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HomeCatholic Sexual Morality & Social Ethics in Africa: Contested Questions

Catholic Sexual Morality & Social Ethics in Africa: Contested Questions

Catholic Sexual Morality & Social Ethics in Africa: Contested Questions
©Hellen Sitawa and Eunice Kamaara
Key words

African, Catholic, Christian, condom use, contestations, cultural contexts, gender relations, HIV/AIDS, sexual morality, values, Youth

A global moral crisis characterise the contemporary world. In 2015, the UN declared sexual violence a global moral crisis which is worsened by “the culture of impunity for those who commit these crimes”. It singled out eight countries in which this is most rampant. Of these eight countries, six are in Africa. While the UN was referring to atrocities committed in conflict situations, the crisis is bigger than this. Sexual violence is not only limited to conflict situations: it happens in nearly all other public situations. The public raping and assault of a young female physiotherapist intern in South Delhi on 16th December 2012 comes to mind. Commenting on the incident, Deepak Tripathi observes:
The violent and sustained rape of a 23-year-old woman by a gang of youths in Delhi before the eyes of someone who, according to reports, she was to marry is a particularly gruesome act. That it happened in an upmarket area of the Indian capital was worse. It has serious implications for the nation’s reputation in the eyes of the world…. The brutal assault on the couple, and the events leading up to the woman’s death at a Singapore hospital, has been one of the most widely covered topics outside India about the country, and rightly so. When a crime prompts the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, to castigate India, and to remind the government that “every girl and woman has the right to be respected, valued and protected,” it must be taken as a matter of national shame.
But sexual violence also occurs at home among family members, the very place that individuals are expected to find peace and love.
In sub-Saharan Africa, both premarital and extramarital sexual activity is common, sometimes with multiple partners. In many situations, marriage is a predisposing factor to HIV infection especially among women due to what is commonly known in Kenya as ‘mpango wa kando” (side plate) and other cultural factors. Add the prevalence of gender based violence and one begins to understand why HIV infection is almost uncontrollable in the region. Unfortunately, sexual immorality is directly associated with violence and other evils including the continuing pandemic of HIV/AIDS. Indirectly, it is associated with corruption because like corruption, sexual immorality is “being permissive and being perverted”.
Africans claim to be deeply religious, with a majority of them confessing and practicing a specific faith. Religious institutions are some of the most influential agents in Africa given their numerical strength, constant and regular forums, expansive social networks and continued standing in respect and authority. Although morality and religion are not synonymous, a relationship exists: many religions have ethical frameworks guiding personal and social behaviour among adherents. Christianity is numerically the strongest religion in Africa with the Roman Catholic Church (hereafter referred to as the Catholic Church) as the largest denomination. However, often times there are controversies on what is right and wrong even within religious groups.
Against this background, in this chapter, we explore the Roman Catholic sexual morality (focussing specifically on sexual intercourse) in relation to socio-economic realities in contemporary Africa. The paper opens with a brief history of the development of Catholic sexual morality after which the basics of the Catholic sexual morality is presented. Thereafter, an analysis of some of the controversies around Catholic sexual morality related to contextual realities of poverty and HIV/AIDS in Africa is made with the objective of arousing critical reflection among individual Christians as well as among Church leadership. Therefore, we deliberately raise more questions than answers and we hope to propose some methodological trajectories which scholars might follow in Africa in further developing themes and understanding issues around sexual morality in African Catholicism.

