When (the holy) father doesn't know best

May 03, 2006 by susan

by susan lenfestey

Shortly after the archdiocese of Boston announced that they were shutting down their century-old adoption agency rather than place children in homes with gay parents -- a practice the Vatican deemed "gravely immoral" in 2003 -- the Vatican took up debating the morality of the condom.

I suppose that the past "gravely immoral" behavior of a whole slew of priests shouldn't condemn the rest of the pack to having no moral leg to stand on, but the church's institutional response '" or lack of one '" well, that's another story.

So how is it that the Catholic Church thinks their ideas about condoms or what makes a normal, healthy family should result in anything other than sidesplitting laughter?

Families are evolving -- not all that long ago mixed race families were illegal too -- and who's to define what's moral or not? My friend Dana has a lovely 12-year old son who has four parents, all devoted to his well-being. Dana and her partner are his two moms, a gay friend is the adoptive father, and a straight friend donated the raw goods. The son, so far wonderfully normal, spends time with all of them. But this is just the sort of family that sends the Boston archdiocese, among others, into a frenzy.

Although most people would agree that the ratio of four adult parents to one child is better than four children to one (barely) adult parent, or to keeping kids in foster care limbo, the archdiocese won't touch these families and the religious right wants to legislate them out of existence. At the same time they want to legislate every blastula into existence, forcing a woman, sometimes a child herself, to give birth to a baby she can't possibly raise.

Now the Vatican has taken up debate on the morality of condoms. This is like a flock of nuns reviewing the efficacy of birth control pills, although nuns, being female, would be taken no more seriously than sparrows pecking in the dust. But what the red-cloaked cardinals decide will impact millions of lives, even though it should carry no more weight than a puff of papal smoke.

The question they seek to resolve is whether using a condom to prevent the spread of AIDS justifies the immorality of preventing conception. Is this a no-brainer, or what?

The liberal wing of the Vatican is inching over to the side of "maybe" on this one, but only for married couples when one partner is already infected, to keep the other partner from becoming infected and possibly dying. In a marriage with two healthy partners, they quickly add, a condom remains verboten, as it does outside of marriage.

But conservative Catholic scholars argue that allowing an exception, even for the married-with-AIDS crowd, would go against the church's teaching that all contraception is wrong. "Even if one's purpose is not to contracept, but merely to stop the spread of disease," writes the Rev. Thomas Berg, executive director of the Westchester Institute in New York, "one would still be opting for something that drastically disorders those sexual relations. And this, the church has taught to be immoral."

So that's the compassionate pro-life plan. No sex for the ill unless they're willing to die, and no sex for anyone else unless they're willing to have babies until they die.

The Catholic Church should know first-hand how powerful the sex drive can be. After all, fallen priests are poster boys for the failure of abstinence programs.

By declaring celibacy and joining the priesthood these men have chosen to live with other men, which is also a family of a sort, but one that has little to do with condoms and raising children.

The clergy should leave matters of parenting and prophylactics to those who are in that thicket, and get back to counting the angels on the head of a pin.

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