Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Non-Directive Counselling: what I have learnt

Last evening I presented one of two papers on NDC at a seminar on the subject organised by the Anscombe Centre, and took part in the discussion. I'm not going to give a blow-by-blow account of proceedings, or reveal the identities of anyone (I don't know if they'd mind or not), but I will sumarise what I think I learnt from a very interesting evening.

As the seminar was attended by a number of people from counselling organisations (or organisations which do counselling inter alia), as well as a number of moral philosophers, we were able to try in a sustained way to get to grips with each others' angles on the subject. The counsellors (as I might call them for convenience) were naturally not used to the kinds of questions we raised; nor were the philosophers especially well-informed about counselling. The first thing which emerged was that, as far as I could see, the existence of moral problems of the type we were raising had not occurred to the counsellors as a group before (or: before the thing blew up in the Catholic press a few months ago). Handling a counselling session to minimise cooperation with evil, or consent by silence to evil, was not part of their training. As Catholics they naturally had some instincts on these matters, but these things had never been formalised, and although they went into counselling with considerable professional training, ethics from a Catholic point of view did not form part of that. In this, of course, they are in the same boat as doctors, though one might have hoped for something better from organisations with strong links to the Church.

They were able to clarify for us some of the protocols they use and how these relate to the kinds of moral problem which I outlined. The answers to the question 'Can an NDC counsellor volunteer information?' and the question 'Can an NDC counsellor answer a question about his own moral view?' were both a clear 'no': nor would any of the counsellors present allow themselves to break the rules of NDC in an emergency situation.

On the other hand, some of them did say that they would aim to steer the conversation in particular directions, that they looked out for 'pro-life clues' and so on. If some kind of information would make a difference, in the counsellor's judgement, he would steer the client into asking for it.

This might look as though the rules of NDC were being kept in letter but not in spirit, but it also emerged that other organisations, including pro-abortion organisations, would regard the provision of information as not infringing NDC at all. Their approach would be to make sure that the client had a full set of options to consider. The pro-life counsellors would not set out options unasked: one reason for this which was discussed is that if you give pro-life options, it would seem that you had to give options involving abortion as well. Something a bit like a Socratic questioning method, of getting the client to see for herself, and to ask for herself the necessary questions, is used instead.

In addition to this, one counsellor pointed out that it would be impossible for a counsellor not to convey a certain amount about his own preferences by tone of voice, body language and so on. (Thinking about this afterwards, it occurred to me that this was much less the case with counselling over the phone.)

My argument in my paper was to the effect: NDC may well work in some cases, and indeed be the best approach in some cases, or for some of the time in a case, but a counsellor must be ready either to switch into a more interventionist mode of operating, or refer the client on to a more interventionist type of counselling, if the counsellor judges that a good outcome depends upon it. I pointed out in my paper that such a procedure was perfectly normal in ordinary counselling. However, the counsellors present were very resistant to this suggestion, and it is clearly not a way of doing things they are used to.

They used two arguments against it. One was that becoming more interventionist would undermine the rapport with the client. If this were true then it would never bring about a better outcome; but equally if it were true then other counselling organisations, who tell their counsellors to switch into a more interventionist mode when the client is suicidal, would have noticed. And indeed if being interventionist never worked then all the other kinds of therapy, other than NDC, would never work, and that seems rather an extravagant claim.

The other is that any deviation from NDC would be found out and referrals from GPs and the like would dry up. In the case of one counselling group represented at the meeting at least, the organisation's business model depends on strict adherence to the rules for this reason. Against this it should be pointed out that there are other business models: you can advertise and get your clients that way, and non-NDC pro-life counselling groups do just that. More fundamentally, this argument does not look to me like a justification for close material cooperation in a grave evil.

My preliminary conclusion from the discussion is this. One the one hand, despite saying they would never break the NDC rules, and their reluctance to move the client on to other forms of counselling, pro-life NDC counsellors can find ways of getting the client to ask for necessary information, can steer the conversation in a pro-life direction, and so on: so there are more resources for ensuring a good outcome (and avoiding cooperation in evil) than might appear at first.

On the other hand, when push comes to shove, and in the admittedly unlikely case when a word in season would make all the difference, pro-life NDC counsellors will stick to a strict interpretation of the rules and remain silent. I have yet to see a sufficient moral justification for that, but no doubt the debate will continue.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Why I was wrong about Triple Effect

Frances Kamm has proposed something called 'Triple Effect', in which an agent can bring about a desired effect, which is essential for his overall plan, without intending it. She says this shows we can use something as a means which we do not intend. I agreed with her analysis, though I said it should not be called a means of the agent.