Historical developments of sexual morality in the Church
The history of Christian sexual morality in general and specifically the Catholic Sexual Morality may be traced far back to patristic theology which runs from the end of the apostolic period to the beginning of the medieval period. This theology refers to the study of the early Christian writers who provided systematic reasoning on Christian faith. The most influential and outstanding is Augustine of Hippo (AD354-430), who is considered a saint and a church father by the Catholic Church. Augustine of Hippo initially lived as a hedonist during his early life believing that human beings should have sex for pleasure (pleasure seekers) and not for procreation. He gives moving confessions to describe a turning point in his sexual morality:
For, compared with Your sweetness, and the beauty of Your house, which I loved, those things delighted me no longer. But still very tenaciously was I held by the love of women; nor did the apostle forbid me to marry, although he exhorted me to something better, especially wishing that all men were as he himself was. 1 Corinthians 7:7 So quickly I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I put down the volume of the apostles, when I rose thence. I grasped, opened, and in silence read that paragraph on which my eyes first fell: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” [Romans 13:13-14] No further would I read, nor did I need.[8] Later during his prime youth, he joined Manichaeism which taught moral dualism of simplistic choice between good and evil, a view that promoted a lot of hostility to the material world including sexual activity . He later converted to Christianity, after which he wrote extensively on sexuality. As a renowned theologian on sexual issues, he is aptly described as the: “Master of medial thought for through him, the middle age were furnished with a framework of ethical reference in the area of sexuality. Right up to the twelfth century, theologians, jurists and moralists systematically referred to him when discussing these ethical issues”.
St. Augustine is, therefore, acknowledged for playing a significant role in Church history with regard to sexual morality. He developed a Christian morality which taught that the sole lawful purpose of sex was procreation. For him, any “sexual intercourse even with one’s legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked where conception of the offspring is prevented.” He held a negative view of non-procreative sex hence he considered all sexual desires, relationships and pleasures as lustful and sinful. Although Augustine recommended procreative sex, he personally hated sex though this was only after baptism. Before baptism and conversion, Augustine was sexually promiscuous. These views are likely to have influenced a negative attitude towards sexuality within the Church. In fact some early Church theologians equated sexual love with death , views that held sexuality in extreme degradation. It is within this negativism of sexual love that the traditional Christian sexual ethics was developed. Sexuality was entirely narrowly centered on the procreative function of the sexual act. This presents however a much more complex question in seeking to understand how Augustine’s views have shaped Christian sexual morality. We therefore recommend engaging Paula Fredricksen’s chapter three where she drills deep into this in her influential work, Sin: The Origin of an Idea.
In the medieval period, the Church generally held a negative attitude towards sexual morality alongside the dominant view that marriage is for procreation. The question of when intercourse was or was not allowed was also brought to the fore during the Middle Ages. Sexual intercourse for instance was not allowed on feast days, Sundays, during menstruation, before receiving communion, during pregnancy and even after childbirth. This forbidden days totaled to about 40% of every year .
Scholastic Theologians in the Latin Church however took a moderate stand by shifting from the “timing” concept to the “intention” or “the motive” of the sexual intercourse The Council of Trent (1566) and several other synods, for instance, did not insist on abstinence from sexual intercourse on specific times as an “obligation” but as an “admonition.” They formulated rules to govern sexual intercourse.
Among the medieval scholars, Thomas Aquinas is highly acknowledged for his contribution to sexual morality. Relying on the scripture in his arguments, he wrote on chastity as an important virtue that moderates sexual appetite in sexual morality while considering sexual morality as an aspect of temperance. His views have influenced the modern understanding of sexuality such that the Catholic Church considers sexual intercourse in marriage as chaste only when it upholds the primary purpose of union and procreation while the unmarried are expected to express chastity through sexual abstinence. Echoed by Pope John Paul 11: “At the center of the spirituality of marriage, therefore, there lies chastity not only as a moral virtue (formed by love), but likewise as a virtue connected with the gifts of the Holy Spirit—above all, the gift of respect for what comes from God (donum pietatis). This gift is in the mind of the author of the Ephesians when he exhorts married couples to “defer to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). So the interior order of married life, which enables the manifestations of affection to develop according to their right proportion and meaning, is a fruit not only of the virtue which the couple practices, but also of the gifts of the Holy Spirit with which they cooperate (20).Guided by these views, the Catholic Catechism enumerates several offences and transgressions against chastity such as fornication, rape, lust, masturbation, and prostitution.
The 16th century Church reformation brought in significant changes in the dominant Christian ideology on sex of the medieval period. The moral teachings of the Church were critiqued and challenged such that the reformation could be seen as both a conflict of authority in the realm of leadership as well as in morality. Erich Fuchs observes that it is during the reformation period that sexuality was recognized as central to the fundamental human experience of conjugality. There was a shift from the ancient Christian tradition that exalted celibacy as the Royal road to salvation to the promotion of the primacy of marriage. This reformation period is seen to have given sexuality a positive dimension where husband and wife were charged with co-responsibility to the conjugal and family life and to exercise moral and social responsibility in marriage.
But what exactly is the meaning of Catholic sexual morality today? To this we now turn.

Catholic Sexual Morality
Catholic Sexual Morality is grounded on natural law and divine revelation expressed in canonical scripture and sacred tradition as interpreted authoritatively by the Magisterium (teaching authority) of the Catholic Church. This morality generally evaluates human sexual behavior according to the laid down standards by the Church. It is derived from the principle: “sexual pleasure is morally disordered when it is isolated from its procreative and ‘unitive’ (between spouses) purposes”. Dave Amstrong, a Catholic apologist in his blog titled National Catholic Register ‘Sex and Catholics: Our Views Briefly Explained’ affirms that the Church holds that God created sex first and foremost for procreation but also for this purpose, pleasure and enjoyment in marital unity . In 2016, Pope Francis revisited and affirmed Humanae Vitae presented an unusual position from Vatican, a position that affirms the joy of sex. Yet, he realistically observes: “We also know that, within marriage itself, sex can become a source of suffering and manipulation”.
To understand Catholic Sexual Morality, it is important to note that human sexuality is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person. This view is predicated on the Sexual- Spiritualism Theory which advances that sexual activity has a spiritual function which distinguishes human beings from animals where male and female complement each other to be complete through sex . As observed by Karl Peschke, when male and female are joined together through sex, they complete one another in a completion that is not only biological but also spiritual; sexuality reaches deep into the human soul . The anthropological foundation of Catholic Sexual Morality is the biblical genesis creation account that affirms that God created human beings in God’s image and likeness and that everything that God created was “very good”. Therefore, the human body and sex must equally be good. Having been created in the image of God, human beings are not mere products of nature that have their origin in dust (of the earth) and their destiny in dust but are expected to transcend their biological and sociological make up to have a hand in shaping their being as co-creators with God.

