Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Red (French) letter day for the Vatican?

Speculation has been mounting for weeks now about the possibility of the Vatican finally relaxing the rules on the use of condoms. With the rampant spread of AIDS in Africa, where the state of Catholicism is particularly healthy compared with the West, the Church seems to have finally come to its senses. Catholics in the Western world where contraception and advanced medical treatment are readily available and congregations are declining, have been blissfully ignoring the rule for years. Africa, however is a different story.

Since Pope Paul VI’s infamous pronouncement back in the 1960s, the official Catholic stance on condoms, with its lack of any genuine theological basis has been the butt of numerous jokes and satirical comedy sketches. Possibly, the most famous example of this is the Monty Python sketch featuring the song “Every Sperm Is Sacred”.
The Catholic church can hardly be blamed for the systematic spread of AIDS, but it does however have a moral responsibility towards its flock in Africa where the liberal values and the sense of individual freedom enjoyed in the more affluent parts of the world simply do not exist.

It seems that the Pope is now in a similar situation to former South African president de Klerk who was forced to yield to sustained international pressure, realising that the Apartheid regime was untenable.
Today’s Independent flags up the story with its front page headline which hints towards a “historic move” on the part of the Vatican. Although such a gesture would only be a technical concession allowing married couples where one of the partners is affected to use condoms, the significance of what seems to be an imminent announcement will have far-reaching repercussions. Although the western world will largely be unaffected by such a decision, it is nevertheless long overdue.

17 comments:

Caroline said...

It'd be interesting to know on what the Catholic church based the idea that contraception is wrong. I don't understand the thinking.

It seems to me that the lack of birth control has caused unnecessary hardship in families who can't afford to keep having children.

CW said...

It's to do with the belief that sexual relations should be purely for procreation, rather than pleasure. The fact that the clergy are celibate (another archaic law that has no genuine theological grounding) and therefore have no emotional or practical understanding of this doesn't help matters.

The liberal wing of the church has of course opposed both the rules on contraception and celibacy, but largely to no avail. However there have been sweeping changes made in the last few decades, so if the proposed change in the rules goes ahead, further developments could eventually take place.

the big e said...

It isn't because the Church believes that sexual relations should be purely for procreation rather than pleasure. This is quite wrong.
Any Catholic pre-marriage course will involve a discussion on how sexual relations (from a pleasure point of view) are an important part of a marriage.
Furthermore, if this was the case, the Church wouldn't spend time, effort and resources promoting "natural family planning"(the effectiveness of such methods is questionable but this is a wholly different debate).
The Church has always made clear that parents should be responsible about how many children that they can afford.
A quick glance at Humane Vitae, (a product of Vatican II), the Church's key document on the issue of artifical contraception shows that the Church has no moral objection to artificial contraception being used by married couples. The reason that the Church maintains it's objections to artificial contraception despite this, is because it believes that a relaxation of the rules that would allow married couples to use artificial contraception would lead to an unfair temptation on unmarried couples to have sexual relations (due to a lack of consequences to these sexual relations). And, of course, the Church believes that sex between an unmarried couple is morally wrong.
I don't agree with the Church's view on this issue, but I do strongly feel that their position is much too often misrepresented.

the big e said...

It's also important to remember that CAFOD, the Church's overseas development agency in England and Wales, admitted some time ago that they in fact do encourage the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS, dubbing them "the lesser of two evils."

the big e said...

One further point, you talk about the Church's lack of emotional or practical understanding of these matters.
It's a view that I would tend to concur with.
It's interesting, however, to note that in the earlier part of the twentieth century, it was considered liberal and progressive to believe that working class people should be encouraged not to have children at all. This, in turn, would make soicety as a whole more intelligent over successive generations.
Such a view would be considered repulsive today, but it was one that was held by, amongst others, George Bernard Shaw and the Fabian Soicety. The main opposition to it came from the Catholic Church.
This is of course a very different and separate issue, but I think it is, at the very least,
thought-provoking in a society where the views of the Catholic are often seen as having little credibility.

CW said...

Thanks for the clarification, Big E. You've made some interesting points there.

Lorainne said...

I also thought that the traditional Catholic attitude was that all sex not for procreation is wrong so it is interesting to read your views Big E.

Generations ago when we all got married younger, infant mortality was a lot higher and women did not have jobs outside of housework and bringing up children I think the attitudes of the church to sex and contraception fitted in with the way people lived. However society has altered so much in the last fifty or so years that if the chirch does not attempt to come up to date and understand the issues we face now, then people will just stop listening to religious leaders and look for guidance elsewhere as is happening already. However the Catholic church does not have a great track record in being flexible - jut imagine if the pope hundreds of years ago had been just a little more open minded and allowed Henry the Eighth to divorce (or annul) his marriage to Catherine of Aragon then the reformation would never have happened which would have meant a lot less bloodshed in England and Ireland.

Lorainne said...

Another thing while I am on my rant (sorry about spelling mistakes above - was thinking too fast for my typing). Big E - if working class people at the time of Shaw had had fewer children it would not necessarily have made the population more intelligent. It was virtually impossible at that time to escape from the class you were born into - social mobility is a relatively new thing. Also if only middle class people had children then no one would be available to do the manual jobs - so society would fall to pieces. I cannot believe Shaw took this view and I do not think it is a great example of liberalism that the Catholic church disagreed with it.

the big e said...

Of course it wouldn't have made society more intelligent! I think you've missed the point. But progressive organistations like the Fabian Society and individuals like Shaw thought that if there were less working class people and more middle class people, society, as a whole would make more progress.
It's a ridiculous notion, but one that was advocated at that time, whether you choose to believe it or not.

Lorainne said...

I haven't missed the point - I just went off the point a bit because I was interested in what would happen to society if no working class people were allowed to have children!! I realise you were making the point about the Catholic church being seen as liberal in disagreeing with various restrictive views which may have been prevelant at the time of Shaw. However I do think your statement about Shaw misrepresents his views somewhat. Obviously there are many books written about his life and work but from most accounts it seems he was above all a socialist and therefore not against the working classes - his famous ststement that 'lack of money is at the root of all evil' is symbolic of the fact that he wanted a socialist utopia (I am not arguing that this is possible in the light of human nature but it was his ideal). It is true that he maligned the working classes for being at the bottom of the heap but this was just an expression of his anger at the way society was set up.

Anyway I think we have both now gone away from the point as the original debate was about the Catholic attitude to contraception. Although I would much rather talk about Shaw. He was also a vegetarian at a time when it was considered an insane thing to be - oh and he died in his 90's by falling off a ladder - the best way to go I think.

the big e said...

Yes. He was a great socialist and a founder member the Fabian Society, to which I also belong. And I admire him greatly.
But he did advocate this policy. Have a look at some fabian society tracts from the time.

Lorainne said...

OK I will take your word for it E of the large variety - Tell me, did Shaw say the working classes should be forcibly sterilized as I don't think modern birth contol methods were around in the late 18th/early 19th century???

the big e said...

I don't know.

Lorainne said...

Well it makes a difference!! If Shaw wanted forcible sterilization this equates him with Hitler who did this to people he considered unsuitable to breed. I can't believe he would have advocated this extreme policy.

the big e said...

Go and look it up then.

Lorainne said...

no

Lorainne said...

...got the last word which is what all women want.....