A recent ad run by Catholics for Choice merits acknowledgment for its extraordinarily clever mixture of truth and confusion. On the anniversary of Humanae vitae, the ad attempts to redefine Church teaching on condoms, and what it means to be a “good Catholic.”
Distributed through the July 24 edition of the Express paper (a publication of the Washington Post) at all Washington, D.C. area Metro entrances, the ad ran on four pages. The front page portrays a couple surprised in the act of snuggling with the caption, “Abstinence has a high failure rate.” On the back page is a slideshow of four couples, one of them homosexual, making the following statements: “We believe in God,” “We believe that sex is sacred,” “We believe in caring for each other,” and “We believe in using condoms” (this last statement in a different color and in bold font).
“Catholics for Choice” ad.
The inside pages of the ad announce that, “Catholics support the use of condoms to prevent HIV,” while attempting to justify this claim by misquoting Pope Benedict XVI in his 2010 book co-authored with Peter Seewald, Light of the World. Following this is the assertion that, “Catholics worldwide have made it clear they would like to take [Pope Benedict XVI’s] affirmation of condoms even further,” followed by four survey questions that were asked of Catholics in five different countries:
1. Have you ever heard a Catholic priest or bishop speak out against the use of condoms?
2. Should the Catholic hierarchy’s position rejecting condom use for any reason, including the spread of HIV, be changed?
3. Should Catholic hospitals and clinics with government-funded AIDS prevention programs be required to include condoms?
4. Is using condoms pro-life because it helps save lives by preventing the spread of HIV?
The ad then boldly, and falsely, states, “Good Catholics use Condoms.”
The point of the ad is obvious: to pit Catholics against their bishops by calling into question the decency and even morality of the “hierarchy’s position.” By creating a façade of strength in numbers, the ad suggests that Catholics can democratically pressure their hierarchy into changing its “position.”
It’s unclear why so many people insist on describing themselves as “Catholic” when they apparently have no desire to actually learn and live the tenets of the Catholic religion. Yet because of their relentless insistence to muddy the waters and return civilization to the era of the sophists, a clarification of the truly Catholic position in response to this ad is warranted.
First, the teaching of the Church (note the difference in phrasing from “the position of the Catholic hierarchy”) is received teaching— received by the whole Church. Number 84 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states: “The apostles entrusted the “Sacred deposit” of the faith … contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to the whole of the Church.” Then quoting from the Dogmatic Constitution Dei verbum, the Catechism continues:
By adhering to [this heritage] the entire holy people, united to its pastors, remains always faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. So, in maintaining, practicing, and professing the faith that has been handed on, there should be a remarkable harmony between the bishops and the faithful. (emphasis added)
The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this manner is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.
The Catechism continues on to explain that this role of the Magisterium is one of service, and that there is an “organic connection between our spiritual life and the dogmas. … if our life is upright, our intellect and heart will be open to welcome the light shed by the dogmas of faith.” This would be one reason that the Church has authority to also pronounce on morals, under which the use of condoms falls. To this point, in his encyclical Humanae vitae, Pope Paul VI addressed directly the criticism that a moral judgment on the use of contraception (including condoms) was outside of the Church’s competence. It is likely no coincidence that Catholics for Choice ran their ad on July 24, a day before the 44th anniversary of the publication of Humanae vitae.
So in response to the advertisement, the informed Catholic can reply: if one wishes to be called Catholic, one willingly chooses to receive along with the whole Church the deposit of faith entrusted to her through the apostles. One also sees through faith the action of the Holy Spirit, of God Himself, in the teaching authority of the Church, which is exercised by the bishops in communion with the Pope. This authority extends to matters of both faith and morals because of the organic connection to doctrine and how it is lived. And the Church’s authority to guide the faithful specifically in this very question of use of condoms was unambiguously clarified in Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae vitae.
Second, all of the claims of the ad follow from its first assertion that “abstinence has a high failure rate.” To this point numerous responses could be made, but I wish to focus only on one: the blatant absence of any scientific corroboration that condoms do not have a high failure rate. (For further information on the failure rate of condoms, click here). It is missing because condoms do have a high failure rate, and, to use the logic of this ad, if only one person contracts HIV because of the failure of a condom, this is one person too many. How is it “love” to overlook the surprisingly high rate of condom failure, the very real possibility of HIV transmission with each act of sexual intercourse, and to be unwilling to practice abstinence, which of its very nature is sure to prevent HIV transmission?
Third, and this is perhaps the most important point, the Church’s teaching on sexuality and the transmission of life is liberating, not suffocating. To be under the dominance of one’s sexual drive is slavery; to be unable to stop oneself from being controlled by one’s desires is miserable. For those who sincerely wish to love, Church teaching makes absolute sense and is a sure path to personal integration. The human person, man and woman, is invaluable, possessing a dignity so profound that neither can be treated as a plaything or as a means to providing gratification. True love of the other person, therefore, always necessitates a posture of service, of deference, and never an attitude of possession or egoism. In addition, for romantic love to be sincere, it must be open to life. It is for this reason that the Church condemns both homosexual activity (not persons) and the use of condoms. Neither of these abuses of sexuality are love or worthy of human persons.
At root, the Catholics for Choice ad tells the tale of our first parents, who began to doubt God’s goodness and wisdom regarding what was best for them, and who instead desired themselves to redefine right and wrong. They swallowed whole the serpent’s clever twisting of truth and lies and ended up enslaving themselves to both sin and misery. The only way to break free of this vicious cycle is to embrace the cross, to trust God anew when He delineates the path to true life, and to live the truth in love in all of its wondrous challenges and opportunities. The bishops are not the enemy; sophistry and distorted notions of care, life and love are. “Catholics for choice,” come home and enjoy real freedom.
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LifeNews Note: Melanie Baker is a contributing writer to Human Life International’s Truth and Charity Forum.