Tuesday, April 14, 2009

On the reaction to Cardinal Pell’s entry into the latest condom controversy


Firstly: Happy Easter, everyone! Now on to the reaction in the media to the Sky News interview in which His Eminence The Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney backed up (along with Harvard School of Public Health senior research scientist Prof. Edward C. Green) H.H. The Pope’s recent observation to the effect that “condom distribution isn't helping, and may be worsening, the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa” (source). Let’s begin with the nonsense spouted by homosexual activist and naked-kiddies-as-art supporter Mr. David Marr in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herod. As I recall reading in an article by Mr. Piers Akerman some time ago, Mr. Marr left his wife in order to lead the so-called gay lifestyle, so it came as no surprise to see him downplaying the importance of fidelity in impeding the advance of the H.I.V. epidemic. Mr. Marr began by portraying Cardinal Pell as nothing but a mouthpiece for the Holy Father:

In a contest between showing slavish support for the Pope and putting people in the way of disease and death, Cardinal George Pell chose loyalty.
Now firstly, one has to ask: how does advising people not to have sex with H.I.V.-positive people put the former “in the way of disease and death”? Surely it is those whose focus is entirely on so-called harm minimisation—i.e. whose focus is on condom use—who are putting people at risk of catching H.I.V., the fact that the risk is lower relative to completely unprotected sex notwithstanding?

Mr. Marr goes on to quote His Eminence as saying

"They encourage promiscuity," the cardinal told Sky Television. "The idea that you can solve a great spiritual and health crisis like AIDS with a few mechanical contraptions like condoms is ridiculous."
Note that Mr. Marr fails to provide any evidence to refute Cardinal Pell’s main contention: that promoting condoms encourages promiscuity, with the corollary that, since the overall “sex supply” (as the likes of Ms Bettina Arndt might put) increases, the net effect could be an increase in the infection rate. That is the consequence at the level of society of the individual-level problem of ‘risk compensation’, whereby, as Prof. Green explains, individuals cancel out the net effect of any potential for harm minimisation by increasing the frequency of the harm-generating activity.

Mr. Marr invokes the purported success story of Australia’s response to the emergence of the A.I.D.S. catastrophe:

It's hardly news but in the face of this ridicule it has to be said again: Australia waged the world's most effective war on AIDS by ignoring the Catholic Church.
‘Most effective’ relative to what, though? One wonders how much more effectively Australia might have combated the spread of this disease if, instead of relaxing its anti-buggery and anti-prostitution laws (and let’s not forget, in Western countries the problem was chiefly among sodomites, drug addicts and prostitutes unlike in Africa, where it is also a major problem even among those who otherwise obey the natural law) at the very time—the 1980s—as A.I.D.S. was hitting the so-called ‘gay scene’ it had instead redoubled its effort to stamp out these vices.

Mr. Marr cites some figures indicating that many nominal Catholics in Western countries happily defy the natural law as taught by the Magisterium and juxtaposes these figures with those for third-world countries, whose citizens apparently have a good deal more humility than the ‘affluent’, ‘highly-educated’ aCatholic-type Catholics of the West and hence are more reluctant to flout Divinely-protected teachings.

Mr. Marr also provides some figures on comparative infection rates: he says that

It was as the Pope was flying into Cameroon - infection rate 5.5 per cent, compared with 0.1 per cent in Australia - that he reaffirmed the doctrinal hard line against condoms a few weeks ago.
Interesting comparison, that. Given that in Africa A.I.D.S. is as much, or possibly more so, a problem among heterosexuals as in the so-called gay community, the 5.5% figure shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. But while at first glance Australia’s infection rate seems miniscule, one wonders how much of that percentage belongs to the similarly-miniscule 1.6% of the population that identifies as homosexual.