Kamm's examples. The party: I will only throw a party if I don't expect there to be a lot of clearing up. I think my guests will do the clearing up for me, so I throw the party on that basis. But I don't intend that they clear up.

Looping Trolley: I can direct a trolley away from one set of people tied to the track only the basis that lives will be saved overall. In fact there are even more people tied to the alternative track. But luckily (?) there is a very fat man tied to the track as well, who will stop the trolley before it gets to these latter people. I can direct the trolley in that direction without intending the squashing of the fat man.

These have some plausibility, particularly the party example (or so it seemed to me), but I have realised that this approach is subject to powerful counterexamples, like this one.

The wicked uncle. My uncle is very rich and very wicked; a whole community is suffering under his exploitative sway. I fancy scratching my finger on the trigger of a loaded gun I am pointing at him, which will obviously go off and kill him. Normally such finger-scratching would be wrong, because the unintended effect of killing an innocent (non-aggressor) would outweigh the good of relieving my itch in this way. But in this case the good consequences of his death far outweigh the badness of the death in itself. So the balance of non-intended consequences is actually positive.

Now this seems absurd, and if we allow this then any action with overall good consequences which violates a deontic constraint (a common-sense moral prohibition like 'don't kill the innocent) could be done with a little morally irrelevant posturing. So the moral structure of deontic constraints would effectively collapse into Consequentialism.

The case is indeed absurd because when I say that the good consequences of the action make it morally possible to do, I am taking cognizance of them in a way which implies that I intend them. One intends things which motivate one to act as one does. The good consequences of the death are motivating me, in part, and I would nit act without them; thus I must be intending the death of the uncle as well, as a means to my intended end.

What I failed to see was that on Kamm's examples the agent must be intending the good foreseen results because they are essential to his plan. If he did not expect them then he'd have to call it off, and he'd better make sure they happen, by adapting the plan if necessary. They are indeed his means, but by the same token they are intended.

This admission also effect another example I came up with: the railway enthusiast. He is so keen on railways that he wants to build one really as an end in itself. Someone points out that railways are dangerous things and people are bound to be killed in accidents in the years after it is built. This seems to rule out the project. Then someone else points out that railways are safer than roads and by shifting traffic away from roads it will have an overall positive effect on the number of accidental deaths. I DID say that the enthusiast can proceed with the building with no intentions about accidental deaths, happy in the knowledge that the balance of unintended consequences is positive. I NOW say that since the improved overall safety is essential to the moral viability of the project he must intend it, if only as a means to the end of building a railway.

Changing my position in this way brings underlines the principle found in many discussions of the Principle of Double Effect, that the good consequences of an action must not flow causally from the bad foreseen side effects. At least, if the bad side effects are such that it would be wrong to intend them, one cannot justify the action on the basis of further, good, effects which flow from them, for to do this is to bring them, and the bad cause of them into one's intentions.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The ethical problems of non-directive counselling

Update: for the latest episode in the story, see here.

There has been a flurry of interest in this topic on the Catholic blogs, since LIFE, the pro-life charity, has got accreditation for its counsellors as conforming to the 'non-directive' style favoured by the secular counselling industry. The hope of the organisation that using non-directive counselling (NDC) will win the organisation acceptance by, and influence in, government, and even funding, is not entirely without foundation. But non-directive counselling is very controversial in Catholic ethics, and I have seen no serious defence of LIFE's stance.

What are the problems?

Practical. 1. It is claimed that non-directive counselling works. The claim is very hard to substantiate since the counsellor normally does not know what the ultimate outcomes are. We can't hold this against the method, but the claim that its effectivness is a knock-down argument in favour of it won't wash either.

2. The suggestion that the alternative to LIFE's NDC is to say to clients what you want them to conclude at the end of the counselling, at the beginning. This is the reverse of the truth. People going to LIFE counsellors know that they are going to a pro-life group - the name rather gives it away. They then get no guidance at all from the counsellor. The alternative is to use a more neutral name, start the counselling very softly-softly, and then introduce some important facts into the discussion: notably what abortion is, what the alternatives are. This is the approach taken by other pro-life groups, and they are just as adamant as LIFE that this approach works.

