More on contraception outside of marriage

Pope Benedict XVI’s comment about condoms is in itself not very interesting. He merely notes that the intention to avoid disease transmission — out of concern for other persons — is a good intention. But of course one good font, or one good element within one font, cannot justify the whole act. Three good fonts are needed for any act to be moral. Any one bad font makes the act a sin. Any bad intention, even if accompanied by a good intention, makes the font of intention morally bad and the act a sin.

How does the use or not of a condom effect the moral evaluation of the act? In any case, any use of contraception makes an act intrinsically evil. But what if the act is already intrinsically evil for other reasons? The answer is that the non-procreative moral object is a further disorder. To be moral, a sexual act must be marital, unitive, and procreative. The absence of any one of these moral objects makes the act always gravely immoral; the absence of two makes the act more gravely immoral; the absence of three makes the act even more gravely immoral.

Neither is it true that the absence of any one of these three moral objects causes all three moral objects to be evil. The absence of the marital meaning harms the other two meanings, but does not deprive the sexual act of those meanings. A non-procreative marital act is less fully marital and less fully unitive, but it is less gravely immoral than a sexual act that is non-marital and non-procreative and non-unitive.

When spouses have marital relations with contraception, the act does not become an act of adultery, nor an unnatural sexual act. Although some of the Doctors (Augustine, Aquinas) use the term adultery to refer to immoral sexual acts within marriage, they are using the term figuratively. Grave sexual sins in marriage are comparable to adultery, but they are not literally entirely non-marital. When a couple have sexual relations outside of marriage without contraception, they are able to conceive. So it is obvious that they still have the procreative meaning. They are not choosing any deliberate act that frustrates the procreative meaning of human sexuality, despite the absence of the marital meaning.

Therefore, the absence of any one good moral object — marital meaning, unitive meaning, procreative meanings — makes a sexual act intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. But the absence of two or three makes the sexual act even more gravely disordered.

But in every case the moral evaluation of an act must consider all three fonts of morality. Any one bad font makes an act a sin, but the moral weight of that sin is determined by all three fonts. (However, if any one font is gravely disordered, the act cannot be less than an objective mortal sin.)

Consider the following two scenarios.

A. a man has sex with a female prostitute but uses a condom in order to avoid disease transmission.

B. another man rapes a woman and does not use a condom

Moral analysis according to the three fonts:

1. his intention is gravely immoral, since he intends to engage in non-marital sexual acts. The intention to avoid disease transmission might be — by itself — a good element within his overall bad intention, if he is showing concern for other persons. But it might also be selfish, if he merely does not want to suffer as a result of his sin, or does not want to be discovered in his sin. Even if it is good, the font of intention overall is gravely disordered. One good element within a font cannot justify even that font.

2. the moral object is gravely immoral because his sexual acts are non-marital, and is further disordered because his sexual acts are non-procreative. To be moral, a sexual act must be marital and unitive and procreative. The deprivation of any one of these three good moral objects makes the act intrinsically evil; the deprivation of two or three makes the act progressively more disordered.

3. there are many bad consequences to this type of behavior. The good consequence that disease transmission is decreased in likelihood is outweighed by the many bad consequences of non-marital sex and prostitution. Also, in the analysis of consequences, if you are able to avoid a bad consequence completely, avoiding disease transmission by not having sex outside of marriage, then you are actually increasing the bad consequence of disease transmission by having sex with a condom, since its use is not 100% effective. The evaluation of the consequences has to consider both the likelihood of the bad consequence and other acts that might eliminate that bad consequence altogether.

1. the intention of a rapist is never good, since whatever end he intends, he is intending it by an evil means.

2. the moral object of rape makes the act intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral for two reasons: first, because the act is non-marital, and second, because the act is a type of severe violence against the innocent.