Mr. Marr goes on to delve, rather superficially, into the basis for the Church’s teachings against contraception. He says, of the Holy Father’s remark that “each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life”, that

Christ didn't lay down that rule. You won't find it anywhere in the Bible. It crept into church teaching in the second century via Clement of Alexandria who came up with a formula - based as much as anything on Greek philosophy - that the only sanctified sex was sex within marriage for the purpose of procreation.

But as a correspondent (though himself not sympathetic to Catholic teaching) in yesterday’s Herald’s letter page noted,

Jesus didn't say many things. He didn't say, for example, "Thou shalt not manufacture weapons of mass destruction" but we know that doing so is wrong and so does the church.
Mind you, even if Our Lord had said this quite explicitly, presumably Mr. Marr would just denounce this as more “slavish loyalty”, so as always, one can never win with these secularists. And while it might not be explicit, in the form of words cited, in the Bible, one finds nonetheless in the Old Testament the condemnation, without exception, of the interruption method and sterilisation, the only two methods of contraception mentioned (source). Mr. Marr attributes the origin of the Church’s opposition to contraception to Clement of Alexandria; curiously, I could find no mention of this at the on-line Catholic Encyclopedia, while at Wikipedia the closest that we come to Mr. Marr’s contention is where it says that Clement “pronounces definitely against the sophists and against the hedonism of the school of Epicurus”. At the already-cited E.W.T.N. web page Clement of Alexandria is indeed listed as the first of the Fathers to teach what Mr. Marr contended, but one must note also that that web page provides a veritable who’s who of Church Fathers who taught against contraception. And as Mr. Marr notes, “With that, the church and Western civilisation set off down a very odd track for a couple of millennia.” So in other words, we have an abundance of Patristic teaching, and a strong continuity, over hundreds of years, of Magisterial teaching, both of which are in themselves good indicators of the veracity of the Church’s teaching in these matters—good indicators if we are to take seriously Christ’s promise to be with us always, protecting the Church’s teachings from error.

Nowhere in Mr. Marr’s article does he make any attempt to understand the natural-law basis for the Church’s condemnations of contraception and voluptuousness. Which is unsurprising, given that Mr. Marr seems to find nothing wrong with sodomy or whatever unspeakable things he does, and does, most sickeningly of all, in the name of love. Note also that contraception is actually a bit of a side issue here, a useful diversion for Mr. Marr to throw up, perhaps, but the key issue here is whether it is ever ethical, with or without a condom, to have sex with an H.I.V.-positive person. And even in proportionalist ethics, sex with a risk of catching H.I.V. cannot be recommended, since the expected evil (catching a lethal disease) will always be out of proportion to, will always outweigh, the expected goods of the unitive and procreative ends of conjugal relations.

Mr. Marr continues this digression with a cursory glance at the state of the question in the twentieth century, in the course of which he notes that

By the time the Second Vatican Council met in the 1960s, the pill had been discovered. A commission of theologians and medical experts concluded after five years of study that there was no good reason for the church to ban it. But Pope Paul VI did exactly that in the infamous 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae.

But crucial to Paul VI’s rejection of the majority opinion was what Mr. Marr himself noted: the strong continuity of Catholic teaching in the matter. As the Papal Commission’s minority noted:

One can find no period of history, no document of the church, no theological school, scarcely one Catholic theologian, who ever denied that contraception was always seriously evil. The teaching of the Church in this matter is absolutely constant. Until the present century this teaching was peacefully possessed by all other Christians, whether Orthodox or Anglican or Protestant. The Orthodox retain this as common teaching today.
So Mr. Marr can refute neither the natural-law basis for the teaching, nor its coherence and continuity over almost two thousand years. But for him, the natural law and the Church’s Divinely-constituted Magisterium are virtually irrevelant anyway: it’s all about power, you see:

Demonising contraception remains, as much as anything, an issue of papal authority. It's about power.
No elaboration on this contention is offered, though he’s by no means alone in asserting it, as we see with the usual suspects at The Australian’s letters blog:

How that man [Cardinal Pell] can say what he does on this and other issues is beyond comprehension - unless it is all a part of the power play that organised religion is.
Mulga Mumblebrain:
The Roman Catholic Church is always and invariably interested in one thing alone. Total control of its adherents.
Stephen Morgan:
He’s interested in getting his own way, and he and his Church will lie, dissemble and obfuscate in any way possible to do so, even at the cost of millions of lives.
Lewis Winders:
it isn’t about HIV, or humanity. It’s about power.
Someone needs to explain this for me. So Churchmen, it is alleged, give up marriage, family and the pleasures of worldly life in order to wield ‘power’ arbitrarily over people for their own sick amusement—only to have vast numbers of those people ignore them or defy them, or even join with the secularists in reviling them? This is really just gutter-level character assassination, but what is most sickening about it is, as I suggested, that nominal Catholics like those at the inaptly-named Catholica website go along with it, and even surpass the fervour of the secularists.

As Mr. Marr continues, he gives further indication of his inability to grasp the natural law:

There were glimmers of hope a few years ago when a great prince of the church, the former Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, began to argue that wearing a condom was less evil than infecting your partner.
But Mr. Marr seems not to understand the doctrine of lesser evil: the doctrine is that if one must permit one of two or more evils then one ought to permit the lesser evil. That’s permit, not do: one may never do evil in order to procure a greater good or avert a greater evil, even if the lesser evil seems trifling and the expected greater evil seems catastrophic. (And that, Mr. Marr, is clear from the Bible, and the New Testament in particular: see Romans 3:8.) But furthermore, condom use will never be the lesser evil, because there is always a third alternative: just don’t have sex.

But of course abstinence is anathema to the likes of Mr. Marr:

It's true that condoms don't prevent all transmissions of HIV/AIDS. Aspirin doesn't cure every headache either. And we know in our hearts - and every reputable study confirms - that the church's call for abstinence is useless.
He might ‘know’ this in his own buggery-addled heart, but “every reputable study” does not confirm it. Name them all then, Mr. Marr. And let’s have a closer look at his aspirin analogy. It’s a pretty pathetic one, but let’s adjust it so that it can offer some meaningful comparison. Now a headache is an evil, and taking aspirin is not intrinsically evil. Let’s suppose, though, that the patient has some medical condition that means that it will be potentially fatal—let’s say, hmmm, that there’s a 15% risk of a fatality. Now would anyone ever dream of recommending that he take aspirin for a headache? Even if we take a ‘harm minimisation’ approach and require, say, that he have someone with him when he takes the aspirin so that this other person can call for help? I certainly wouldn’t advise any such thing, given that the evil of death pretty clearly outweighs the evil of a headache.

Mr. Marr finishes on the following note:

But how many good Catholics will die in Africa and the Philippines before they learn that in the 21st century disobeying the Vatican line is a matter of life and death?
So again he brings up the Philippines. But what do the empirical data tell us?

AIDS victims in 1987: Philippines 135 / Thailand 112
In 1991 the WHO predicted the Philippines would have 80,000 to 90,000 cases and Thailand 60,000 to 80,000 AIDS victims.
Thailand promoted the use of condoms in massive campaigns where Catholic Philippines promoted ‘Abstinence’ and ‘Be faithful’.
The prognosis of the WHO was wrong for both countries:
1999: Philippines 1,005 / Thailand 755,000 AIDS victims

Source: British Medical Journal, volume 328, April 10th 2004
Maybe abstinence isn’t ‘useless’ after all, Mr. Marr? And let’s not forget that most opposition to abstinence as the cornerstone of public health policy on H.I.V./A.I.D.S. is based on a logical fallacy anyway: opponents say that we shouldn’t emphasise abstinence and fidelity because people might fail to live up to these ideals, but this clearly defies the principle that ‘abuse does not detract from use’. By the same logic we ought to abandon the ideal—which is what it is, after, all, just an alternative (and absurd) ideal—of universal condom use, especially since in the throes of passion it’s all too likely that paramours will throw caution to the wind and not bother with so-called protection, not to mention that once trust, whether justified or not, has been built up the paramours aren’t likely to stick to a ‘safer sex’ (note how even the pro-condom crowd backs away from the notion of ‘safe sex’ these days) régime for long.