Psychological. NDC is a horse from the 'values clarification' stable established by Carl Rogers and others. Rogers found that he could get 1950s university students to pull themselves together simply by repeating back to them their own statements. This obviously worked because the students for the most part had very clear, and fairly old-fashioned, values from their upbringing. It has a very different effect on people today who come from a pretty values-free background in the first place. Indeed, it is favoured today as part of a package with the idea that all decisions are equally valid, there are no objective moral principles, and so on, and it is really hard to see why anyone who is not a moral subjectivist would give NDC a second glance.

Funding. James Preece raises the question of why Catholics are being asked to fund LIFE's counselling. This is a good question because NDC counsellors are not supposed to allow their own values to influence their counselling. It follows that pro-life NDC counsellors will be no different, and no better from the point of view of outcomes, than pro-abortion NDC counsellors. Why, then, does LIFE think it is important to expand its band of counsellors? Why not let non-aligned or even pro-abortion groups pay for it? Just let people ring the Samaritans.

Or is LIFE and its supporters hinting that their counsellors are more likely to get pro-life outcomes than others? If that is true, their accreditation for NDC should be taken away.

Moral. It is a principle of moral and civil law that silence implies consent. Silence is one of the 'Nine ways of being an accessory to another's sin' in many examinations of conscience. To speak more formally, it is evidently a way of cooperating materially in evil. Material cooperation can be justified in some cases, but this cooperation is close, not remote, and the evil is extremely grave. The justification would have to take the form of an overwhelming good that would be attained, or evil avoided, by the silence, in relation to the chance of non-silence doing any good.

So this would be justified: stifling one's protest about the brutality of the concentration-camp guard would clearly save many people from serious suffering; voicing it would anyway do no good; and no-one is going to imagine that you approve of the brutality anyway (there is no chance of scandal). At first glance, LIFE's supporters have a mountain to climb to show that LIFE counsellors are in that kind of situation.

So can we have an argument, please?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Another Prussic problem

Alexander Pruss has put forward some very troubling counter-examples to the solution Frances Kamm gives to the 'Loop' case. Since I follow Kamm, at least in outline, these are problem cases for me too.

Rather than summarise all that here readers can see Pruss for themselves. Here is a response - though not, at the moment, a solution.

Case 1. Jim the railway enthusiast is keen to build a railway between two large cities. His motivation is simply that he loves railways. A safety expert tells him, however, that over 50 years there are likely to be 50 deaths on this railway, if built. Jim is sad because this appears to show that it would be wrong to build it: 50 deaths is a high price to pay for his dream of a gleaming new railway. However, the expert quickly adds that the railway will divert traffic from the roads, and since railways are generally safer than roads the number of lives saved will be, say, 55.

Jim is happy again: it seems that these two unintended side-effects of his project don't just cancel each other out, but leaves him with a modest credit balance.

Case 2. Benny the blackmailer tells Jill that unless she kills one person (Charlie) he, Benny, will kill two other people (all these victims are innocent with nothing much to distinguish them). Jill knows it would be wrong to intend the death of an innocent even to save two lives. Instead, she points her gun directly at Charlie's head, and, with the intention of giving her trigger finger some much-needed exercise, pulls the trigger. She knows, of course, that Charlie will be killed as a result of this, but whereas this would normally be an act of terrible recklessness, she knows that the unintended side-effect of Charlie's death will be more than off-set by the saving of the two other innocents.

What we need to bear in mind with Pruss's cases, which are like my Case 2, is that while it seems that in these cases something is going horribly wrong, the plausibility of the reasoning in Case 1 and others like it is perfectly ok. Not just ok, in fact, but it is essential that we are able to off-set side-effects if we are to engage in any large-scale action: government policies on transport, education, health and so on will invariably generate 'winners and losers' and we balance these out to see if the policy is permissible. If we are to stop Jill's line of reasoning we must show that it is different from that of Jim. Case 1 shows that Kamm's original insight ('triple effect') remains correct.

So how are they different?

1. Jim could intend the good results if he wishes; Jill could not, because if she did she would have to intend the evil means to them. Put another way, the good results come from the evil results for Jill, but not for Jim.

2. Jill is acting much more immediately than Jim, on persons she can identify. She is more closely involved in the evil of innocent deaths.

3. The trivial goods Jill and others like her are intending could be achieved in other ways, which do not bring about such drastic harms. We might ask: what is Jills' intention in doing it this way? The answer would be: to take advantage of the favourable balance of unintended side effects available in this exact situation.