There is no single sexual act that is exempted from moral law. For any sexual act to be considered moral, it must have the three basic determinants of ethical behavior: the object of the act, circumstances and the end of the act. The morality of any sexual act is hence dictated by the intention, the moral object and the consequences of the act. In fact the good and positive consequences of any sexual act must always outweigh any bad or negative consequences.
In this case, we propose a complementary approach of deontological and teleological approaches to reach a concrete basis of the moral norm. We argue that the judgment of the morality of an action is not possible without careful study of the nature of beings (deontological approach) and without proper regard to the end of the act (teleological approach). We consider the two to be complementary rather than mutually exclusive.
The teachings of the Church categorically stresses that for a sexual act to have a moral good, it must be marital, ‘unitive’ and procreative in nature. The Catholic Church considers any sexual act that is deprived of any of the three functions evil and morally wrong.
The Church is categorical in its teachings that if sexual intercourse is performed outside the marriage context, it contradicts its original purpose. The Catholic Catechism outlines that “conjugal love … aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul”, which eventually makes the marriage bond to be a true sign of the love between God and humanity. Sex is therefore considered chaste only in marriage. The conjoining of husband and wife through sexual intercourse is sacred and life-giving with their biological differences being divinely designed to complement each other for the purposes of mutual reproduction and sexual pleasure. Sexuality in the Catholic discourse is hence ordered to the conjugal rights and obligations between man and woman in marriage (ICor.7: 3-5). It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death.
Despite the many variations that marriage has undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures and spiritual attitudes, it is considered not as a purely human institution but as God-ordained. Marriage is not a chance event. Hence, the intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established and endowed with its own proper laws by the creator Himself. God is seen as the author of marriage and the vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the creator.
The Church considers the expression of love between husband and wife to be an elevated form of human activity, joining husband and wife in complete, mutual self-giving, and opening their relationship to new life. As Pope Paul V1 wrote Humane Vitae: “The sexual activity, in which husband and wife are intimately and chastely united with one another, through which human life is transmitted, is, as the recent Council recalled, ‘noble and worthy. This union demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving that is open to fertility. The marriage union not only purifies and strengthens married couples but also raises them to the extent of making them the expression of specifically Christian values. For the Church, polygamy is contrary to conjugal love which is undivided and exclusive. This love seeks to be definitive and cannot be an arrangement of ‘until further notice”.
Children are believed to be the supreme gift of marriage such that the fruitfulness of conjugal love extends to the fruits of the moral, spiritual and supernatural life that parents hand on to their children by education. In this sense, the fundamental task of marriage and family is to be at the service of life. The Vatican Council II notes: “By their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children, and find in them an ultimate crown.” Nevertheless, the Church teaches that spouses to whom God has not granted children can still have a conjugal life full of meaning to radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality, and of sacrifice.
The Church expresses grave moral concern in any sexual expression that is sought outside sacramental marriage such as premarital sex, homosexual practices, rape or in which the procreative function of sexual expression within marriage is deliberately frustrated including the use of artificial contraception such as pills and condoms.
Regardless of (or perhaps because of) this clear sexual morality, sexual negativism (negative attitude to sex) still abounds in the contemporary Church across the world and sexual love is not freely discussed. The situation is extreme in Africa especially because Catholic sexual morality seems to contradict African social values around sexuality. This has generated many controversies which remain unresolved, more than a hundred years of the Christian mission in Africa. In the next session, we analyze some of these controversies in the context of major modern challenges of African living: poverty and HIV/AIDS.

Controversies on Catholic Sexual Morality
This section presents a brief outline of common controversies that emerge from the teachings of the Church on life issues regarding sexual ethics and morality in the context of contemporary Africa: Contraception and more specifically condom use.

Contraception use in the context of poverty and youth sexual activity
The practice of contraception is an age old practice in human history. It refers to intentional and deliberate use of various chemical and physical methods including devices, agents, drugs, sexual practices or surgical procedures to manage the sexual act to prevent pregnancy. They include oral contraceptives, barrier methods (like the Intra-Uterine Devices (IUDs), spermicides and condom use, tubal ligation, and vasectomy, among others. There is evidence of the practice of techniques such as coitus interruptus (commonly known as the withdrawal) which is referred to in the Old Testament (Genesis 38: 8-10), a practice also known in the Greco-Roman world and in Medieval Europe.
The Catholic Church has been opposed to contraception for as far back as one can historically trace. As a major religious entity, the Church has condemned behaviors that are considered damaging to society and to the faithful. The anti- contraception rule by the Catholic Church developed through various historical periods was necessitated by the need for the Church to protect fundamental values of procreation, life, human dignity and marital love; a move that was justified especially at a time when procreation was under attack by heretical groups such as the Gnostics and Marcionists in the first three centuries of Christianity”. While the Gnostics encouraged sexual practices only if they did not result in procreation (arguing that procreation was a senseless perpetuation of creation), Marcionists saw procreation as supporting the sadistic work of the evil god of the Old Testament. The Old Testament god was perceived as one who took delight in the suffering of the people through the discomforts of pregnancy and labor in child bearing.

It is against this background that the first school of Christian theology was developed as a reaction against heretical teachings of the time. The school got involved in the procreation debate arguing that procreation was not only good but holy; that through procreation man and woman cooperate with God in the work of creation. The Church made an affirmation that only the married should engage in sexual practices for it is in marriage that procreation becomes “good”. Sexual intercourse for “procreation” therefore was the rule that dominated early theologians on the primary end of marriage. This dominant opinion later gave rise to the contraception debate through the medieval period championed by St Augustine of Hippo who is regarded as the greatest theologian of all time by the Catholic Church especially on the issue of contraception.

Augustine criticized and condemned sexual intercourse between married couples during the sterile period of the wife’s menstrual circle, as was promoted by Manicheans, since conception of the offspring is prevented. He made reference to the story of Onan in the Bible (Gen 38: 8-10) who was killed by God for ‘withdrawing’ during sexual intercourse with his brother’s wife to strongly condemn sexual intercourse in marriage during the sterile period. Augustine’s use of Onan’s story in support of his anti-contraception rule is however questionable in the sense that God may have condemned Onan for declining to procreate on behalf of his brother as had been directed by his father and not for ‘withdrawing’ during sexual intercourse.

It is in line with Augustinian philosophy of “sex for procreation” that the Catholic Church developed its teaching against contraception and was followed without much controversy because population at the time was not a big challenge. More so, the anti-contraception rule was a welcome move for nationalistic interests since population played a crucial and major role in the power balance: the higher the population, the more powerful a country was. It was not until the 19th century that the contraception debate re-appeared as an issue of international concern . At this point in history, it was understood and perceived as a social “good” because of the high rate of population growth that was threatening the socio-economic situation of nations. Social organizations started to advocate for birth control as a solution to the high population growth, a move that the Catholic Church saw as a direct attack to the anti-contraception teachings which had to be defended.

