Sunday, April 19, 2009

Is The Vatican Spinning Illusions Of Truth?

The first illusive attempt:

"I can understand abortion": Montreal cardinal
This is taken from the Cathnews website
In an interview with a local newspaper, Montreal, Canada, Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte has said that while he is against abortion "I can understand that in certain cases, there is almost no other choice than to practice it."

Lifesite News reports that Le Devoir newspaper published a story based on an interview with Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte of Montreal, during which the Cardinal contradicted the teachings of Catholic Church on abortion and condoms. (Nuanced, rather than contradicted, might be a better way to think about his statements.)

"Personally, I am against murder," Cardinal Turcotte was quoted as saying, "but can understand that sometimes, when someone is being attacked, they need to kill someone in self-defense. I am against abortion, but I can understand that in certain cases, there is almost no other choice than to practice it." (His use of the word 'almost' is what makes this view nuanced rather than contradictory. In the original Lifesite translation they omitted the word 'almost'. They have since corrected this interesting omission.)

Cardinal Turcotte made the comments in the context of addressing the announcement of the excommunication of those involved in the abortion of the twins of a nine year old Brazilian girl. He called the move by Brazilian Archbishop Cardoso of Recife, who had announced the excommunication, a "clumsy move."

During the interview, Cardinal Turcotte also addressed the controversy over Pope Benedict's remark against condoms during his recent trip to Africa. According to Cardinal Turcotte, it would be "ridiculous" to suggest that Pope Benedict said condoms should not be used. (True, Benedict did not say condoms should not be used. He's also never said they should be used.)

"Essentially, the pope said that it took two things to fight this disease, the means, but also a change of mentality. He pronounced this sentence to show that condoms were not in and of themselves the perfect solution; we took his words out of context and all this was largely amplified," said Cardinal Turcotte. (Here's the actual sentence: "The problem cannot be overcome with the distribution of condoms. This only aggravates the problem," What Benedict said is they 'aggravate' the problem. Nothing taken out of context here.)

"As if the pope had said that condoms should not be used. This is ridiculous! When someone has AIDS, it is his or her responsibility to protect the people with whom he or she has intercourse." (Except Benedict has never ever said anything like this.)


Now here's the latest Vatican take on Pope Benedict's condom statement and what he really meant:

VATICAN CITY (AP)--April 19, 2009
— Critics of the Catholic Church's social teachings are trying to intimidate Pope Benedict XVI into silence, the Vatican charged Friday in responding to attacks on the pontiff's remarks about AIDS and condom use. (I admit I burst out laughing at this sentence. Seems to me that's Benedict's favorite club--intimidating and then silencing the opposition. Karma Karma Karma....)

In a strongly worded statement, the Vatican defended the pope's view that condoms aren't the answer to Africa's AIDS epidemic and could make it worse. On his way to Africa last month, he said the best strategy is the church's effort to promote sexual responsibility through abstinence and monogamy.

France, Germany, the United Nations' AIDS-fighting agency and the British medical journal The Lancet called the remarks irresponsible and dangerous. The Belgian parliament passed a resolution calling them "unacceptable" and demanded Belgium's government officially protest.
Belgium's ambassador to the Holy See lodged the formal protest Wednesday, prompting the Vatican Secretariat to issue its tough statement denouncing the Belgian vote.

The Vatican deplored "the fact that a parliamentary assembly should have thought it appropriate to criticize the Holy Father on the basis of an isolated extract from an interview, separated from its context." (I think the operative here is that a parliamentary assembly dared to criticize the Holy Father. The Holy Father, of course, has dared to criticize any number of Parliaments and secular governments on sexual issues. Karma Karma Karma.)

It said Benedict's remarks to reporters had been "used by some groups with a clear intent to intimidate, as if to dissuade the pope from expressing himself on certain themes of obvious moral relevance and from teaching the church's doctrine." (Maybe it isn't Karma, maybe it's just plain old psychological projection, or even Shakespearean insight, as in 'me thinks he doth protest to loud.')

The Vatican said the criticism of the pontiff was followed by an "unprecedented media campaign" in Europe extolling the value of condoms in fighting AIDS while ignoring Benedict's message about the need for responsible sexuality and to care for those suffering from AIDS.

The statement was the latest sign of the Vatican's increasing defensiveness and frustration as it tries to get Benedict's message out. It follows a maelstrom of criticism — including from within the church itself — after the pope lifted the excommunication of a bishop who denied the Holocaust.

Vatican officials said they acted so forcefully this time because the Belgian criticism required a formal, diplomatic response.

"The Vatican is responding to this protest in a measured and balanced way, but also firmly and clearly," said a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi. "We are making it clear that the pope and the church won't be intimidated by these criticisms or by media campaigns and will continue to staunchly support Catholic positions on moral issues." (So is Notre Dame making it clear they 'won't be intimidated by these criticisms or by media campaigns' as they staunchly support the need for dialogue on Catholic positions in a secular society.)

The Belgian resolution, which passed April 2, said Benedict's comments ran against numerous international declarations and actions taken by the U.N. and groups fighting AIDS and other transmittable diseases. It called the remarks "unacceptable" and said the Belgian government didn't share them.

The Rev. John Wauck, professor of literature at the Pontifical Santa Croce University in Rome, said the Vatican's response was diplomatically appropriate and was actually restrained in that it didn't highlight the enormous work that the Catholic Church undertakes in caring for AIDS sufferers.

"Sending a package of prophylactics signifies a lot less in terms of self-giving in comparison to someone who has left their country and dedicates their lives to caring for people sick with AIDS," Wauck said. (This is a cheap shot. The Catholic church isn't the only NGO whose people sacrifice in order to deal directly with AIDS patients.)

