November 24, 2010.
Researching on-line reports on the recent controversy
about condom use I lifted some points solely to enlighten my people on the
Some government officials - who presumably have not yet
read Pope Benedict’s book at all since it was officially launched only
yesterday, November 23, and who probably will never read it - are saying
that the Pope has changed traditional Catholic teaching about artificial
means of birth control, applauding, much to their glee, a hypothesis what
some have wrongly called "a novelty in the Church".
They will really be disappointed when they come to know
what Pope Benedict the Sixteenth said about the issue of condoms.
Too bad that the commentators - it happens all the time
- went at it full throttle simply on the basis of a preview excerpt from
the book which did not include the Pope's full answers to the two
questions that had to do with condoms and AIDS! What made it worse, the
partial excerpt or rather an excerpt from an excerpt came from L'Osservatore
At issue here are the words of Pope Benedict XVI
regarding condom use. The news stories interpret his words as proclaiming
a shift in the Catholic Church's teaching on condom use, and contraception
This conclusion is incorrect as can be easily seen by
examining the actual text from the book. The Holy Father is not condoning
the use of condoms, but making an observation regarding the awakening of a
sense of responsibility in the people who are caught up in the habitual
sin of prostitution.
He does not offer a new moral evaluation of the use of
condoms, neither in principle nor practically in the circumstance that he
cited, but is merely describing a psychological development where one,
even in the grip of sin, can begin to acknowledge the safety and human
dignity of another.
Yesterday, November 23, 2010, was supposed to have been
the launching of the latest book by Pope Benedict the Sixteenth, from
which this news bite with a misinterpretation of his actual words came.
Light of the World is a remarkable book, being the
fruit of a welcome papal willingness to share frank insights and opinions
on the Christian message today.
As an interviewer Peter Seewald does his job well. He
respectfully but persistently pressed the Pope to explain his thinking on
a host of issues, many of them controversial. Pope Benedict, for his part,
is candid and lucid, presenting his thoughts with that simple clarity that
makes him such a great natural teacher. In Light of the World the
reader will find the Pontiff’s honest thoughts on topics such as:
•the nature of papal infallibility and Petrine
•the real reason for lifting excommunications on the traditionalist
bishops of the Society of St. Pius X;
•the limits of dialogue with Islam;
•the possibility of a papal resignation;
•the message of Fatima;
•the day-to-day life of the apostolic palace;
•the true causes of the sex-abuse scandal and the prospects for reform.
On every one of these topics, the reader finds the Pope’s
remarks refreshingly honest and thought-provoking. The Holy Father offers
a number of fascinating revelations, along with an enormous amount of
profound theological reflection. The book is, to say the least, awesome.
The launching was going to be the product of much work
by many people in several nations, all oriented to presenting the book in
its best light. These groups had planned for months to introduce Light
of the World as the holistic, positive, and integrated work that the
pope intended it to be.
A mid-week launch and, in the vital US market, one day
before an extended holiday (Thanksgiving ) that is typically slow
in news, was carefully planned with writers, speakers, and resource
persons briefed ahead of time, all ready to comment on the book and to
respond to questions.
It was a huge amount of work but, being undertaken by
professionals who knew what they were doing, it promised to be effective.
Now, all of that planning was shredded by the L’Osservatore
Romano decision to launch Light of the World on its own
ahead of time, by publishing excerpts of the book last Saturday, November
Worse, L’Osservatore Romano chose to highlight
what is probably the single most speculative and controversial papal
paragraph in over 200 pages of print, and to offer that snippet out of
context and without explanation.
This was, if nothing else, an apparent
violation of the agreement in place between the book’s various
publishers concerning a coordinated release of the work. A serious
disservice was committed by L’Osservatore Romano by
arrogating to itself the role of introducing the pope’s book,
Light of the World, and by its making that action in such a palpably
It included an 'excerpt of an excerpt' that served to
misrepresent what the Pope really said about condoms. To make it
worse, the translation used the Italian feminine form 'prostituta'
instead of the hypothetical male prostitute actually cited by the
The Associated Press used the L’Osservatore Romano
text to create this translation: "There may be justified
individual cases, for example when a male prostitute uses a
condom..." The translation in the original reads like this:
"There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as
perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom." There is a big
difference between the word justified and the word basis.
But this is not the only point at issue. There are many more points which
render the perception of the world press and those with specific reproductive
health agenda and gay activists incredible.
Back in 2006, Pope Benedict the Sixteenth asked the Pontifical
Council for the Health Care Pastoral under Cardinal Javier Lozano
Barragán, who has since retired, to examine precisely the question of
whether the use of the condom could be allowed in some cases.