I'm not happy with any of these three differences, as the basis for allowing Jim's reasoning and ruling out Jill's.

On 1: Jim could intend the good results, but as stipulated he doesn't. This will often be the case with the leaders of large-scale projects. Again, consider the 'butterfly effect': by turning over in bed, we may cause a hurricane in New Zealand. We don't need to worry, however, because we are just as likely to be preventing a hurricane in New Zealand. We don't need to go to the trouble of intending the good possible results of our careless actions in order to take advantage of their neutral overall effects; we just note (in response to objections) that we aren't making things any worse.

2. It has been noted before that having identifiable victims can have an effect on our intuitions. It surely can't have an effect on the truth of the matter. The identifiable victims in the Jill case partially explains our distaste for her reasoning, but I'm not ready to bite the bullet and say that, therefore, what she does is ok.

3. We might we say: Jill's intention in exercising her trigger finger with a loaded gun pointed at Charlie with the safety catch off is to capture the positive balance of side-effects, which would not be captured in any other way. Similarly, we always adapt our plans in order to avoid disastrous side-effects. If someone tells you that simply by travelling from A to B via C you may spread a deadly disease from C to B, then you don't go via C, you go via D instead. So Jill can exercise her finger with the gun pointed another way, unloaded etc. etc. but if she does that a disastrous result arises: two innocents are killed by Benny. Instead, she gains her trivial good in a way which won't have this disastrous result, but a less disastrous one, that of Charlie dying.

My feeling right now is that there is a moral difference between the cases, but I can't identify a principled explanation for it.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Intending harms: some thoughts

Following the Double Effect conference organised by the Anscombe Centre, I've been thinking about what it means to intend harms. Here are some preliminary thoughts.

There are a range of ways of understanding what constitutes intending a harm, which corresponds to different ways of understanding intention as a whole. A preliminary characterisation of harm would include pain, loss of function, and loss of opportunities for good.

1. An agent intends any harm he knowingly brings about.

2. If an agent intends a physical effect which is a harm to the patient, then he intends the harm which is constituted by that physical effect.

3. If an agent intends a loss of function (etc.) to the patient, then he intends the harm constituted by the loss of function.

4. If an agents intends that the patient by harmfully effected by something, then he intends that harmful effect.

To illustrate:

A. Spraying mosquitoes: Adam sprays an area from an aeroplane to kill disease-carrying mosquitoes, in the knowledge that a small number of people will suffer a painful allergic reaction to the spray.

He intends harm under (1) but under none of the others.

B. Beatrice uses the body of Duncan to cushion the fall of Edith from a ladder. Beatrice intends Duncan to absorb the impact of Edith’s fall, a physical event which is harmful to Duncan.

Beatrice intends harm to Duncan under (1) and (2) but not (3) and (4).

C. Freddie tapes up Georgina’s mouth and nose to prevent her using up oxygen on a stricken submarine.

Freddie intends to harm Georgina under (1), (2) and (3), but not (4)

D. Henry the government official is impervious to requests for help for those suffering from an epidemic. Irene infects him with the disease, in the hope that his own suffering will prompt him to change his policy.

Irene intends to harm Henry under all the definitions.


It is easy to show that definition 1 is too wide.

Justin knows he will suffer some pain and stiff limbs after his exercise routine, but he is not motivated by bringing about these harms, he is motivated by the desire to get fit.

Contrary to definition (1), Justin does not intend the harm, since intention is tied to reasons for action and motivation. Which is to say, intending something which brings about a harm is not the same as intending a harm.

It is harder to show if any of the other definitions are too narrow, since here the question is of whether it should be said that what the agents bring about is a harm, or (like Justin’s exercise) that it merely bring a harm about.

Craniotomy: is reducing the size of the baby’s head ipso facto harming the baby, or does it merely bring about harm to the baby?

Fat Man: is using the Fat Man to stop the trolley (to soak up the trolly’s kinetic energy) ipso facto harming him, or does it merely bring a harm about?

In the exercise case, the causation of harm by the agent is direct and inevitable; it is clear that it is not intended, however, since it is clearly besides the point of Justin’s practical reasoning (though it is accepted as a side-effect of what he does): it is neither an end nor a means. In Craniotomy the death of the baby is beside the point in the same way, but the physical modification of the head is not beside the point: it is intended.

