Lesser evilology

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The AP report on Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi’s clarification of Pope Benedict’s notorious condom-and-AIDS remark concluded with the following portentous penultimate graph:

Lombardi said the pope didn’t use the technical terminology “lesser
evil” in his comments because he wanted his words to be understood by
the general public. Vatican officials, however, said that was what he

No so, says Martin Rhonheimer, the Opus Dei moral theologian who has emerged as something of a progressive hero for having once written a less than absolutist article on the Church’s teaching on condoms. In an article written for Sandro Magister’s popular inside-the-Vatican blog Chiesa, Rhonheimer declares that it is

wrong to assert principles in this case such as “lesser evil”, which
holds that in order to avoid a greater evil a lesser evil may be chosen
if there is a proportionate reason. This moral methodology, known as
“proportionalism”, is not a teaching of the Church, and was rejected by
Pope John Paul II in his 1993 encyclical “Veritatis splendor” – with
which Pope Benedict XVI is in full agreement.

Well, maybe. But then comes a mysterious “Catholic philosopher,” writing a “Dear Magister” letter under the Falstaffian pen name Giovanni Onofrio Zagloba, to contend that the pope’s recognition of a “lesser evil” of prophylactic condom use did not amount to “consequentialism” (of which “proportionalism” may or may not be a subspecies)–and indeed that the pope has opened a “fissure” (spiraglio) for “a new (and traditional) way of thinking about moral problems,” such as to recognize condom use as lawful. To which Professor Alessandro Martinetti pushes back in a Rhonheimerian mode.

So who has the better access to the pope’s mind? Benedict, who from time to time displays a mischievous intellectual streak, may let this game go on awhile. Sooner or later, though, you figure he’ll have to issue a more magisterial pronunciamento of his own. There actually are lives at stake.

  • Looks like you’ve got a nice, but seriously under-commented blog here. Would be a shame if something were to happen to it, like being cross-posted at BeliefNet. D’oh!
    I was impressed by your reply to Rod Dreher’s comment a month ago. Doubly impressed by “portentous penultimate graph.” Anybody who writes that is A-OK in my book. I’ll check out some more.

  • Mark Silk

    Thanks for the comment, NS.