November 20, 2010

Condom use and the RCC

The Roman Catholic Church has long forbidden all condom use, regardless of any mitigating circumstances. Can't afford kids? Can't use a condom, just don't have sex. Scary genetic markers? Can't use a condom, just trust God. Sex out of wedlock? Can't use a condom, and stop sleeping around. HIV-positive husband? Can't use a condom, just go contract AIDS and die.

I wish I were exaggerating. I remember one Newman meeting where Fr. Bruce professed to care very much about the plight of women but adamantly claimed that all condom use was an inherent moral wrong. All of it. We even set up the not-very-hypothetical situation of a woman with an HIV-positive husband who was insistent on having sex with her one way or another, and Fr. Bruce was quite clear that it would be immoral for her to even request a condom. He said, with no irony and a perfectly straight face, that using a condom would mean that she was not making a complete gift of herself to her husband (and that he would not be making a complete gift of himself to her). Nice gift.

So wherever the line really should be drawn, the RCC has been well on the wrong side of it, and finally (but somewhat earlier than I expected) the Pope has admitted as much. In a book to come out next week, the Pope concedes that condom use may be acceptable to reduce HIV risk, at least in some cases. So, progress.

But what's really, really weird about this is the context in which he made this concession. When I first saw this in a Telegraph article someone shared on Facebook, I thought maybe it was a mistranslation or just an odd focus, but the BBC article linked above framed it the same way, as did the Trib and NYT. Here we go: the example where AIDS-preventive condom use might be acceptable is male prostitutes, starting on the path back to morality. Not spouses with HIV; not prostitutes generally. Male prostitutes.

I'm going to take a deep breath here, so I can give you a measured, rational response to this:


Look, we know that the RCC is basically misogynistic at its core and has been for basically its entire existence. And we appreciate that it's been making some progress in that regard, with fewer restrictions on what women can do and at least a handful of women in reasonably high posts in the Curia. And we know that change in one of the oldest institutions in the world isn't going to be fast. And surely by giving an example he is only giving an illustration of the principle—although based on what I've read it's not entirely clear that the reasoning is meant to apply to the spousal case I outline above.

It still manages to shock me how completely blind to women the Pope can still be about this. He went far out of his way to cite an AIDS-prevention example that didn't protect any women at all—just men. Apparently he just couldn't bear the thought that women might have even a small measure of control over their own bodies. Only in the context of sexual relations that the church already forbids on at least three separate grounds (extramarital, homosexual, and prostitutive) did he specifically concede that perhaps condoms might not be adding to the burden. And in setting the context up as possibly "a first step towards moralisation", he didn't even cast the net wide enough to include all sexual sinners. He specifically addresses this to male prostitutes.

This is at the very best a criminal level of tone-deafness from the Pope. But I'm pretty sure it's actually just another manifestation of the boy's club's continuing distrust and loathing of women.

"To many of us Brits, the cry 'keep government out of health care' just sounds a little kooky, on a par with 'keep government out of defending the nation' or 'keep government out of building roads'. In Britain one of the main things the government does, one of the main reason people pay taxes, is for health care, so naturally the revulsion at it in the States seems a little strange." --Mark Mardell, BBC

Posted by blahedo at 6:03pm on 20 Nov 2010
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