I am inclined to say: This bodily modification is not merely a cause of a harm, it is something which is undesirable in the same way that a loss of function is undesireable, that is, in and of itself. I am harmed if my limbs or organs are radically pushed out of shape; it not merely the case that having them radically pushed out of shape will cause me a harm, rather it is a harm to me. If this is right, then definitions 3 and 4 are too narrow.

This is supported by intuitions such as this. If we were to define theft in terms of intentions, then it might be ‘to intend of another the loss of property rightfully his’. The intention of something which will probably lead to a loss of property is not theft: such as taking on a weaker opponent in a game of skill, with a wager. On the other hand the harmful nature of the loss of property does not have to intended: the thief need not intend the victim to suffer grief or want, for example. All the thief needs to intend, to intend a theft, is an objective transfer of goods from the victim to himself. One way of explaining why this is wrong is to say that although the thief may not intend that the victim be harmed in terms of grief or want, taking someone’s goods harms him ipso facto. The thief intends something which is a harm, even if he does not intend the victim’s harm as a separable objective.

Again, we are harmed when cheated, betrayed, or libelled, because those things are bad things when they happen to us. Agents who intend those bad things to happen to others are intending harms to happen to their victims. They may not, in fact, care about the victims’ well being; that may be indifferent to them, whereas they have some other end in view for which cheating and so on is a useful means. Nevertheless, they intend to harm insofar as they intend these bad things to happen to their victims, since these bad things are harms.

Looking at it in this way suggests that a wide definition of harm is needed: harms include not only loss of function, but the compromise of physical or material wellbeing. Causing the loss of wellbeing in this wide sense is not necessarily wrong, but it will normally be wrong if it is intended as an end or a means.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The problem of state neutrality, again

My attention has recently been drawn to a new organisation, the English Defence League. I'm very hazy about what it is all about* but one paragraph in the mission statement caught my eye.

We also recognise that Muslims themselves are frequently the main victims of some Islamic traditions and practices. The Government should protect the individual human rights of members of British Muslims. It should ensure that they can openly criticise Islamic orthodoxy, challenge Islamic leaders without fear of retribution, receive full equality before the law (including equal rights for Muslim women), and leave Islam if they see fit, without fear of censure.

Is this something Catholics would want to push forward, or be concerned about?

As I've blogged before, it is a principle of liberal political theory that what is allowed in the 'private sphere' is determined by principles of public justice. So if members of a particular religion treat each other in a way which conflicts with these principles, then they are subject to the rigour of the law. If the principles of public justice being applied are correct, then there could be no objection to this; the problem is that those principles are contested, and that different religious groups disagree with the standard liberal ones.

In recent years, two developments have taken place which are in conflict with each other, and the conflict is becoming increasinly clear, even though both developments have been promoted for a long time by the same political groups, broadly speaking the Left.

1. The principles of public justice have become increasinly demanding. Government agencies have increasingly seen it as their remit to change minds and behaviour: to give a couple of examples, they have been concerned about the upbringing of children (for example, the campaign against corporal punishment), about the rules governing private clubs and associations (for example, on the equal treatment of women, or on smoking). We have seen an increasing impatience on the part of government agencies with churches which do not admit women or homosexual activists to the various forms of ministry.

2. There has been an increasingly evident policy of allowing certain groups to run themselves by their own rules. The two best examples of such groups are Muslims and homosexuals. So the laws on actual bodily harm cannot be applied to those engaged in masochistic sexual acts; the laws on public decency cannot be applied against homosexuals in public parks. Prosecutors are reluctant to look into the public, let alone the intramural or private, acts of Muslim activists who use threats or incite others to hatred or violence. And most famously, Sharia courts have been recognised as forums for arbitration, and as such their decisions have status in English law.

In practice the two tendencies have been able to co-exist by the principle that public principles of justice cannot be enforced against anyone who can shout 'homophobe!' or 'Islamophobe!' at their accusers. There has long been a principle that they cannot easily be enforced against those who can should 'racist!', which can be tough on black victims of domestic violence, but with Islam we have a group which can make maximum use of this concession, which therefore takes on enormous political implications. For as a religion Islam is in a position to create ghettos in the historical sense: areas of cities, for example, where the law of the land is not enforced, but where the rules are set and enforced by community leaders.