The Church emphasized its opposition to contraception because according to the New Catholic Encyclopedia 1967, the conjugal act is of its very nature designed for procreation of offspring and therefore those who in performing it deliberately deprive it of its very efficacy, act against nature and do something which is intrinsically evil.
The Catholic Church’s campaign against contraception reached its climax in Pope Pius X1’s Casti Connubii in 1930. Prior to the release of the encyclical, the Pope announced that he was to make a speech which: “would deal with the most important subject affecting more than any other the family, the state, and the whole human race”. The Pope was right indeed since there is no other subject in human life that has affected the three institutions as the one of contraception. That is why everyone is called upon to offer critical analysis on the contraception debate. The Pope acknowledged that children are God’s gifts and blessings adding: “The blessing of the offspring however is not completed by mere begetting of them, but something else must be added, namely the proper education of the children.”
Generally, there was opposition even within the Catholic Church to Casti Connubii. The issue of contraception was later discussed and developed to recognize conjugal love in marriage. In 1951 Pope Pius X11 approved the use of the sterile period for couples with serious economical, medical or social constraints to avoid getting children. The Vatican II also approved the natural method of family planning arguing that it does not involve the destruction of life. The Church however rejected all other family planning methods affirming: “sons of the Church may not undertake methods of birth control which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine authority” (The teaching of the Second Vatican Council). In recognizing conjugal love and approving the natural family planning method, the Council may appear to have differed with St. Augustine’s view for “ sexual act for procreation’ although both seem to agree in teaching against the artificial methods of family planning such as sterilization, use of condoms and other barrier methods, spermicides, coitus interruptus, the Pill, and all other such methods, with the view to strongly defend human dignity, marital love as well as the transmission of life. At the time, this position sat well with majority of African faithful because of the African value for having many children in families. As a result many Africans appreciated this teaching.
On 29th July 1968, Pope Paul VI found it necessary to affirm the traditional Church sexual morality on the sanctity of life in the encyclical, Humanae vitae (Of Human Life), dated 25 July 1968. Driven by Malthusianism and the consequent explosion of family planning campaigns of the 1960s, the Pope restated the two fold purpose of conjugal relations: procreative and unitive. He declared artificial contraception intrinsically evil. According to Human Vitae natural family planning, where sexual activity is restricted to times in a woman’s menstrual cycle when conception is unlikely to take place, is the only licit method for married couples.

Pope John Paul I did not publicly affirm or speak against Humane Vitae. But on November 22, 1981, he released Familiaris Consortio in which he described artificial contraception as an intrinsically evil act that is excluded and that it is against the natural order of things. Beyond this, he delivered a series of over one hundred and twenty lectures in which he reflected on Humanae vitae and fully vindicated it.

Pope Benedict XVI did not explicitly affirm the Catholic anti-contraception rule in a strong way except at the International Congress organized by the Pontifical Lateran University on the 40th anniversary of Humanae vitae. In his address, the Pope referred to Humanae Vitae as “controversial, yet so crucial for humanity’s future… What was true yesterday is true also today.” Pope Francis too has re-affirmed the Catholic tradition on contraception in his praise of Humanae Vitae, describing Paul VI’s as “prophetic, he had the courage to take a stand against the majority, to defend moral discipline, to exercise a cultural restraint, to oppose present and future Neo-Malthusianism”.

As one may notice from the above, later popes have restated the Catholic anti-contraception rule even though some have provided hints that contraception is not necessarily intrinsically evil. Pope Paul VI was the first to make this hint when he observed that artificial contraception was necessary for nuns raped in civil war contexts. But the most explicit message on this has come from Pope Francis. On 1st May 2014, he observed as he praised Humanae Vitae:

Everything depends on how Humanae Vitae is interpreted. Paul VI himself, in the end, urged confessors to be very merciful and pay attention to concrete situations. But his genius was prophetic, he had the courage to take a stand against the majority, to defend moral discipline, to exercise a cultural restraint, to oppose present and future Neo-Malthusianism. The question is not of changing doctrine, but of digging deep and making sure that pastoral care takes into account situations and what is possible for persons to do.
Pope Francis emphasizes on “digging deep and making sure that pastoral care takes into account situations and what is possible for persons to do” is sympathetic to contexts of poverty and other challenges. More lately, Pope Francis has restated the Catholic Church’s position on artificial family planning indicating his belief that contraception interferes with the creation of life but courageously broke away from tradition to argue that condom use for purposes of preserving or protecting life could be a responsible act, in and outside of marriage. Let’s now turn to the implications of the Catholic position on contraception in the African context.
The basic arguments by the Church against artificial contraception throughout the ages are that it is not natural and that it is anti-life. But what is natural in human beings in relation to sexuality? Are sexual instincts not natural to both men and women? Is it not natural that women generally feel more sexually aroused during the fertile period than during the infertile period of their menstrual cycle? Is it not unnatural then for women to engage in sexual act when they are not naturally aroused and to avoid the act when they are most aroused? The approval of the natural method by the Catholic Church in relation to the natural order of things would seem contradictory. These and many other questions have been raised by other African scholars including Bujo and Magesa , whose views contribute to this conversation.

This anti-contraceptive position of the Church raises concerns ’: In the context of poverty especially in developing countries in Africa, what should be the way forward in the contraception debate? Should couples engage in sex and accept children as they come since they are God’s gifts? What happens to those married Christians who cannot afford to provide education to their children? Should they continue to live as husband and wife without engaging in sexual relationship? Indeed, the Church does not seem to provide practical solutions to the materially poor couples yet procreation and education are inseparable. Practically, the rule on contraception should not endorse procreation at the cost of education of the procreated since the reality of human situation is extremely complex and cannot be generalized. Sexuality should not only be regarded as a biological fact but as a human reality as well. There is need therefore for couples to be realistic and mindful of their moral obligations as much as they are expected to surrender to each other in marriage and to the Church authorities bearing in mind their socio- economic contexts.

International development organizations like the World Health Organization and the United Nations Population Fund associate poverty with high population at the national level and many children at the family level. Therefore, they promote contraception as a solution. This makes sense in contemporary Africa where poverty associated with inadequate resources, unemployment, and other factors is a reality. This is manifested in lack of basic needs including food, education, health and shelter. Families in Africa are therefore encouraged to plan their families to reduce poverty. But majority of these are Catholic families and so the Catholic anti-contraception rule applies. Is it then realistic for the Catholic Church to forbid use of contraceptives? Does the argument that contraception is anti-life valid in a context where many are dying of hunger and other poverty associated causes? Would people rather die of poverty than practice contraception?