Having polled the doctors and other health care
professionals, as well as theologians, who consult with the council,
Cardinal Barragán presented the Pope with a tentatively positive response
– that in the case of couples where one partner is infected with HIV and
the other is not, condoms could be allowed.
To date that position has not been officially codified,
and some Vatican officials have said on background that they worry doing
so would be seen publicly as a blanket endorsement of condoms.
Abstinence is officially the primary teaching of the
Church in its AIDS prevention strategies.
Within that context this is what the Pope says:
"in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of
reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a
different way, a more human way, of living sexuality."
This is called the humanization of human
sexuality as opposed to its banalization brought about by
the contemporary contraceptive mentality.
Like clockwork, the mainstream media smashed the pope’s
nuanced comments through a sausage grinder of bias, ignorance,
mistranslation, and agenda into headlines such as this: "Pope
says condoms can be justified in some cases."
The media, improperly translating from the Italian text
of the statement, quoted the Pope as if he said that the condom use
"may be justified."
That is a false rendition of what the Pope said. The
publisher of the official English version of this book is Ignatius Press.
They render the entire quote from the Pope in English, and they state it
as saying there "may be A BASIS … WHERE this can be a
first step" towards the person realizing he is doing things gravely
wrong (the whole citation is at the bottom).
And so we were treated to headlines like: * Pope
says condoms sometimes permissible to stop AIDS; * Pope: condoms
can be justified in some cases; * Pope says condoms can be used in
the fight against AIDS; * Pope softens stand on condoms (AFP); Pope
says condoms to stop AIDS may be acceptable (NYT). The AP wins the
prize for the most absurd headline (which it later corrected) "The
Pope says male prostitution is allowable as long as condoms are used".
What the press will not do is
report accurately what the Pope said.
The escaped soundbite made it very clear that when no
new life is possible - as in the case of male, homosexual prostitutes -
if a man thinks to himself, "I should wear a condom," it means
that his MORAL SENSE is beginning to awake. It is the first step toward
distancing himself, asking questions - which should, it is to be hoped,
lead to FURTHER moral thought, ending with, "I shouldn't be doing
this at all." But of course the mainstream media has latched onto it
instead as a "first step" toward allowing condoms for EVERYONE!
This is an interview book. The pope is being
interviewed. He is not engaging his official teaching capacity. This book
is not an encyclical, an apostolic constitution, a papal bull, or anything
of the kind. It is not published by the Church. It is an interview
conducted by a German-language journalist. No pope with his wits about
him would use the vehicle of an interview with a journalist to discuss a
new initiative, lay out a pastoral program, or explicate a development of
Consequently, the book does not represent an act of the
Church’s Magisterium and does not have the capacity to change the
Vatican’s official stance on anything. It does not carry dogmatic or
The pope introduced no new teaching, made no
"real" news with his comments. He simply elucidated (as his
private opinion) a position which many orthodox moral theologians have
already come to academically. There will be no change in the Church’s
policy, or even much in the way of personal moral and spiritual guidance.
The pope has not "softened" the Church’s
teaching on condoms by talking about the hope we can have that someone’s
decision to make a disordered act less immediately physically harmful to
their sexual partner may be a first step towards someone’s eventual
Pope Benedict would not decide to "modify"
the Church in an interview; popes never "modify" Church
teaching, they formulate it, in an extremely precise manner; the book is
careful to point out that it only represents the pope’s private
opinions; the pope explicitly repeats 100% of the Church’s traditional
teaching on the question of condoms which undergirds the Church’s
"absolute ban" on condoms.
The Holy Father is simply observing that for some
homosexual prostitutes the use of a condom may indicate an awakening of a
moral sense; an awakening that sexual pleasure is not the highest value,
but that we must take care that we harm no one with our choices. He is not
speaking to the morality of the use of a condom, but to something that may
be true about the psychological state of those who use it. If such
individuals are using condoms to avoid harming another, they may
eventually realize that sexual acts between members of the same sex are
inherently harmful since they are not in accord with human nature.
The Holy Father does not in any way think the use of
condoms is a part of the solution to reducing the risk of AIDs. As he
explicitly states, the true solution involves "humanizing
The Holy Father clearly did not want to make a point
about condoms, but wants to talk about growth in a moral sense, which
should be a growth towards Jesus. This is why Pope Benedict focused on a
"first step" in moral growth.
