Here at BCC we have feted Pope John Paul II and expressed our admiration for all things Catholic. Religious leaders are not immune from saying crazy things, however (see, “Smoothies, TK”). In 1981, the Pope stated that “every conjugal act must be open to life.” This has been interpreted to mean that contraception is forbidden by God.
Several consequences derive from this view, all of them bad. The strict Catholic is either forced to have more children than they can perhaps cope with, or they have to restrict their “conjugal acts” to times when they are happy to accept the possibility of conception. This may also lead them to invent silly shortcuts around the law like the “rhythm method.”
It can also be downright dangerous. Let’s say one half of the married couple has HIV. Strictly interpreted, they either don’t ever have sex, or the spouse gets infected. This is insanity. Now, I know that many (most?) Catholics also think this injunction is nonsense, but it’s a shame when a church sets itself against the common sense of its members.
Happily then, the Guardian reports that the Vatican is rethinking this stance. Mexican cardinal Javier Lozano BarragÃ¡n, who heads the papal department responsible for health issues, has commissioned a review. BarragÃ¡n himself is thought to support the use of condoms in marriages where one of the partners is HIV-positive.
Italian newspaper La Repubblica, has said that the Vatican will “go from prohibition to the definition of exceptional cases in which it would be possible for the faithful to use prophylactics to avert fatal risks.”
If ratified, this review may also help lift the taboo over condoms in general. Despite pleas for chastity, people have sex outside of marriage (gasp!). Given this fact, it must be stressed that casual “conjugal acts” should in no way be “open to life.” The use of condoms may help reduce the appalling figure of 40 million people affected with HIV. (BTW, according to posters I saw in DC this week, the rate is higher in DC than in sub-Saharan Africa.)
Which brings me to the Mormon view. As an aside, it is interesting to note that an anti-contraception stance was one once advocated by many Mormon leaders, but is quietly being dropped (“quietly dropped” being the preferred Mormon way of changing doctrine). But more to the point is this: chastity will always be held by the church as both morally important and the best way to avoid STD’s and unwanted pregnancy. Abstinence education is therefore central to the Mormon approach to sex.
But should there also be a footnote to this commandment? “Don’t have sex before you’re married, but if you do, use a condom.” Is this something you would tell your teenage child? After all, you want them to be chaste, but if they choose not to be, you really don’t want them getting a disease or having a baby. Given one evil, should we encourage people to avoid the other?