As the Catholic Church continues to reaffirm the anti-contraception rule under the issue of responsible parenthood, in view of population increase and poverty in Africa, the views of the married couples who are directly affected by non-use of family planning methods should be sought for both justifications and limitations of the method. As argued by Akong’a: there is need to differentiate between provision of information and communication; information remains a one way flow of knowledge while communication is a two way flow which aims at active involvement and cooperation on the part of the target group. The Catholic married couples need to be convinced of the relevance of the message in their lives so that when they adopt the recommended information of behavior and practices, they view them as for their own advantage and not as a way of pleasing Church authority. For those couples who cannot rely on natural family planning, the Church doesn’t seem to offer practical advice hence some Catholics do not perceive the use of contraceptives as evil. In view of this, Peschke observes that artificial methods of family planning are not necessarily gravely sinful and should not therefore warrant excommunication from the Church. Considering the socio-economic pressure from poor catholic societies and some catholic scholars who are aware of the world’s socio-economic situation, Peschke’s views are valid and need consideration since the persistence of high population growth is likely to have socio-economic impact leading to problems like crime, prostitution and overcrowding in educational and health facilities.

The Church would argue that it advocates for the natural method and so families in situations of poverty in Africa have the option of natural family planning. But how effective is natural family planning in contemporary African contexts? The method requires proper education and instructions so as to avoid making mistakes which result in unwanted pregnancies. Many Catholic families practice it without adequate knowledge ending up with unplanned pregnancies. In turn, this makes them and others to develop hostility and a negative attitude to the catholic teachings. In January 2015 when a German journalist sought for Pope Francis’ opinion during his visit in Philippines on poll findings which indicated that the population growth in the country was the major reason for its poverty, and that many Filipinos disagree with the Catholic teaching on contraception, the Pope simply replied that the key is “responsible parenthood.” He directs those who need guidance in licit ways (natural family planning) to consult experts and marriage groups for help. The Pope’s correct argument is that we do not have to bend rules to suit our circumstances. However, the Church should do more than call for the education of couples on natural family planning and on how to live their marital life with respect to their mutual sexuality. This needs to be re-emphasized because natural family planning method education seems inadequate.

Another challenge with the natural family planning method is in that for it to be effective and efficient, husband and wife are expected to have self-control, mutual respect, agreement, and discipline. In the context of patriarchal societies in Africa, where unequal gender relations characterize marriages and sexual violence in and outside marriages is rife, it is unrealistic to expect mutual respect and agreement. Perhaps the Church should be laying more emphasis on gender justice as the foundation on which the natural method of family planning is laid.
For those couples who cannot rely on natural family planning, the Church doesn’t seem to offer practical advice hence some Catholics do not perceive the use of contraceptives as evil. In view of this, Peschke observes that artificial methods of family planning are not necessarily gravely sinful and should not therefore warrant excommunication from the Church. Considering the socio-economic pressure from poor catholic societies and some catholic scholars who are aware of the world’s socio-economic situation, Peschke’s views are valid and need consideration since the persistence of high population growth is likely to have socio-economic impact leading to problems like crime, prostitution and overcrowding in educational and health facilities.

More so, since the Church and government serve the same people, it is prudent to analyze the teachings of the Church on contraception in relation to government policies such as the National Council for Population and Development (NCPD) and the Family planning programs. In Kenya for example, family planning programs have aimed at ensuring contraceptives are provided to all who are within the reproductive age; a move that the Catholic Church criticizes for providing contraceptives to unmarried people thereby encouraging premarital sex and promiscuity. The government and the Catholic Church do not, however, seem to be in total disagreement on policies of family planning. They have a common goal but they differ on the means to the same goal. They seem to agree to differ. Unlike the artificial methods, the natural method is said to have no side effects, though not very effective and not easy to apply. Couples should be enlightened on both the advantages and disadvantages of each of the various methods of family planning and both the government policy and the Catholic Church’s policy should be encouraged and be improved upon. Other than the problem of lack of enough education on the Catholic stance on family planning and how the natural method works, there seem to be a dilemma within the Catholic Church about the problems brought about to couples as a consequence of rapid population increase with its impact on socio-economic lives of the people. Since the magisterium is aware of the difficulties of the natural method of contraception faced by many married couples and as men and women of science continue with research on this natural family planning method, should people just watch as more families plunge into poverty? Every effort should be made, by all religious bodies, non-governmental and private organizations and even individuals to provide more education and instructions on the natural method of family planning as well as on the artificial family planning.

Away from married couples, statistics suggests that young unmarried people in Africa are sexually active, often with multiple partners. A review of national surveys by Doyle et al, indicate that 25% of young people aged 15- to 19-year-olds have had sex by age 15; with more than 20% female having gotten pregnant by the same age . Multiple sexual partnerships are common explaining the high risk of HIV infection among the same age group. Over time, parents have moved from less than 10% support of condom use among young people to 60–65%. A more recent study in Kenya dubbed #SexMoneyFun – because as it suggests, for 14-24 year old Kenyans, these three are so complicatedly interrelated, “that they deserve to be connected not just into a single concept, but into a single word. And not just any word but a digitally interactive hashtag word at #SexMoneyFun”. According to this report, 65% of Kenyan youth consider it okay to have a ‘sponsor’ even when in a relationship and 33% of all youth interviewed indicate that they do have a ‘sponsor’. HIV statistics indicating highest prevalence not only among young people but also among married people in Kenya confirm this. Okigbo et al (2015) found that 50% of all women involved in a study of 15-24 had had sex by the time of the study; the mean age at first sex was 17.7 years; 15% had ever been pregnant with the mean age at first pregnancy standing at 18.3 years. 76% of those who had ever been pregnant said that the pregnancy was unwanted at the time .

In spite of huge resources spent by international health organizations on information education and services on contraceptive use across Africa, the overall, rates of contraceptive use among young people continues to be low. Yet, the risk of dying during childbirth for women aged 15 to 19 is double that for women in their 20s and five times greater for girls under the age of 15.

