BY JOHN THAVIS IN ROME
POPE BENEDICT XVI’S recent comments about condoms represented a “normal and traditional” pastoral application of moral theology, according to a theologian who advises the Vatican on doctrinal matters.
,Franciscan Fr Maurizio Faggioni said the Pope’s comments reflect the principle that there can be “intermediary steps toward moral awareness” that allow for some flexibility in how Church teachings are applied.
A moral theologian and a consultant to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Fr Faggioni was addressing the reaction to the Pope’s reflections on condoms in the book, Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times.
In the book the Pope repeated his view that condom campaigns are not the way to stop the Aids epidemic, but he allowed that in some specific cases – for example, a prostitute who tries to diminish the risk of spreading infection – use of a condom could be a first step toward taking moral responsibility for one’s actions.
Fr Faggioni said the Pope’s comments should be seen in the light of traditional principles of moral theology, including gradualism, which understands moral decision making as a path that involves a series of progressions.
“The Holy Father recognises that there is a path of growth in responsibility,” Fr Faggioni said. By saying condom use may mark a step along that path, he said, the Pope is allowing for a “wise and prudent” application of Church teaching to individual cases.
“This is nothing more than a normal and traditional application of some principles of pastoral teaching and of moral casuistry,” Fr Faggioni said. Moral casuistry refers to a method that tries to determine appropriate moral responses to particular cases and circumstances.
Fr Faggioni said the Pope’s comments do not place in question the Church’s teaching against birth control, but recognise that there can be different ways of applying the general law to specific situations.
“One could ask to which other cases this would extend. This is something that will be seen. One should not force the words of the Holy Father, either,” he said.
Fr Faggioni noted that the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation began studying the morality of condom use in disease prevention at a time when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict — was the congregation’s prefect.