Casualty of Capitalism

Exiled into Wilmington, Delaware by virtue of corporate layoffs. (Note: Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this blog are Copyright 2005, Michael Collins, and cannot be used without permission.)

Location: Wilmington, Delaware, United States

Graduate of University of Maryland School of Law; University of Maryland, College Park (Economics/Political Science).

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Church and AIDS: Response to M. Scaperlanda

Michael Scaperlanda of the thought-provoking and highly informative Mirror of Justice blog responded to my critique of a hypothetical he wrote regarding the Church's stance on condom use and how it might revise it in the face of the AIDS epidemic, particularly in places where the disease is widespread, like Africa.

Mr. Scaperlanda replies, in part:

I think in this case, Mike C. has not understood my argument. I attempted to answer a "could" question. "Could" the Church condone or at least not condemn condom use in these limited situations.

I respond to his clarification first by referring him to an earlier post of mine on this same subject. Briefly, I make these points:
  1. The Church is nothing without principle and its leaders are defenders of those principles, which are derived from the teachings of Jesus Christ.
  2. The duty of Church leaders is to teach the faith and encourage people to live their lives within the Church's moral framework.
  3. People have the ability to accept or reject all or some of the teachings of the Church.
  4. On the issue of extra-marital sex, the Church teaches abstinence. On the issue of birth control, here condom use, the Church prohibits it.
  5. Rejection of Church teaching regarding extra-marital sex (which I think is what Mr. Scaperlanda means when he says "the individuals [who] have already made the choice to engage in sex"), has resulted in the contraction of the HIV/AIDS virus by millions of individuals.
  6. People have free will and are responsible for the consequences of their actions.
  7. The Church (and I'll put the caveat here, when properly acting under its own principles) is always ready to compassionately accept sinners regardless of the sins, and to provide the comfort and relief that it can in order to deal with the consequences of the behavior of individuals when they find their actions have left them in a difficult circumstance.

"Could" the Church either1) make exceptions to the rule regarding condom use when the issue is not protection against procreation, but protection against contraction of disease, or 2) simply turn a neutral blind eye towards condom use in order to "help" the situation through omission of action?

My position on the pure form of question one is explained in my first post on this subject, in the context of the late pope's teachings.

It's not the pope's job to give an out to those engaging in acts contrary to Church doctrine in order to lessen the consequences of risky behavior. If the pope started closing the hospitals and recalling the priests, nuns, and aid workers, then I think the critics would have an argument. Until then, I think the pope should continue to advise people on how they should live their lives in Christ, and let the people, through their free will and actions, decide whether they think it is advice worth listening to. The consequences are admittedly grave, but what moral decision doesn't come with potential adversity?

Though the Church "could" theoretically encourage condom use to prevent HIV transmission by those who are already engaging in extra-marital sex, I believe such an approach is a disservice to their spiritual lives, even though it may positively affect their physical lives. More on that in my answer to question two.

Question one becomes most difficult when one factors in an HIV infected spouse who received the virus not from commission of an act contrary to Church teaching, but from inadvertent contact with infected blood through a transfusion or exposure through the environment. Here, prevention of disease transferal would be the foremost impetus to condom use, not prevention of conception. Though I don't think the Church's rule regarding condom use here is any different than in other circumstances involving contraceptive use in the marital relationship, it is a situation that gives one pause. Does the preservation of the health of the partner outweigh the interruption of the natural sexual function? Does it matter that any child resulting from sexual union between these two parties might also contract the virus? Very difficult questions of conscience, but again, the Church stays true to its basic rule and puts the onus on the couple to shoulder this burden as Christ shouldered the Cross.

Question two is less difficult to answer. There is a concept in the law called "willful blindness," which generally is not a defense to unlawful actions. In the Church, the same should be true. And in question two, the Church is the willfully blind party. By turning its back to the use of condoms by persons who are employing them to act in risky, immoral ways, the Church helps no one. Certainly, this lack of action by the Church may reduce the rate of infection. But if the Church preaches that certain acts are sinful, and sinful actions damage or even destroy the soul's relationship with God, how could condoning this behavior be in any way positive when saving souls is the primary mission of the Church given to it by Jesus? There is no doubt in my mind that the Church should continue to stress what is right and wrong, and what behavior is an offense to God and what is not. By failing to do so, the Church loses its credibility as foundation of the faith tradition and the leaders abdicate their roles as teachers of faith. What is Church teaching if not a manifestation of God's laws on Earth. The better roles for the Church are to encourage morality in all facets of human activity, but also never fail to be on the front lines of the healing of the fallen human body and soul. Jesus never failed to encourage proper behavior regardless of circumstance. And He never failed to take pity on the lame or to comfort the sick.

The Church has a role to play, and that role is spiritual. It is also the role of care-giver to the sick and needy. The Church cannot control what people do with their lives, but it can give advice to those who seek it, and aid to those who need it.

UPDATE: This is a special note to Rick Garnett, a colleague of Mr. Scaperlanda's at Mirror of Justice Blog. I encourage you and Coach K. to join my attorney friends over at the ACC Basketblog, where at this multi-partisan project you are certain to find defenders of the coach and his "family" of players. While you are there, please feel free to peruse my "pathetic" regular column on the Maryland Terrapins. (I kid, too. Thanks for linking to my site!)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lemme get this straight - the Catholic church is in favor of non-consensual homosexual sex between priests and altar boys but opposed to consensual homosexual sex between adults.

Got it!

10:43 AM  
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Anonymous Spiritual said...

Hi Mike C, I just dropped in on my way back to my Cathedral site. I liked what I
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8:34 AM  

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