The second evil moral object is more gravely disordered than the first, and is more gravely disordered than the non-procreative moral object in the previous case. So even under this font alone, the rape is more gravely disordered. Both cases have two evil moral objects, but it is not the mere number of the moral objects, but their gravity that determine the moral weight of this font.

3. there are many bad consequences to rape; use of a condom, or not, has very little effect on the consequences of rape. The font of consequences remains gravely immoral.

Some commentators have been arguing that the use of contraception outside of marriage is irrelevant, since the sexual act involved in its use is already gravely immoral. What they fail to consider is that gravely immoral acts admit of degrees: sex outside of marriage is gravely immoral, rape (which is always non-marital) is even more gravely immoral, rape of a child is graver still. The fact that rape is gravely immoral does not prevent a theologian or the Magisterium from noting that any further disorder in the act makes the act even more gravely immoral.

Rape is a grave sin first and foremost because it is a type of severe violence, not merely against the body, but against the free will and against the whole person. Violence against the innocent is intrinsically evil and always immoral; the severity of rape (and the fact that it is a sexual act) makes the act gravely immoral.

If the rapist uses contraception, the act is more gravely disordered in its moral object. Now the disorder of rape is much more gravely immoral than the disorder of using contraception. But this fact does not justify the use of contraception. It is always the case that an additional evil moral object makes the second font of morality more gravely disordered. We rightly focus our attention and our condemnation on the more severe aspects of any sin. But any increase in the moral disorder of a sin makes the act more sinful. A rapist who also lies to his victim commits an additional sin by lying; his severe sin of rape does not make his sin of lying moral or morally-neutral. If he lies in order to manipulate his victim into a situation of vulnerability, as a means to commit rape, then his lie is not only intrinsically evil, but also gravely immoral. The rapist does not become above the moral law merely because he commits a grave sin. Any additional moral disorder to any of his acts, whether a lesser disorder or a greater disorder, makes his acts even more sinful, to some extent.

Some commentators are making this claim: the Magisterium cannot or will not teach that the use of contraception is immoral outside of marriage (in acts that are already gravely immoral because they are non-marital), because this would imply that the Magisterium were giving advice on how to commit an intrinsically evil gravely immoral act. To the contrary, the Magisterium is able to teach both that an act is gravely immoral, and that any further disorder in that act makes the act even more sinful.

It is a heresy to claim that the Magisterium is unable to teach the answer to any question on morality. The entire moral law is open to reason and the entire moral law is within the ability and authority of the Magisterium. And the entire moral law is found, at least implicitly, within the Sacred Deposit of Faith (Tradition and Scripture). Nothing in Tradition or Scripture is beyond the ability of the Magisterium to teach.

If an unmarried couple has sexual relations, they sin because their sexual acts are non-marital. If they also use contraception, their intrinsically evil sexual acts are even more gravely disordered. If they use abortifacient contraception, they sin even more gravely, since they commit the sin of abortion, and of contraception, and of pre-marital sex.

If a rapist uses contraception, his act is more gravely disordered. This does not imply that the Church is saying to rapists, if you must rape, do not use contraception. The Church teaches that rape is a grave sin, and that the rape of a child is “graver still” (CCC, n. 2356). This does not imply that the Church is saying, if you must rape, rape an adult. The Magisterium is able to teach on all matters of morality, on the whole moral law. The Magisterium certainly does teach that a gravely immoral act can be made more gravely immoral by additional moral disorder in the act.

Another error made by commentators is to treat the question of the use of contraception outside of marriage as if the answer could only possibly come from a ruling by the Magisterium — not from Tradition, not from Scripture, not from natural law, not from the teachings of the Magisterium on the basic principles of ethics, not from the teaching of the Magisterium on the meaning of sexuality and the reason that contraception is immoral. They treat this question in morality as if no one can know, or have any moral certitude as to, the answer, apart from an explicit statement from the Magisterium. It is as if the Magisterium does not teach, but only issues rulings. This error tends toward the heresy of Magisteriumism.

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