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Associated Press
Bishops Emphasize Ethics in Ban on Condoms; Law of Secondary Effect

November 3, 1989
LEAD: To the Editor:

To the Editor:

Archbishop Roger Mahony's committee of Roman Catholic bishops seems to have missed an opportunity to work more closely with public health officials (editorial, Oct. 20).

When I taught at Fordham University, solidly orthodox Jesuits once explained to me the law of secondary effect, a well established principle of Catholic theology. Under its terms, a communicant may without theological error perform an act the secondary effect of which is sinful, so long as its primary effect is not.

The example given me was that of a seriously ill patient to whom medication is given that will ease his pain and shorten his life. No sin occurs here, because the primary effect is blameless.

Is this not applicable to the condom and acquired immune deficiency syndrome? In this light, may not even the most devout Catholic use condoms if his primary purpose is to avoid the spread of disease, even if the secondary effect does indeed promote "morally unacceptable" behavior? Is not such behavior more acceptable than administering medication that causes death? JOHN GRIFFIN San Rafael, Calif., Oct. 22, 1989