The encyclical Humanae Vitae proclaimed by Pope Paul VI affirmed the prohibition against artificial methods of birth control in the 1960’s. Subsequent popes have all reiterated the consistent teachings of the Magisterium with their continued teachings in accordance to Humanae Vitae and the traditions of the Catholic Church. However, it really appears the global community is frankly missing the essential message and most important point of these papal declarations and reaffirmations: that the conjugal act is expressly intended for two purposes, namely the development of mutual love between a married man and a woman, and openness towards the transmission of human life. The argumentative discussion that focuses on the containment of sexually transmitted diseases that are potentially at epidemic proportions disregards the entire foundational premise that constitutes the cornerstone of Catholic sexual teachings: marriage and family.
While medical advancements might have made it possible for the entire world to enjoy greater extremes of sexual freedom, such freedoms are not necessarily morally and ethically correct. What seems lacking here is a practical appeal to the benefits of marital monogamy as well as the opportunity to control lusts that are outside the realm of heterosexual conjugal relations. Benedict’s premise is foundationally correct, but it is unfathomable to the press however because the teachings are coming from an octogenarian that heads one of the largest moral and ethical behemoths on the planet — therefore out of touch and out of tune with modern sexual norms.
There is also another point to consider when dealing with papal pronouncements on apostolic journeys. They are intended for not only the country where the Pope is engaged in travel, but they apply to the entire world for the benefit of global humanity. If indeed such declarations were made by the United Nations, or perhaps the World Health Organizations they might be received with more objective analysis and not the agnostic sentiments of the morally neutral. The Pope’s position on this topic is important for the developing Catholicism in Africa so that the nascent Catholic Church there might correctly follow the moral and ethical norms that are part of the Gospel message. The Church’s teachings regarding the sanctity of human life and its preservation are rooted in the initial conjugal act between a man and a woman, and emphasize not only Catholic moral teachings, but also natural law. The pope is speaking the wisdom of the ages to all of humanity, not situational ethics in the context of a news cycle.
The condemnation of the use of condoms by Pope Benedict XVI continues the consistent teachings of Catholic moral principles. Would anyone seriously expect the leader of the global Catholic community to make any statement that contradicts 2000 years of Catholic social teachings in deference to a politically correct and social activist topic? Benedict XVI is indeed making the most sensitive and politically correct statement on sexual activism; the conjugal act needs to be considered a sacred union between a man and a woman. Only when this notion of sexual activity is restored can the pandemic proportions of AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases be brought under control.
There are indeed other de facto statements that might be distilled from the papal reaffirmation against condoms as well. These are directed against the popular movement towards equality of homosexual unions, against indiscriminate sexual activity and against the intentional diminishing of marital and family commitments. Indeed the pope stands on a Catholic moral and ethical platform that is contrary to these secularized movements. Without going into the details of the immoral nature of each and the reasons the actions are contrary to natural law, global bystanders need to realize the message Benedict brings is focused on the restoration of a morally responsible life centered and built upon on marriage and family values. If indeed these are considered quaint and outdated by groups of sexually topical activists, well then… so be it.
What is essentially the silent but resonant message is simply this: the global community needs to restore a sense of moral and ethical beliefs if AIDS, along with other sexually-transmitted diseases, is to be eradicated. The basic problem is not with the advocated use of condoms, but with irresponsible sexual activity and immorality.
As Benedict XVI continues his pastoral visit to Africa, Catholics worldwide need to contemplate once again the entire complexity of Catholic Church membership as a moral, ethical, and spiritual journey that embraces our uniquely Catholic lifestyle — totally in opposition to contemporary sociological trends and transitory geopolitical positions.