(To the question Why has the Left promoted two developments in such clear opposition to each other?, the answer is to be found in the books of the 'New Left' and their predecessors. Basically, (1) is their essential agenda; (2) is tactical: it is simply a way of weakening the strongest institutions in society which oppose the essential agenda. Since those institutions are often Christian, they can be weakened by insisting on privileges for other religions, and on groups such as militant homosexuals who are irreconcilably opposed to Christianity. It is actually no surprise that as the tactical value of these other groups decline, and the possibility that non-Christian institutions, including Islamic ones, will start to assert themselves against the liberal agenda on social attitudes, the Left will turn on them without mercy.)

In looking at this situation it is hard to know whether Catholics should be more worried about the increasingly aggressive public principles of justice, the increasingly aggressive assertion of independence by Islamic groups, or the likely outcome of the clash between the two. Already there has begun a backlash within the Left, which has belatedly realised that it has created a phenomenon it cannot control, and which has very little in common with the Left in terms of social attitudes. The promoters of the backlash would instinctively insist on a more rigorous enforcement of the principles of public justice, and the more they are worried about the social practices of Islam the more they will want to make those principles intrusive and demanding.

For this reason my sympathy has to some extent always been with the Muslims. They are attempting to live according to the principles of their religion in the midst of a culture highly hostile to those principles. It is not their fault that concessions have been made to them which has created an anomaly in the law. When I see secularists turning their sights on Muslims, I know that attacks on the Catholic Church will follow, if only to demonstrate that the secularists are even handed.

Allowing a community to live according to its own rules, within some limits, is actually quite a widespread historical phenomenon. Jews are the prime example of people who both wanted to have their own rules, and were permitted to have them by the state, as a community within a community, from the Temple tax enforced on the diaspora in the time of Our Lord to the original 'geto' of Renaissance Venice. There is nothing wrong with a group living by its own rules, if these rules conform to correct public principles of justice. What we are faced with today is a unreasonable set of public principles, on the one hand, and a set of group rules which include (or tolerate) cultural practices which are contrary to perfectly reasonable public principles.

If Muslim women are forced to marry, for example, this is of course unacceptable. What worries me is that the public policy makers who may, in time, be forced to recognise this point think that it is unacceptable that Catholic girls do not have instant access to abortion. The much less well-developed Catholic ghetto, in which we have our own schools and hospitals run on Catholic principles, is already under ferocious attack. We should beware of giving ammunition to our attackers.

That is not a principled response, however. A principled response would be this: the primary focus of Catholic political engagement must be with arguing for a better set of public principles of justice. Only in this way will we be able to defend our own institutions, and only in this way will the political problem of Islam become tractable: the process of polarisation between heavy-handed liberal public principles and radicalising Islam can be put into reverse.

What this amounts to is the persistent attempt to make public principles Catholic. That is to say, we should work for the conversion of England.

*The EDL appears to be a far-right group. Extremist groups claiming to combat certain aspects of left-wing ideology, without any connection with a broadly based social conservatism or religion, is a tradition which goes back at least to the anti-clerical royalists of the French Revolutionary era. It includes Muarass, Mussolini, the Nazis, and more recently the Pim Fortuyn movement, in varying degrees of nastiness.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Rhonheimer's mistake

I have been reading Fr Martin Rhonheimer's reply to Luke Gormally, and it seems to me that he is making a demonstrable mistake. This is of interest since he is a rigorous and in many ways an impressive writer. This is my analysis.

Rhonheimer’s argument against Luke Gormally:

1. Rhonheimer’s (R’s) argument is based on the idea that the sexual acts forbidden by the Natural Law are to be understood in terms of the intentions of the agent.

2. R points out (correctly) that in order to show that the use of an anovulatory pill is (normally) wrong, Humanae Vitae (HV) had to rule that it is the contraceptive intention of the user which is key: thus, the use of the Pill is wrong iff the user intends to impede conception.

3. This R contrasts with arguments frequently met with in the tradition before Humanae Vitae, which make use first and foremost of the notion of ‘unnatural acts’.

4. R points out that since in outward behaviour sexual acts contracepted using the Pill appear less deformed than sexual acts contracepted using a condom, this appeared to some ‘Revisionist’ theologians to leave an opening for the Pill to be used licitly as a form of contraception. This was countered by HV as described (2).

5. R claims that HV’s more developed expression of why contraception is wrong should be used in relation to condoms (and presumably any other form of contraception): these are wrong iff there is a contraceptive intention.