So that’s the secularist line; what do our ‘separated brethren’ in the Protestant communities have to say? Although Mr. Muehlenburg had a sympathetic post at his blog back when the original controversy broke, the reaction from a spokesman for the Sydney Anglicans to the latest flare-up wasn’t terribly heartening:

The Anglican Dean of Sydney, Phillip Jensen, lent his support to Cardinal Pell's criticism of society's increasing promiscuity, but not to the banning of condoms.

"We don't oppose the use of condoms," he said. "The Catholic Church has opposed condoms. We haven't.

"We have no problem with birth control that includes condoms."
Dr. Jensen goes on to say that

there was more to modern promiscuity than just the ready availability of condoms.

"In terms of adultery, in terms of divorce, yes, we are in big trouble as a society because of the sexual revolution," he said.

"It's a century-long movement that has happened. In my view, it's a disaster. It has ruined lives. It is ruining our society."
Now to start with, I don’t think that the sexual revolution has been underway for fully one century yet. More like eighty years, I’d say. I’m alluding, of course, to the 1930 Lambeth Conference, which endorsed (albeit in a limited way) the separation of the unitive and procreative ends of conjugal relations, opening the floodgates to the widespread Protestant rejection of God’s plan for (as reflected in the natural law’s implications for) the propagation of the human race, so that today the Anglicans can say unequivocally that they do “not regard contraception as a sin or a contravention of God's purpose” (source) (who ever said slippery-slope arguments were logically fallacious?). Yet are Dr. Jensen and the Anglicans, along with the other Protestants, so blind as not to see that the very things that they deplore—as Dr. Jensen mentions, adultery, divorce, the sexual revolution and the very ruin of society—are linked inextricably with (or can even be the very consequence of) the separation of the unitive and procreative dimensions of human sexuality? (And that’s not to mention the Protestant denial that marriage is a true and proper Sacrament.)

No meaningful support seemed forthcoming from the Uniting Church either:

A spokesman for the Uniting Church said the use of condoms had led to improvements in people's quality of life. "They have obviously stopped people from catching life-threatening diseases," he said. "The Uniting Church is not opposed to the use of condoms."
Meanwhile, the President of the A.I.D.S. Council of New South Wales (visit its website, http://www.acon.org.au/—it’s just a front for the Sodomites’ League), Mr. Mark Orr, had this to say:

"Abstinence is one method of preventing the transmission of HIV, but we need to live in the reality of people's lives and their decision making. And often people choose not to abstain."
So, as I explained earlier, presumably we shouldn’t bother with condom promotion then either, since we can say that ‘often people choose not to use condoms’. Abuse does not detract from use, Mr. Orr.

It’s fascinating also to see just how badly people fail to understand what the Catholic teaching on these matters actually is. Listen to the following rhetorical question from one Kevin Poschelk in a letter published in yesterday’s The Australian:

How does the modern Church interpret the teachings of Jesus Christ to mean that the practice of unsafe sex is the Christian thing to do?
Where have Cardinal Pell, the Holy Father, or any Catholic theologian or pastor ever advised anyone to have sex, ‘protected’ or unprotected, with H.I.V.-positive people (or people whom one would presume, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, to be H.I.V.-positive)? The Church advises the only reasonable course of action: don’t have sex with H.I.V.-positive/presumably H.I.V.-positive people AT ALL. No-one in his right mind would advise people to have unsafe sex, and as for ‘safe sex’, even if one assumes for the sake of argument that condom use is not intrinsically evil, it is still clearly evil in these circumstances because the risk of death outweighs the expected benefits. (I explained this briefly earlier, and here’s a little analogy to illustrate it: suppose a house were on fire and there were somebody trapped inside. If there were a reasonable prospect of success then one could risk one’s life trying to safe the trapped person because the potential evil of one’s own death is in proportion to the potential evil of the other person’s death. But one couldn’t very well risk one’s life in order to save, say, some furniture, regardless of what ‘harm minimisation’ measures might be available. And so it is in the case of sex with H.I.V.-positive people.) So the Church advises neither ‘safe sex’ nor unsafe sex; she advises no sex, and to do otherwise would be manifestly and gravely irresponsible.

