Heads are exploding all over the Catholic Right (boom, boom, and boom) not because Pope Benedict has altered official Catholic teaching on condoms. (There is no official Catholic teaching on condoms per se.) It’s because (as the estimable Austin Ivereigh makes clear) Pope Benedict has countermanded what the Catholic Right would have you believe is official Catholic teaching on condoms. By indicating that the use of a condom to prevent deadly infection could be a significant step in the right moral direction, he has not only aligned himself with mainstream Catholic moral theology, but also opened for public discussion a subject that the Catholic Right has managed to strangle for some years. Boom!
“Oh dear, oh dear!” worry the white rabbits of the right. Ordinary Catholics will simply not be able to fathom the nuances of such non-black-and-white reasoning. “This is admittedly a difficult distinction to grasp,” George Weigel told the AP. What the pontiff was actually saying was that
“someone determined to do something wrong may be showing a glimmer of
moral common sense by not doing that wrong thing in the worst possible
way–which is not an endorsement of anything.”
Actually, what’s hard to grasp–for ordinary Catholics and ordinary non-Catholics alike–is an inability to distinguish between degrees of wrong, a refusal to acknowledge that sometimes there are lesser evils that must be endured in order to avoid greater evils. It just seems morally obtuse to oppose condom distribution as part of an AIDS-suppression public health program.
Some Defenders of the Faith are now making it clear that they are more interested in maintaining the position that condoms are an “intrinsic evil” than in following their theologian-pope’s lead. For his part, Benedict is sending a signal that, unlike his predecessor, he’s not interested in right-wing lock-downs of issues of pressing moral concern.