Against these facts one can understand the growing acceptability of condom use among young people by parents. In any case, parents would know their children better than the Church would. But the Catholic Church insists that condom use with its unreliability in preventing pregnancy and more in preventing HIV infection is not the solution. The Church argues that prevalence of behavior does not make it moral and should not make it acceptable. For the Church, these statistics are not an end in themselves; the statistics indicate a deeper problem of decreasing moral values. The answer therefore does not lie in promoting condom use because that amounts to addressing only the symptoms. The more rational thing is to address the root cause of sexual promiscuity among young people by promoting value education. This is a valid point and we agree with the Church on this. We argue that in contemporary African society, there are emerging issues relating to ignorance on African values, erosion of the meaningfulness attached to African values and the evaluation of African values using western criteria. This has led to disintegration of the moral fabric of society, breakdown of the African family synergy, and alienation of individuals and societies from their roots. Responding to these emerging issues on African values is important. To begin with, we need to salvage the African family synergy as a foundation for recovering and perpetuating African values. This needs to happen in an interactive way that supports integration and incorporation of values from other cultures to enrich African value systems rather than destroy them. The interaction between African value system and other cultures is likely to lead to integral development that adequately meets our needs. For instance, Christianity does not teach African moral values but clarifies, purifies and confirms the values. The argument forms part of a broader aim of the African Christian Initiation Project (ACIP) which seeks to promote values education for early adolescents in Kenya through modern initiation rites . Within the ACIP project is a doctoral study that seeks to investigate how traditional African values may be integrated with Christian values to provide an effective and acceptable modern initiation rite in western Kenya. In this chapter therefore, we dwell specifically on the Catholic anti-contraception rule as it relates to married couples.

Condom Use in the Context of HIV/AIDS & Gender Violence
Just like the other barrier methods of contraception, the use of condom for whatever reason is opposed by the Catholic Church. The position of the Church to date (last officially expressed in 2013) is that condom use during sexual intercourse is morally evil since it interferes with the creation of life: sexual acts must be open to transition of life. The Church only approves the natural family planning method among married couples arguing that it doesn’t destroy life. While we accept the classification of use of condom as unnatural family planning, the arguments and questions raised above on the challenges of the natural method of family planning apply. No need to repeat these here. In this section, we focus on use of condom not as a contraceptive but as a disease-preventing device.
Over 20 years after the first case of AIDS was reported, HIV/AIDS remains a global health challenge and priority. At the end of 2011, 34.2 million people were living with HIV globally, up from a slight increase from 33.5 million at the end of 2010. A persistent trend of HIV is the geographic variation between and within nations and regions. Sub-Saharan Africa continues to be the epicenter with a staggering over 90% of all global cases of children under 15 living with HIV. In Africa, while national HIV prevalence trends suggest that HIV infection has significantly reduced, HIV/AIDS related deaths continue to be high in some parts of the nations. In Kenya for example, HIV prevalence has reduced from the peak of 10.5% in 1995/96 to 6.7% in 2003 and 5.6% in 2012 and 4.9% in 2017, HIV prevalence in Homa Bay, and Siaya counties in 2017 was over 20%. Besides, people continue to die of new opportunistic diseases and new infections continue to be registered.

The situation of HIV/AIDS is made worse by gender based sexual violence. Kimuna and Djamba explored factors associated with physical and sexual wife abuse among 4,876 married women within the 15 to 49 years . Their findings suggest that 13% of all married women in Kenya experience sexual violence. The Kenya Domestic Household Survey (KDHS) 2014 estimates that 14% of women of the same age experience sexual violence in marriage. Sadly, multivariate analysis showed that being a Christian significantly increased risk of physical and sexual abuse.

In spite of scientific evidence of the positive relationship between condom use and HIV prevention, and in spite of high prevalence of HIVAIDS in Africa, condom use remains low especially in marriage relationships. The 2012 Kenya AIDS Indicator Survey for example suggests that married women are more at risk of HIV infection than unmarried women, thanks to ‘mpango wa kando” mentioned earlier in this paper. Another study already cited in this paper, “#SexMoneyFun”, confirms this when it suggests that 65% of Kenyan youth consider it okay to have a ‘sponsor’ and 33% of all youth interviewed indicate that they do have a sponsor. Yet, generally, married women in Africa are unable to negotiate use of condoms even in high risk HIV infection situations because of unequal gender relations’.
Against this background, the Church would be seen not to be concerned about HIV/AIDS and by extension, not concerned about women in Africa when it insists on the ant-contraception rule. . Upon return to Rome from his visit to Kenya, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pope Francis was asked by a journalist if the Church should not reconsider its position on condom use in the context of HIV/AIDS. While we appreciate his response that “the problem is bigger”, his dismissive attitude then seems insensitive to the deadly challenge facing millions of Africans within the family. Besides, in his Amoris Laetitia (AL) (the Joy of Love), an apostolic exhortation addressed to the pastoral challenges of the family, Pope Francis, was silent on condom use. We wish that he, at the minimum, affirmed Pope Benedict’s position that condom use could present a step in the right direction as far as showing concern for the other person is concerned, or better still take time to emphasize why the condom is not necessarily an effective solution to HIV/AIDS. He could have cited scientific evidence to counteract the seemingly theoretical evidence that condom use is positively related to HIV/AIDS prevention and control: its inconsistent and incorrect use as well as the challenge of risk compensation (assumption that the use of condom eliminates all risks thereby promoting sexual promiscuity). We appreciate the Pope’s cautious way of dealing with so complex an issue. Nevertheless, the Pope could have done well to indicate awareness of isolated situations where condom use may be a necessary evil, for example, among discordant couples where the threat of HIV infection is a daily reality.