What is intrinsically wrong in a homosexual sexual act
in which a condom is used is not the moral wrong of contraception but the
homosexual act itself. In the case of homosexual sexual activity, a condom
does not act as a contraceptive; it is not possible for homosexuals to
contracept since their sexual activity has no procreative power that can
be thwarted. But the Holy Father is not making a point about whether the
use of a condom is contraceptive or even whether it reduces the evil of a
homosexual sexual act; again, he is speaking about the psychological state
of some who might use condoms. The intention behind the use of the condom
(the desire not to harm another) may indicate some growth in a sense of
Is Pope Benedict indicating that heterosexuals who have
HIV could reduce the wrongness of their acts by using condoms? No. In his
second answer he says that the Church does not find condoms to be a
"real or moral solution." That means the Church does not find
condoms either to be moral or an effective way of fighting the
transmission of HIV. As the Holy Father indicates in his fuller answer,
the most effective portion of programs designed to reduce the transmission
of HIV are calls to abstinence and fidelity.
Those who are disposed to think that this is an
endorsement of condom use will do so because that is what they want to
Fighting against banalization of sexuality is 'part of
the great effort to help sexuality to be valued positively and have a
positive effect on man in his totality. In the light of this broad and
profound vision of human sexuality and the contemporary discussion of it,
the Pope reaffirms that 'naturally the Church does not consider condoms as
the authentic and moral solution' to the problem of AIDS. In this the Pope
does not reform or change the Church's teaching, but reaffirms it.
At the same time the Pope considers an exceptional
circumstance in which the exercise of sexuality represents a real threat
for the life of another. In that case, the Pope does not morally justify
the disordered exercise of sexuality but maintains that the use of a
condom to reduce the danger of infection may be 'a first act of
responsibility as opposed to not using it and exposing the other to
risking his life.’
With courage Pope Benedict XVI thus offers us an
important contribution of clarification and reflection on a question that
has long been debated. It is an original contribution, because on the one
hand, it maintains fidelity to moral principles and demonstrates lucidity
in refuting an illusory path like that of the 'confidence is condoms.'
On the other hand, it manifests a comprehensive and
far-seeing vision, attentive to uncovering the small steps -- even if only
initial and still confused -- of an often spiritually and culturally
impoverished humanity, toward a more human and responsible exercise of
The Pontiff understands that not all harms are equal.
Assault is wrong, for instance, but assault with a deadly weapon is more
wrong than assault with a non-deadly one.
Recognizing and limiting the harm you do, he points
out, can be the "first step in the direction of a moralization, a
first act of responsibility in developing anew an awareness of the fact
that not everything is permissible."
The dispute is supposedly whether the Pope favors the
use of condoms or not. Yet we all know that it is not for him to 'allow'
its use or not, but rather to indicate and affirm moral principles. To
consider how this society treats sexuality like a drug. To ask whether
sexuality has anything to do with love.
In this sense, it's not important if he spoke about a male
prostitute or a female prostitute. It is an occasion to speak about
the humanization of sexuality.
Excerpt from Light of the World, Peter Seewald’s
book-length interview with Pope Benedict XVI:
From Chapter 11, "The Journeys of a
Shepherd," pages 117-119:
(Interviewer:) On the occasion of your trip to Africa
in March 2009, the Vatican’s policy on AIDs once again became the target
of media criticism. Twenty-five percent of all AIDs victims around the
world today are treated in Catholic facilities. In some countries, such as
Lesotho, for example, the statistic is 40 percent. In Africa you stated
that the Church’s traditional teaching has proven to be the only sure
way to stop the spread of HIV. Critics, including critics from the Church’s
own ranks, object that it is madness to forbid a high-risk population to
(The Pope:) The media coverage completely ignored the
rest of the trip to Africa on account of a single statement. Someone had
asked me why the Catholic Church adopts an unrealistic and ineffective
position on AIDs. At that point, I really felt that I was being provoked,
because the Church does more than anyone else. And I stand by that claim.
Because she is the only institution that assists people up close and
concretely, with prevention, education, help, counsel, and accompaniment.
And because she is second to none in treating so many AIDs victims,
especially children with AIDs.
I had the chance to visit one of these wards and to
speak with the patients. That was the real answer: The Church does more
than anyone else, because she does not speak from the tribunal of the
newspapers, but helps her brothers and sisters where they are actually
suffering. In my remarks I was not making a general statement about the
condom issue, but merely said, and this is what caused such great offense,
that we cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms. Much more needs
to be done. We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help
them; and we must do this both before and after they contract the disease.
As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms
when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone
do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. Meanwhile, the
secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be
Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort,
when the other two points fail to work. This means that the sheer fixation
on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is
precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing
sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people
administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization
of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is
treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on
the whole of man’s being.
There may be a basis in the case of some individuals,
as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first
step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of
responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not
everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is
not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really
lie only in a humanization of sexuality.
(Interviewer) Are you saying, then, that the Catholic
Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?
(The Pope:) She of course does not regard it as a real or moral
solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless,
in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a
movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.