As many people know by now, the use of condoms as a means of preventing the AIDS virus, as a morally acceptable alternative, is currently under review in Rome. According to sources in the Catholic press, a study is underway by the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care. One possible outcome would be a document which gives "provisional" moral license to condom use, albeit within the context of marriage, and given the specific intention to protect the uninfected party. But such a document would still have to pass through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and ultimately, by the desk of Pope Benedict himself.
It'll never fly, and here's why.
It would surprise many people to know that the Church has been dealing with the issue of artificial contraception from Her very beginning. In his epistle to the Galatians (5:19-26), St Paul warns against the use of "sorcery" (in ancient Greek, "pharmakeia," from which we get the term "pharmacuticals," or drugs). This would have referred to the mixing of potions for a variety of reasons; in this case, the prevention or termination of a pregnancy. Various post-Apostolic and Patristic writings also deal with the issue. Some years ago, the Washington Post reported on the discovery of fossilized remains of a plant that grew in Egypt, from which was created the active ingredient for a spermicide that was popular around the time of Christ. Did it work? Well, let's put it this way; the substance was worth its weight in silver, and the plant used to create it was harvested to the point of extinction. The cover story of the March/April 1994 issue of Archeology magazine goes into more detail.
So, John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter, writing in this week's installment of "The View From Rome," isn't quite on the mark when he says that "the church has never spoken officially on this specific question." She has. Still, the Allen column is worth reading, as it outlines both the Augustinian and Thomistic schools of moral thought that are brought to bear on the issue, as well as an explanation of the "double-effect" principle, and both sides of the fence on its application. Bear in mind, however, that an objectively sinful act is always just that. The subjective issues may or may not mitigate the guilt, particularly in the area of intention, but considering that the virus can easily pass through latex -- adjusted to scale, it has been compared to throwing a basketball through a doorway -- application of the so-called "double effect" is quite a stretch, if only because no good end can be achieved with any assuredness in the first place.
The matter has been under review, primarily due to the public statements of various Cardinals supporting it. Rome must now go to all this trouble, just to shut them all up -- especially Martini. Sandro Magister and others of L'espresso provide the lowdown. (Recommend printing out and reading over the weekend.)