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Issue Date:  January 28, 2005

To fights AIDS, condoms may be OK

ROME -- Headlines announced a challenge to the Vatican after a spokesperson for the Spanish bishops said condoms could be a last resort in battling AIDS, but the statement doesn’t necessarily break church teaching, a leading Roman moral theologian says.

“At the level of principle, the church’s teaching is that the only legitimate sexual activity is between a husband and wife, and must always be open to life,” said Redemptorist Fr. Brian Johnstone. “Therefore contraception is always wrong.”

“The issue here, however, is one of pastoral application. Does the use of a condom by a married couple, where one partner is infected and the other isn’t, necessarily constitute contraception?”

On that specific question, Johnstone said, there is no definitive pronouncement, either from Pope John Paul II or the Vatican.

Fr. Juan Antonio Martínez Camino, the Spanish bishops’ spokesperson, met Jan. 18 with the Spanish health minister to discuss anti-AIDS efforts. Afterwards, he was quoted as saying that condoms “have their place in a comprehensive and global prevention of AIDS.” Political parties and pressure groups with a liberal stance on reproductive issues put out statements celebrating the Spanish position.

The Spanish bishops issued a statement Jan. 20 saying that Martínez’s comments “must be understood in the context of Catholic doctrine, which holds that use of condoms is immoral sexual conduct.”

Johnstone said, applying the traditional Catholic moral principle of double effect, one could argue that in a case in which a husband is infected and the wife is not, for example, it would be legitimate for the wife to ask the husband to wear a condom if they are going to have sex. In that case, there are two effects of condom use -- preventing the spread of disease and blocking pregnancy. Since only the former is directly being intended, Johnstone said, one could argue that it is morally permissible.

National Catholic Reporter, January 28, 2005

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