If condoms are OK for Zika, why not AIDS, Pope Francis?

I borrowed the title of this post from a news commentary article at theguardian.com. It’s a terrible article, but the question is legitimate. Once we start making exceptions, so as to justify any intrinsically evil act, the same justification would logically apply to similar circumstances for that same type of intrinsically evil act, and even to all other intrinsically evil acts. For all intrinsically evil acts have the same basic form: the knowing choice of a concrete act intrinsically ordered toward an evil end (its moral object).

Pope Francis was wrong to say that contraception might be permissible to prevent disease transmission or to prevent birth defects. The Magisterium teaches that intrinsically evil acts are never justified by intention or circumstances. Pope Francis was right to condemn direct abortion, unequivocally and in every case, because abortion is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. But the Magisterium teaches that contraception is also intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, and that ALL intrinsically evil acts are immoral, in and of themselves, by the very nature of the act, regardless of intention or circumstances.

If contraception is moral to use to prevent disease transmission in the case of the Zika virus, then contraception would also be moral in the case of AIDS. The two cases are not substantially different in their morality. Contraception is intrinsically evil in both cases, even though the intention is good (to prevent harm from disease transmission). So IF an intrinsically evil act can be justified by a good intention or a difficult circumstance, then contraception would be moral in all cases of disease transmission and in many other cases. But it is not true that contraception, or abortion, or any other intrinsically evil act is justified — no matter how good the intention, no matter how dire the circumstances. Intrinsically evil acts are always immoral to knowingly choose.

Moreover, in both these cases (Zika, AIDS), the good intended end can be obtained and the dire bad consequences can be avoided, by refraining from sexual relations. No sex means no disease transmission. So the use of a condom is not a dire necessity; not really. Also, in the case of birth defects, refraining from sex means that no child will be conceived, to be harmed subsequently by a birth defect.

But abstaining from sex has become unthinkable to sinful secular society and to many sinful Catholics as well. If you cannot imagine saying “No” to sex, for reasons of faith or morals, then you are committing the idolatry of sex.

{8:34} Jesus answered them: “Amen, amen, I say to you, that everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.

Some Catholics are even saying that abortifacient contraception is justified to treat any of a wide range of medical problems in the woman. They justify the deaths of innocent prenatals, even though abstaining from sex would allow them to obtain all the good intended ends found in their justification, without the sin of abortifacients and without the deaths of innocents. They are essentially saying that the good of sex justifies killing their own unborn children. Such wickedness will not go unpunished by God.

But Pope Francis was clear that abortion is never justified, not in the case of birth defects, and not in any other cases. So we should conclude that the holy Pontiff would also reject abortifacient contraception just as unequivocally, since abortifacient contraception includes the evil moral object of abortion; it is not merely contraception.

The error of Pope Francis, then, was in speaking as if mere contraception could be permissible in the case of the Zika virus. If so, then his argument that abortion is never justified falls apart. The moral basis for the condemnation of direct abortion, always and in each instance, is the teaching that intrinsically evil acts are inherently immoral, and never justified by intention or circumstances. If contraception can be justified by a good intention or by dire circumstances, then abortion and every other intrinsically evil act would also be justified on the same basis.

Contraception is not justified because the ends never justify the means. The good intended end of avoiding disease transmission or avoiding birth defects does not justify the knowing choice of any intrinsically evil act, neither abortion nor contraception. And this teaching applies in all cases.

Pope Saint John Paul II: “The negative precepts of the natural law are universally valid. They oblige each and every individual, always and in every circumstance. It is a matter of prohibitions which forbid a given action semper et pro semper, without exception, because the choice of this kind of behaviour is in no case compatible with the goodness of the will of the acting person, with his vocation to life with God and to communion with his neighbour. It is prohibited – to everyone and in every case – to violate these precepts. They oblige everyone, regardless of the cost, never to offend in anyone, beginning with oneself, the personal dignity common to all.” [Veritatis Splendor 67]

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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2 Responses to If condoms are OK for Zika, why not AIDS, Pope Francis?

  1. Dave says:

    However, they may have relations using NFP (natural family planning). Is this correct?

    • Ron Conte says:

      In the case of AIDS, they may not have sexual relations at all, due to the risk of disease transmission.

      In the case of the Zika virus, if it causes birth defects, they may have marital relations while using NFP strictly, so as to avoid conceiving a child who might then be severely harmed by a birth defect. The Zika virus is mild in its effects on adults; it may possibly cause severe birth defects in unborn children.

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