6. R expresses the relationship between the contraceptive intention and the traditional language of unnatural acts by saying that sexual acts are unnatural if they are done with a contraceptive intention. Again, they are contrary to chastity if they are done with a contraceptive intention.

7. On the other hand, R says that it does not make sense to say that acts are contrary to chastity because they are unnatural, if there is no contraceptive intention. This limitation of the prohibition of Natural Law to acts done with a contraceptive intention, R claims, is something revealed by HV in light of the personalistic approach of Gaudium et Spes, though it is also in accord with the long-standing tradition of understanding moral acts in terms of the intentions with which they are done.

Thus R writes:
I am aware that, as you [Gormally] wrote in your letter, your “critique did not rest on any claim that the use of a condom is necessarily contraceptive” but rather on the argument that condomistic intercourse “is an essentially non-reproductive sexual behaviour.” You perhaps can accept what I say about contraception, but you want to distinguish – from any form of contracepted acts – those acts which in addition are behaviourally essentially non-reproductive and therefore “against nature.” In my view "Humanae vitae" has rendered obsolete this distinction.

Rhonheimer seems to me correct in points 1-4. Point 7 is demonstrably false. It has an obvious counter-example in (heterosexual) sodomy: as the Church teaches, acts of sodomy are illicit under Natural Law regardless of the intention with which they are done. These acts need not be motivated by a contraceptive intention; they may have many intentions. It is quite clear however that sodomy carried out with the intention of pleasure, for example, is wrong, even within marriage.

It is not, of course, forbidden as mere outward behaviour. Bodily movements over which the will has no control for one reason or another are not subject to moral appraisal. The prohibition refers to acts chosen and intended. Rhonheimer correctly says that contraceptive intentions make acts wrong; in the case of sodomy, it is the intention to enagage in a complete sexual act in vase indebito which make acts wrong. In the case of murder it is the intention to kill.

On Rhonheimer’s argument it may seem puzzling that acts with sodomistic intentions are contrary to the virtue of chastity. Why should they be? The argument in Humanae Vitae about the unitive and procreative aspects of sexuality underpins the claim that acts with a contraceptive intention are contrary to chastity; what argument is there in the case of acts with a sodomistic intention? There is no need, however, to seek arguments in HV for what all Catholics at the time of HV and before and since have taken for granted, the wrongness of sodomy; one can look at the previous tradition. This tradition, framed in terms of unnatural acts and teleology, is not, contrary to Rhonheimer, abrogated by HV, which was seeking a new argument to explain a case to which the old arguments did not so clearly apply.

That, however, is a problem for Rhonheimer, not for his opponents. It is enough to say that Gormally’s argument seeks to identify condomistic sex as a form of sodomy (so there is a question of the exact definition of sodomy), and that Rhonheimer’s response denies that sodomy is intrinsically wrong. Whether or not Gormally is correct (and while his argument is compelling we will ultimately have to await a clarification from the magisterium), Rhonheimer must be wrong, since the illicit nature of sodomy is far too deeply embedded in the tradition of the Church to be considered a fallible teaching (see Romans 1:24-27).

Postscript: The condemnation of heterosexual sodomy is implicit througout the Tradition, though the focus is generally on homosexual acts. In the modern era sodomy is clearly defined as anal intercourse (or any intercourse 'in vase indebito'), regardless of the sex of the participants, and of course regardless of the further intention of the act, and this is clearly condemned in all the manuals of moral theology. Here are a two examples of the condemnation of sodomy (clearly in the sense just described) by the Magisterium.

1. A friend has found the following in the classic 'Contraception' by Noonan: "On 3 April 1916, [the Sacred Penitentiary] declared that when a husband wished to commit 'a sodomitic crime', he must be resisted by his wife and she could not cooperate 'even to avoid death' as the act would be 'against nature' on the part of both. The Penitentiary expressed 'great astonishment' that some priests had taken a milder view. (Decisiones Sanctae Sedis, p.35)" (p. 514, fn.136, John T. Noonan, Contraception, Mentor-Omega, New York, 1965)

2. The 1917 Code of Canon Law includes sodomy among the sexual sins for which the laity are to held 'infames'

Can. 2357. par. 1. Laici legitime damnati ob delicta contra sextum cum minoribus infra aetatem sexdecim annorum commissa, vel ob stuprum, sodomiam, incestum, lenocinium, ipso facto infames sunt, praeter alias poenas quas Ordinarius infligendas iudicaverit.

There are parallel norms dealing with clerics (2358 & 2359).