Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s criticism of JPII dubbed ‘absurd’

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s criticism of JPII dubbed ‘absurd’ Pope John Paul II in 1979.

Theologians have defended St John Paul II’s teaching on sexuality following criticism from the former Archbishop of Dublin, who accused him of “bad theology” regarding the use of condoms.

Archbishop Emeritus Diarmuid Martin said this in relation to the former pontiff’s statement that Catholics were not permitted to wear condoms during the AIDS crisis to halt the disease’s spread. This was in response to a question from Joe Duffy on RTÉ’s The Meaning of Life over the weekend, asking if St John Paul II’s decision was “bad judgement”.

Archbishop Martin continued saying, “It’s this idea of an extraordinarily narrow, dogmatic understanding of bringing principles and not looking at the broad circumstances in which a situation is taking place, and the struggles that people have to face”.

Fr Vincent Twomey SVD, Prof. Emeritus of Moral Theology at St Patrick’s College Maynooth, described the archbishop’s comment as “absurd”.

He said: “Dr Martin is projecting a very narrow, legalistic moral theology – that indeed did terrible damage in Ireland and elsewhere – onto the theology of Pope St John Paul II. That is absurd.”

Fr Twomey continued: “If anyone knew moral theology in depth and the complexity of what is involved in the whole area of sexuality, it was John Paul II with his books Love and Responsibility, his catechesis on the theology of the body and his encyclical Veritatis Splendor. In the encyclical, John Paul II rejected attempts by many modern moral theologians effectively to excuse sinful acts by taking into consideration the ‘circumstances’. Pope John Paul II’s rejection of condoms as a solution at the height of the AIDs crisis was not bad judgment, as Joe Duffy suggested in his question to the archbishop, but pastorally courageous and hugely challenging.”

He added that the former Pope believed in everyone’s “ability to do what is right, such as not taking the risk of infecting one’s partner with HIV/AIDS by using condoms (which even as contraceptives are insecure). Circumstances may mitigate subjective guilt but cannot excuse intrinsically wrong (sinful) actions”.

Dr John Murray, lecturer of moral theology in Dublin City University, also said he disagreed with the archbishop but added “he is quite right to criticise an approach that is insensitive to people’s circumstances and to their pastorals needs”.

He continued: “But to imply that was John Paul II’s approach, I think is very unfair and I don’t think that good quality moral theology can be done without principles that are applied fairly and correctly to circumstances… as far as I can tell the application of correct moral principles is what John Paul II was doing.”