He noted much of the criticism came not from Africa but from the West. Africans "weren't up in arms about what the pope was saying. The people who were up in arms are in Brussels," he said.
(This is not precisely true. There was opposition in Africa to Benedict's statement.)

The Roman Catholic Church opposes the use of condoms as part of its overall teaching against contraception. It advocates sexual abstinence and sexual faithfulness between husband and wife as the best ways to combat the spread of HIV. (I think it's important to note, that the condom ban has nothing to do with HIV prevention, and everything to do with contraception. In this case obedience to the contraception ban trumps the prevention of HIV transmission. The problem is not everyone in Africa the church works with is Catholic, nor are they married, nor are they monogamous, nor do they give women the right to say no in any marital situation.)

While some churchmen have said condoms are a "lesser evil" in combatting the spread of AIDS, others say condoms can increase the scourge by providing a false sense of security.
The Vatican said it was consoled that Africans and some members of the scientific community had appreciated the pontiff's remarks.

The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, ran an article Friday summarizing reports in mainstream Western newspapers quoting experts who have questioned the efficacy of condoms alone in fighting AIDS. (I do not know of any NGO who has ever said condoms alone would solve the problem. The message has always been a both/and strategy, and that's been true from the very beginning when Institutional Catholicism didn't give a rat's ass about AIDS because it was the 'gay' disease and a scourge from God. It was the religious women affiliated with LCWR that cared about this issue long before their official clerical brethren did.)

Wauck cited those reports in saying the criticism of the pope was scientifically uninformed.
"I don't think it necessarily comes from hostility, but what you got was very instinctive reactions based on presuppositions that turn out not to be the case," he said. (This is another out right lie. The science supports the use of condoms as preventive in all kinds of other places, including parts of Africa.)


Pope Benedict made a mistake in his comments on AIDS and condoms. He really did. There is no way to spin a mistake into a non mistake. Cardinal Turcotte, who is not anyone's idea of a flaming liberal, is not helping when he states it's ridiculous to say the Pope said condoms should not be used. To my knowledge, Benedict has never said condoms should be used by anyone. He can't and remain absolutely faithful to Humanae Vitae. Cardinal Turcotte seems to want us to believe that silence in this case should be construed as consent.

Can condoms fail? Yes they can. However, the failure rate also implies that for every one who does contract HIV while using a condom, 98 people don't. It's hard to make a case for condoms aggravating the transmission rate of HIV with these statistics. Here's another fact. Abstinence and monogamy if practiced by everyone, would not completely stop the spread of HIV. HIV is spread in a number of other ways besides sexual contact. Here's a question, if latex condoms are porous and don't work, why do Church health workers bother with latex gloves? Could it be because latex does prevent the transmission of HIV?

I sympathize with Cardinal Turcotte because all he's managed to do in trying to spin these two events, the Brazillian nine year old and Benedict's statement, is inflame the traditionalists. The Catholic Church is never going to be able to take a nuanced or reasonably compassionate position on condoms and therapeutic abortion as long as the traditionalists hold sway in the Vatican.

It doesn't matter how many living people die because of these absolute stances, because for a traditionalist, life is secondary to the perceived absolute TRUTH of the doctrine. That's because the next life is far more important than this life. The present matters only in so far as it impacts the perceived future. It's better for people to die of HIV than to commit a sexual sin. It's better for the mother of a nine year old carrying twins, for her child to die, than to participate in the decision to abort her daughter's pregnancy. There's always confession, but what if the mother gets hit by a bus before she can confess. It's better for the mother to risk her child's life than to risk losing her own soul.

Believe me when I say, I've been there when I really and truly thought there was nothing I held in my hands that was more important than my own soul. I'm not there anymore. I was shown very graphically that I hold everyone's souls in my hands and that the only way to bring others (and myself) to union with God is through union with all those others. I also found out that one can't maintain that union while condemning others, or withholding compassion just because I personally found their 'lifestyle' abhorrent.

This is probably why I wound up working for a bail bonds agency. It was there that I finally understood the real way one followed Jesus was by extending a hand of compassion and reconciliation because it was this attitude which fostered personal conversion. Jesus is all about fostering personal conversion. Conversion can't be coerced or enforced, it can only be fostered because it's about healing the entire person. Jesus's individual acts of physical healing were always accompanied by personal conversion. Both the healing and the personal conversion were simultaneous acts of restoring a person to wholeness.

Somewhere in it's long history Catholicism has lost this particular TRUTH. We are not called to save souls, we are called to selflessly bring each other to conversion and wholeness. It's in doing this that we save ourselves and recover our souls. It's not about converting people to a particular set of doctrines, morals, and dogmas. It's about helping them to convert or connect to the truth Jesus taught about love, compassion, non judgment, and dieing to one's ego. When that happens people engage in right relationships and all those doctrines and dogmas are unnecessary statements of the obvious. Until that conversion happens those same dogmas and doctrines are far from obvious and no amount of proselytizing is going to make them obvious.

On the other hand, once that conversion happens it becomes equally obvious that some of the doctrines and dogmas are just flat wrong or counter productive, and no amount of proselytizing is going to make them believable. It's here that Pope Benedict seems to get caught in the cross fire and no amount of spin will work. Instead of complaining, he should just walk his talk or admit he might have made a mistake. Letting the Vatican curia and assorted clerics attempt to spin his case just makes it all look like an illusion of truth.

If the real world has no ears to hear the message it could be because Pope Benedict has no eyes in which to view the real world, as his are too focused on the future world. It may be that this is where the real communication failure is occuring and if so, spinning like a top won't help.

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