Condom use as a way of preventing disease especially in the context of HIV/AIDS has been controversial with theologians taking opposing viewpoints. Unlike the use of drugs and other surgical procedures used for therapeutic purposes, many prominent Catholic leaders have openly declared that they do not support the use of condoms to prevent disease arguing that the practice is equally contraceptive as it interferes with the creation of life; yet sexual acts must be open to the transition of life. The Catholic Church stresses that it condemns condom use also because it is likely to open a wide and easy road towards infidelity and lowering of morality hence creating more problems than solving them.

Pope Benedict for instance, in 2010 categorically stated that although the use of condom may be seen as a responsible act in very special cases such as among male prostitutes for purposes of reducing the risk of infection from HIV , it is not a truly moral solution. He emphasizes that in such situations, the use of condom becomes a responsible act only as a first step to raise awareness of the act which is later followed by the benefit of avoiding death. Condom use in this case is a purely life-saving act which should not however, be seen as a moral solution to prostitution and the spread of HIV/AIDS. For the pope, a truly moral solution is to advise such persons to cease prostitution and sexual activity outside of marriage. However, it is really possible that all persons would take the advice and exercise sexual control? For those who wouldn’t, for whatever reason, would it be Christian to insist on nonuse of condom? Would it not be loving for them to use condoms?
The Catholic Church has also been consistent in its teaching against the use of condom by citing problems of leakage and breaking of condoms during sexual intercourse which eventually exposes the users to infection. While condom manufacturers consistently claim that condom use prevents the spread of HIV, in 2003, the president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the family claimed that condoms are permeable to the HIV virus arguing that the HIV virus is about 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon hence there is a possibility for it to pass through the ‘net’ formed by the condom. This allegation has since been disputed. However, according to international health organizations that promote condom use, for example UNFPA, condoms have a 98% success rate. Yet, real-world studies suggest an 85% success rate. Whatever the case, for the 5% or 15% who experience condom failure rates, in the context of HIV, individuals are 100% exposed to life-threatening virus thinking that they are protected and the statistics are irrelevant to them. Condom use therefore may not guarantee the user 100% security and is therefore perceived by the Church as a means to false sense of security. But does the 5 – 10 % failure justify ignoring the 85-95% for whom the condom works effectively?

Although the Church is opposed to condom use in terms of prevention, it advocates for the formation and education of persons towards proper behavior. It teaches sexual abstinence before marriage and advocates for a faithful monogamous marriage. Hence, rather than the use of condoms as an ‘easy way’ to prevent the transmission of AIDS, the Church advocates education towards sexual responsibility, that is, to have sex only within marriage. In response to those infected and affected by the scourge, the Church seeks the establishment of personnel such as doctors, chaplains and volunteers to provide health care. This would make sense if the Church has already established regular and effective institutions through which this education is promoted. It has not.
The position of the Catholic Church on condom use has also raised concerns on issues related with participation in global health care services and collaboration with secular organizations such as UNAIDS and the World Health Organization. These bodies, for example, have been critical on the Church’s stance against condom use arguing that the use of condoms is the best available means to prevent infections among sexually active people. They have a point even if we were to consider the larger 15% failure rate. In 2014, The United Nations committee on the Rights of Children stated that there is need for the Church to” “overcome all the barriers and taboos surrounding adolescent sexuality that hinder their access to sexual and reproductive information, including on family planning and contraceptives”. Consequently, the Church’s stance has been criticized as unrealistic, irresponsible and immoral by some public health officials and AIDS activists. Public health officials advocate for a comprehensive sex education as opposed to the abstinence only sex education advocated by the Church. However, this indiscriminate provision of sex knowledge and contraceptives in the name of comprehensive sex education does not promote responsible sexual behavior and merely addresses the symptoms rather than the root causes of youth sexual activity . ???
The Church has equally been blamed for not responding to the HIV/AIDS crisis due to its opposition against condom distribution and the easy ‘condom solution.’ In view of these allegations, one may ask: What is the position of the Church in relation to HIV/AIDS? Should the Church be blamed for not responding to the HIV/AIDS crisis? Contrary to these claims, it may not be true that the Catholic Church has not done much in response to AIDS crisis because the Catholic Church is the largest private provider of HIV care, treatment and support to victims of HIV/AIDS. Through the Caritas Internationalis, the Church has co-operated with the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) . The Caritas Internationalis is a confederation of 164 Catholic relief development and social service organization that operates in most countries of the world and partners with UNAIDS. The UNAIDS, according to the Vatican estimates that the Catholic Church related organizations provide approximately 25% of the HIV treatment, care and support.
The Church has co-operated with international bodies and organizations in providing patient care, anti-retroviral treatment, home-based care, visits and counseling to those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. However, while some of these organizations see condom use as an end in itself, for the Church it is a simplistic and a temporal means to the moral end.

Turning our focus to Africa where the AIDS epidemic has caused untold suffering and in countries like Uganda where the epidemic is said to have reduced drastically, it may be interesting to know whether the decrease in the epidemic was primarily due to the efficacy of the ‘easy’ condom solution. Indeed HIV/AIDS in Uganda in the early 90’s was spreading fast like bush fire and the deaths in families were horrifying necessitating serious measures to stop the deaths. President Museveni initiated a concerted community mobilization strategy that included the Church, business people and even rock stars in the fight against the epidemic. The entire Ugandan nation saw the epidemic as their crisis. They popularly promoted the message that it was possible to prevent AIDS through the ABC (Abstinence, Be faithful and Condom use), a move that was later advanced to include testing and counseling to avoid further spread of the virus. The AIDS message was clearly articulated to the people of Uganda, and that the solution to the scourge was in sexual responsibility; a move that is in harmony with the Church’s teaching and has been seen to have helped in the reduction of the spread of HIV/ AIDS in Uganda. The Ugandan situation points to the fact that condom use was only but an aspect of the solution to the epidemic and therefore other countries need to borrow a leaf from the country. The distribution of condoms may entirely not solve the problem.
Although the position of the Church on condom use can be seen as a long term solution to sexual immorality with all the challenges that results from it, it raises concerns especially among discordant married couples (where one is infected while the other is not). When a Catholic married person realizes that he/she has contracted HIV, should (s)he for instance continue experiencing conjugal rights with the spouse without condom use? Opposition against condom use by the Catholic Church is likely to pose great challenges to such marriages. Hence, the direction that this struggle and debate is ultimately resolved is key to finally controlling AIDS especially on the African continent and the future credibility of the Catholic Church because the core of all the problems around HIV/AIDs is being able to deal squarely and adequately with sexuality. But one wonders if this idealistic situation will ever be realized in human history.