And perhaps surprisingly, it seems to me that, in fact, Catholics and secularists agree as to how these alternatives are to be ranked from most evil/least good to least evil/most good: in ascending order of ‘evilness’, they would be:

1. No sex with H.I.V.-positive people
2. Condomised sex with H.I.V-positive people
3. Uncondomised sex with H.I.V.-positive people

(Explanation: the natural law tells us that any given person’s priorities must be firstly to perpetuate himself as an individual and secondly, to perpetuate himself as a species. So the intention to catch H.I.V.—which is what unprotected sex with an H.I.V.-positive person implies—is more grave than the intention to inhibit conception, which is what condom use implies. But don’t get me wrong—2. and 3. are both evil, and one may never do evil, ever; it’s just a question of their ranking.)

Note also that this ranking holds both for singles and for married couples, since one may refuse to render the marriage debt if there is a reasonable suspicion that one’s spouse has a serious illness. So given this ranking, why the secularist obsession with 2.? Could it be that, for all there raving about abstinence advocates being ‘dogmatic’ (whatever that means—the secularists have turned into a dirty word what they probably never understood to begin with), they have an ideology, a ‘dogmatism’, of their own, which exaggerates man’s passions and denies that he can live a fulfilled life when bound by chastity? And while the Catholic Church can—and should—only ever advise 1., given that 3. is worse than 2., a government could permit the supply of condoms if it adjudges it impossible or imprudent to crack down on sodomy, I.V. drug use, prostitution and fornication. So in fact Mulga Mumblebrain was right in his or her previously-cited comment when he or she said that

The humane position would undoubtedly be to preach abstinence, but allow those who cannot follow this admonition … the use of condoms.
so long as we stress that it can only ever be a question of allowing, never advising or exhorting, condom use; as difficult as the consequentialism-addled secularists might find it to understand, one can never do (or exhort people to do) evil, even if one expects thereby to avert a greater evil. But if the finding of an Ivy League scholar like Prof. Green is to be believed (which it should—it’s supported by articles published in Science, The Lancet, British Medical Journal, and Studies in Family Planning), then in fact all that the evil of condom promotion does is to unleash even greater evils.

Reginaldvs Cantvar
Tuesday of Easter Week, A.D. 2009


matthias said...

an excellent treatise Cardinal and
David marr as always struck me as being a secular preacher and a cynic.the fact that he has left his wife for a gay lifestyle reminds me of Paul's statement that in thelast days men will have unnatural desires.
It is also in either the Epistle of Barnabas or THE DIDACHE,that also speaks about the reproductive basis of marriage.
your statements about a catholic confessional state that you have made to me,are worth putting up on this blog site especially within this context. Oh and yes trust a Jensen to offer minimal support to Cardinal pell.

matthias said...

There is an article in THE AGE today by two health professionals also criticising Pell but not even mentioning the Harvard report.


Louise said...

Well, St Paul is right about everything, is he not, Matthias.

Silly secularists! They don't even pay ttention to themselves when they do get it right. Remember "Peter's Friends?"

Sorry, Pole, I have minimal time on the 'puter just now, so my comments are no more insightful than this!

Happy Easter!

Cardinal Pole said...

Thanks for your comments Louise and Matthias. Matthias, I'll put up a post containing what I said about the confessional State in just a moment.