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Many have written asking for my take on the Pope’s comments about condom usage. I cannot, and will not comment on the moral dimensions of this issue as regards the use of condoms in light of Humanae Vitae. However, I think there is a scientfic dimension that has been overlooked here, and that dimension yields to a larger moral dimension.

Over at Deacon Greg Kandra’s blog, Reverend E.J. Cappelletti writes the following on this subject:

“I was ordained in 1950. The teaching at that time was quite clear on this matter. It is a case of double effect. If an action has two effects one good and one bad, provided that one does not will the bad effect, he or she is free to choose the good effect.

“Using a condom to avoid infecting a spouse is a good effect, preventing conception is the morally bad effect. One is free to choose the good effect.”

My response to Rev. Cappelletti:

The problem that I have with all of this is that the Pope is speaking on a more academic plane. The reality of condoms is that they have a 15% failure rate during typical use, as opposed to ideal use. This failure rate is established for use in married couples as evidenced by pregnancy as the definition of failure, and is contained within the textbook: Contraceptive Technology, which is the family planner’s bible.

With that number, 80% of all couples using condoms as their sole means of contracepting will conceive within ten years.

Now, this failure rate is established for pregnancy, which involves a five day window out of a 30 day month. Condom failures take place on the other 25 days, but are not included in the failure rate, because pregnancy is being used as the indicator of failure.

Even when having sex without any contraception at all, on an every-other-day basis, people have only a 15% chance of conceiving. So the truth of the matter is that condoms have a much, much, higher failure rate than 15% during typical use. In dealing with the transmissibility of HIV, this is catastrophic.

Improper storage temperatures during shipping and handling in summer and winter weaken the structural integrity of the latex, with the consumer having no way of verifying how well the condoms have been handled. The list of issues is endless.

So when the Holy Father spoke, his commentary didn’t seem to include the issues surrounding condom integrity and failure rate. Quite frankly, I’m alarmed at the Pandora’s box that has been opened. In light of the failure rates of condoms, the ONLY loving response on the part of the HIV+ person is to refrain from sex for the rest of that individual’s life. No loving person would take the chance of endangering the life of another.

My wife is a nurse and I am a medical microbiologist and this issue was vetted fully when we were engaged. We both agreed that if either of us ever contracted HIV during an occupational exposure that we would never again have sex, and that our abstinence would be the highest expression of intimacy and authentic love.

We stand by that today, eighteen years later. This has nothing to do with double-effect. This is about learning sacrificial love by dying to self so that others might live.

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