In this chapter, we have presented the Catholic Church sexual morality with specific reference to contraceptive use. From the times of Augustine of Hippo through the times after the Reformation to the contemporary times marked by Casti Connubi of Pope Pius X11, the Vatican II, Humanae Vitae by John Paul the VI, Familiaris Consortio of Pope John Paul II to Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, the position of the Catholic Church has not changed: artificial contraception is evil because it frustrates the natural process of procreation. But there has been a back and forth position with regard to whether artificial contraception is intrinsically evil or not.

In this chapter, we interrogate this anti-contraception rule of the Catholic Church in the context of contemporary Africa. In spite of the explosion of family planning campaigns driven essentially by Malthusianism in 1960s, the Church’s position found acceptance among Africans perhaps because it affirmed procreation as a natural God given gift and the position resonated with the African values of a large progeny. Over the years however, many Africans started questioning the Church’s position necessitating Humane Vitae and Familiaris, Consortio and other papal pronouncements on the never changing position of the Church.

It is the view of these writers that the Catholic Church is right on the following: morality is not dependent on acceptability, popularity or extensive practice. Moral goods remain morally right regardless of what people do or think. However, the Church is called to condemn sin and to love the sinner. It would be an act of love if the Church were to preach that condom use is evil but allow for condom use in specific situations of love. Further we concur with the Church that promotion of condom as a solution to youth sexual activity including sexual mobility largely serves to promote sexual promiscuity. It is obvious that sexual promiscuity continues to be on the increase with availability and acceptability of contraception. We stand with the Catholic Church Magisterium to argue that values education especially for young unmarried people would be the right and reasonable thing to do. Yet, we acknowledge that the right and reasonable thing is not always chosen. In such situations, condom use would be a better evil.

Various scientific findings – including those of condom use promoters like UNFPA, concur that condom use, even when correctly and consistently used, is not 100% effective in preventing either pregnancy or HIV infection. Since pregnancy and HIV are matters of life and death whose acceptability should not be dependent on high percentages of their effectiveness. For those people who conceive while using a condom, life is transmitted by a 100% and for those who are infected with HIV in spite of using a condom, infection is a hundred percent and should therefore not be downplayed by issues of probability. Yet, we do not refute that with between 85 and 95% failure rate, the condom remains the most efficacious means of controlling HIV infection. We argue that the Church should be at the forefront in promotion of values education for young unmarried people, making reference to the African Christian Initiation Program which seeks to reconstruct African initiation rites towards promotion of values, including sexual values.

We appreciate that the Catholic Church is one of the major providers of HIV/AIDS care and support services in Africa. Nevertheless, we are discouraged that the Church’s message that artificial contraception is not intrinsically evil has not been affirmed in a strong way. In the context of married couples in contemporary Africa characterized by poverty, HIV/AIDS and gender violence, and in the context where over 60% of young people engage in sex, lukewarm affirmation of the stand suggests inability to appreciate the concept of ‘lesser evil’ practical moral theology. In our argument we raise more question than answers to prompt further research by African scholars working with their colleagues from other parts of the world. We suggest a methodological approach that applies critical thinking and analysis of the position of the Church against the complex contextual realities and the different of experiences: a) poor families who cannot afford to educate many children, should they continue to thoughtlessly procreate? b) discordant married couples – should they restrain from marital sex even as they continue to live as husband and wife?, and c) gender based spousal sexual violence where the risk of sexually transmitted infections including HIV infection is obvious -would spouses be condemned if they use condoms to protect each other from disease? Pope Francis realistically acknowledges the social reality of spousal sexual violence. For discordant couples as well as HIV positive couples, sexual abstinence may not be feasible and to avoid infections and reinfections they may have no option but to use condoms. This is food for thought not only for the Church but also for both Christian faithful and non-faithful. The need to appreciate context can never be overemphasized.


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Suggested readings
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Kamaara, Eunice Karanja. Gender Relations, Youth Sexuality and HIV: A Kenyan experience. Eldoret: AMECEA Gaba Ppublications, 2005.

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Peschke, K. H. Christian Ethics, Alceister: C. Goodliffe Neale Ltd, 1985.

Todd, Salzman A. and Lawler Micheal G. The sexual person: Toward a renewed Catholic Anthropology. George Town University Press, 2008

Biographical information
Hellen Sitawa Wanyonyi, is Assistant Lecturer in Social Sciences department at University of Eldoret, Kenya. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Religious studies and is currently a doctoral student in the department of Philosophy & Religious studies, Moi University-Kenya. Her research interest is in youth moral values and ethics and her PhD research topic seeks to investigate how traditional African values may be integrated with Christian values to provide an effective and acceptable modern initiation rite in western Kenya; a study that is part of the broader work of the African Christian Initiation Project (ACIP).

Eunice Karanja Kamaara, is Professor of Religion at Moi University, Kenya. and International Affiliate of Indiana University Purdue University, Indianapolis (US). She holds a PhD in African Christian Ethics and MSc. in International Health Research Ethics. Her research expertise is in interpretive methods with trans-disciplinary perspectives to religion, gender and health in contemporary Africa. She is particularly interested in translating research findings into practical development through policy influence and community research uptake. She is widely published, and has consulted in research for national and international organizations including but not limited to the World Bank, Church World Service (CWS), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Templeton World Charity Foundation Inc. (TWCF) and the World Council of Churches (WCC). Eunice currently serves as a Director of Church World Service and in the Ethics Review Board of Medecines San Frontieres.