Monday, April 24, 2006

Change In Increments

The way seems to be being prepared for a relaxation of Vatican edicts relating to the use of condoms, in what must be a huge shock for all those who considered Pope Benedict XVI to be a hopelessly wrong hard-liner.

"In his interview with the newspaper, Cardinal Barragan said: "Soon the Vatican will issue a document about the use of condoms by persons who have grave diseases, starting with Aids."
He said his department was studying the document, along with the scientists and theologians who wrote it. "

I hope that this is true. It is, of course, undeniable that the best means of preventing the spread of Aids is abstinence, and for sexual intercourse only to take place within a marriage. But there comes a point at which insisting on one policy only is playing ostrich. Sticking your head in the sand and ignoring usual practices is not a sound means of using the authority that the Catholic Church unquestionably possesses.

My suspicion is that this will be the first step in a near-total reversal of policy. Why? Because change of so fundamental a principle can only come in increments. For there to be a complete volte-face on a matter that the Church has doggedly stuck to in spite of heavy criticism would be seen as an unacceptable capitulation.

The broader questions this raises, of course, and to me the most interesting, are those of morality. Is it moral to proclaim one line that, because misused, leads to a perpetuation of suffering? Does the reluctance of the Catholic Church to make contraception available mean that the transmission of Aids has been faster than it otherwise would?

Morality should never operate in a vacuum. Life is the most precious gift that we are given; that means we have to work within the world, not outside of it. Thus, to be truly moral may mean sacrificing certain principles in order to do the greater good of preserving life and alleviating suffering. I am pleased that the signals seem to be that the Catholic Church is moving that way.