Like the presidency of George W, the sexual  morality teaching of the Catholic Church is a gift that keeps on giving…if you are a stand up comedian. Sometimes in the theology classroom it felt like doing stand-up. But it’s only funny for so long, then you have to cry or shout or join a protest, or leave the church.

The Catholic Church is pro-life. And in many ways this is a consistent and traditional (ages old) value, in general. But in specific terms it is tough to defend the church’s positions. Pro the unborn, life begins at conception. But not anti-war because of the right to defend our country in a just cause. Has anyone heard any debate about Just War theory recently?  It seems that any “conflict” is by definition just simply because we are involved with it.  Very lax moral guidance here from the church.

Catholics are pro-life and against abortion. So what about condoms is not to like? It avoids conception; it doesn’t abort a fertilized egg. And if you are HIV positive you should never consider putting your partner at risk by not wearing one. You should probably wear a whole wardrobe of rubber, not just a rubber “glove.” Because that is the loving, “life-affirming” thing to do. And we are pro-life. In the matter of protecting life, the gender of the sex partner or the profession of the sex partner is not the primary concern. Those are moral matters for another discussion. Sexual behavior that the church considers immoral – be it homosexual acts, oral sex, heterosexual anal intercourse, sex with prostitutes, these are all behaviors that need to be addressed separately if at all … yeah, sorry guys, the church doesn’t think those acts are “natural” because they are not open to creating life. But then neither is french-kissing and heavy petting. And mutual masturbation? Double no-no. Not even in marriage? Nope. I know — they need to get their heads out of our bedrooms and allow us to develop our sensual, sexual intimacy in ways that satisfy our marriage. They don’t need to be “sinning” good sex.  And yes, I do believe that if they were married they would develop a healthier sense of what good,loving sex is. But then again, I’m not sure that the Baptists have much broader ideas about sexual morality. Now, those Mormons might have something going on. I can see sharing the housework with a few other wives.  Ah, but here I am verging on stand-up again.

The issue of disease and the threat to life that Aids poses is a more pressing issue. Certainly no Catholic prelate should be expected to condone immoral sexual behavior, but neither should any prelate side-step the issue of life and death involved with unprotected sex with an HIV carrier. The pope has recently expressed a view that any rational thinking Catholic has accepted as appropriate years ago.

What is scary here is that all the vatican lackeys are trying to twist out of it. No, the pope hasn’t changed his mind about condom use. It is still immoral. Umm, actually he has changed from the official Catholic position guys, and it’s about time. He has made a distinction between contra-ception and contra-death. He points out that if it is about avoiding death then yes, condom use is reasonable. This doesn’t condone the sexual acts or the sexual immoralities  but it does suggest for the first time a common sense attitude in the issue of condom use.

Catholic adults have for decades believed that protecting sex from conception could be a moral good in some cases, disease is one such case, but avoiding dangerous pregnancies is another. As is avoiding the stress on the woman physically, on the marital relationship, and on the family when children’s numbers are unlimited. Catholic adults have been making difficult decisions about contraception for decades. The sad thing is that they were never officially offered the support and spiritual guidance they needed to make these decisions. Instead they heard that their decisions were immoral and could be enough to result in exclusion from the sacraments. In other words, decisions made responsibly in good faith, with input from the bible, church teaching, and prayer wasn’t affirmed unless it agreed with the official teaching of the unmarried, celibate(?) male clerics who tell us how to manage our sexuality.

Did you hear the story about the priest who got a woman pregnant but refused to pay for the upkeep of the child, even encouraging an abortion. When asked why he didn’t use a condom he answered, “But that would have gone against Catholic teaching.”  When is not wearing a rubber glove more morally imperative than helping to raise a child? How out of proportion our pre-occupation with rubber and pills has become. We should return to the main issues: love, life, family, self-control, self-respect, self-sacrifice. And on a practical level: if you are going to sin, sin responsibly. Don’t create more chaos and stress by having a child out of marriage, don’t create more disease and death by passing on HIV. But if you do screw up…do the next best thing. Care for the child or consider adoption, care for your partner and take on some of the burden of his/her health issues.

Final word: Any Catholic who doesn’t take responsibility for rational and moral decision-making in their own lives is not yet an adult in their faith. Any Catholic who is waiting for permission from the Pope to wear a condom to avoid an unwanted disease or an unplanned pregnancy is not yet an adult in their faith.

So…grow up why don’t you. Pray, reflect, seek advice, read the scriptures, read the Catechism and make your own best decision. Then don’t blame the pope for it. He’s a ways behind us yet. 

(And if you are an unmarried teenager, no, I am not giving you permission to go out and have sex as long as you use protection. I know you want to hear that, but it is not what I am saying. Read the bit about prayer, bible, reflection, catechism, spiritual guidance and responsible decisions. Look up the meaning of love, marriage, self-respect, commitment, and reflect on the demands of self-sacrifice that a committed relationship places on you when one’s partner gets sick, gets pregnant, gets dead.)  — once a high school religion teacher, always…