• 21 . 11 . 10
  • The Pope has allowed that condoms are acceptable in certain limited circumstances. With this welcome first step, the Catholic Church joins us in accepting that the world is not always black and white, and that nuance is appropriate even for the most difficult of questions.

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Catholic Church Takes First Step Towards Moral Relativism

The Pope has made the landmark statement that condoms are useful and acceptable in certain circumstances. Of course, it was dressed up in the language of responsibility and acceptance that “you can’t do whatever you want”. Well, I can agree with that, and think it is positive, no matter how narrow a crack the door has opened. There will undoubtedly be those who dismiss this as irrelevant and outmoded, as certain people tend to no matter what missives come from the Vatican. But we should applaud this as a positive step and resist the urge to belittle just for the sake of it. It is true that there is a long way to go and that the Catholic Church’s position on this has contributed to the HIV epidemic in Africa and elsewhere, but this is certainly an important milestone. No pope has ever come this close towards saying the use of condoms is appropriate, in any situation at all. An understanding that the world is not black and white is a startling and welcome admission.

It is sad, that this had been considered for a number of years but was previously obstructed due to a presumed “PR problem”. The Church will certainly have to work hard to shake the perception that it is more pre-occupied with protecting its image than being a force for good in the world. (Question: at what point does striving against moral relativism and equivocation become itself immoral? – If your answer is not “never”, then you also believe in moral relativism.)

They did have a point though, because the argument must now be made; if the Pope, whom many consider to be God’s primary messenger on earth, can agree that condoms are, in limited circumstances, an appropriate method of preventing illness and harm, can his congregation also agree that abortion, while distressing and awful, is sometimes necessary to preserve the life of the mother? If life begins at conception, and condoms deny conception, then surely condoms deny life and must be opposed. However, if the case can be made that condoms are a useful measure to prevent suffering, then just as surely the same case can be made of abortion. There is certainly lots of room to argue the details, but the Pope’s acceptance of the first premise today gives me hope that the latter will follow, even if it is many years down the line.

For those who argue that the Church’s tacit acceptance of abortion is not necessary, they should think again. Abortion remains illegal in many parts of the world, and under constant threat in many others. Religion, of whatever strain, is the number one reason for its illegality. No matter what you think of the Church, the reality is, it will outlast you, and it will outlast your grandchildren’s children. Humans seek understanding, and to the extent that they can’t find it through science or natural philosophy, religion will always fill the void.

Legalisation has meant the ability for a woman to choose an abortion when the alternatives are too much to bear, without legal repercussions or a risk to her physical safety. For members of the Church, the succor and comfort from belonging to a faith family that understands and accepts their decision, even if it pains them, will undoubtedly help deal with the psychological impact of what is a tragic, life-changing event.

I am not advocating abortions for convenience. The idea of a casual abortion offends me, and I don’t need a religious influence in my life to help me come to that conclusion. Those who consider that abortion is “no big deal” should be marginalised. We should certainly seek to eradicate the notion that abortion is an acceptable method of birth control. So too though, should we marginalise those who seek to prevent its practise in every situation regardless of the context. They are a sizable margin however.

I don’t expect the Church to accept abortion any time soon, but today’s news means it is at least a possibility. I consider that a positive step that should be embraced.