Sunday, November 28, 2010

Why Does Clerical Sexual Abuse Always Stay At The Clerical Level?

Pope Benedict's response to the sexual abuse crisis with his calls for conversion in the laity bring this sort of thing to mind. Especially since it's the laity that ultimately get to pay for the clerical abuse crisis.

The just released book on Pope Benedict, "Light of the World", contains a wealth of information concerning Benedict's views on many topics of current importance in Roman Catholicism.  For me personally three topics were of critical interest: condoms and HIV, the Legionaries of Christ, and the sexual abuse crisis. All three represent what John Carroll called the tendency towards inhumanity in Catholic doctrine and the fact sometimes this cruelty becomes sacrosanct. These three however, take the cruelty issue to another level.  They all represent the lengths the Church is willing to walk to sacrifice it's laity on the altar of clerical authority.

The following exerpt on Benedict's view of the sexual abuse crisis is taken from the translation offered by the Italian journalist Sandro Magister from his blog Chiesa Espresso.

The shock of the abuse

The facts did not take me entirely by surprise. At the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, I had worked on the American cases; I had also seen the situation escalate in Ireland. But the dimensions were still an enormous shock. Ever since my election to the see of Peter, I had repeatedly met with victims of sexual abuse. Three and a half years ago, in October of 2006, in a speech to the Irish bishops I had asked them to "establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected and, above all, to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes." To see the priesthood suddenly tarnished in this way, and with it the Catholic Church itself, was difficult to bear. At that moment, however, it was important not to look away from the fact that good exists in the Church, and not only these terrible things. (Benedict has been totally consistent in not placing a single bit of blame on the hierarchy. The longer he continues to pretend the hierarchy and the Vatican curia has no blame to share, the longer this crisis will fester.)

The media and abuseIt was evident that the action of the media was not guided solely by the pure search for the truth, but that there was also enjoyment in putting the Church in the pillory, and, if possible, in discrediting it. And nonetheless it was necessary that this be clear: as long as efforts are being made to bring the truth to light, we must be appreciative. Truth, united with love when understood correctly, is the number one value. And the media would not have been able to give those accounts if the evil had not been there in the Church itself. It is only because the evil was inside the Church that the others were able to hold it against her. (Again, Benedict fails to note a great deal of the 'hostility' in the press was the direct result of the idiotic statements of his own Vatican curia and the almost universal strategy of bishops not to cooperate with secular authorities when it came to compensation for victims or releasing files pertinent to legal proceedings. It is much cheaper to talk about spiritual healing than it is to pay for real life compensation.)

The priesthood was not, as Benedict states, 'suddenly tarnished'.  Clerical abuse has been with the Church for millenia. It has been a topic of reformers like St John Damian since the 1100's.  What made the abuse crisis different this time around was the public exposure.  Finally, after all this time, Vatican secrecy was breached, and it's clerical machinations exposed for all to see.  It effected all levels of governance. The curtain had been pulled back on dioceses big and small, and on bishops both orthodox or progressive. The  things they all had in common were secrecy, manipulation, revictimization, and allegiance to the Vatican. 

Neither individual bishops nor the Vatican had any idea how to respond to this sudden 'nakedness'.  They did not have a history of having to respond to this kind of exposure in the present.  It's hard to reinvent history when the story is being written in real time. The strategy became the strategy of emotional children caught in lies--blame someone else, especially the messengers, while attempting to maintain innocence in the face of all the damning evidence.  In Benedict's case, he pretends to be above it all, surprised and shocked at the "enormous dimensions' even though he headed the CDF for eighteen years, the very Vatican congregation which had the most to do with the systemic cover up.  Sigh........

Of these three issues, the condom issue most easily lends itself to respinning and allowing our hierarchy to pretend they still hold the truth, that Benedict has changed nothing, and that this has always been church teaching---this notion that condoms can be considered a 'lesser evil' when used to prevent the harm of HIV.  "Lesser evil' are the magic operative words as condom use itself is still always and everywhere evil.  Humanae Vitae has not been breached. Ignorant immoral selfish people can use condoms as a first step to a more moral or less evil sexual life. The Church has always taught this, just not very loud.  The problem is this completely ignores the fact the Church has loudly taught just the opposite and that ecclesial bodies like the USCCB have used their influence to gut programs like PEPFAR to prevent government programs from distributing condoms or even teaching safe sex.   Ooops......... Ignore the men behind the curtain.

Constantly we are given to understand that the sexual abuse crisis, especially as it is symbolized in the Legion, has nothing to do with the heirarchy or the clerical system and everything to do with the failure of individual priests.  So Maciel is presented as a failed individual priest, not a contrived product of the family wealth of the Mexican/Spanish clerical culture--a culture which also provided Maciel with inside access to the Vatican from day one of his priesthood. For us simple laity, the issue isn't at all about this particular clerical sub culture and it's influence in the global church, it's about Maciel the unfortunate individual aberration.

Since I think the Vatican doth protest too loud, I do believe it's that very Spanish/Mexican clerical subculture that needs looking into.  The Legion debacle perfectly illustrates the nature of the clericalism that gave the Church Maciel and then protected him. The Legion is as clear a representation of the multiple forms of clerical abuse and doctrinal cruelty as we have to date.  In my thinking the Legion represents clerical abuse on steroids. To think this form of clericalism hasn't been inculcated in it's priestly formation or can be rooted out with a few tweaks is either purposefully myopic or just plain purposeful.

I understand that in the eyes of Pope Benedict, meaningfully dealing with clerical sexual abuse at it's roots would mean dealing with how authority is exercised in the Church and ultimately the entire theology surrounding the sacramental priesthood. It would mean dealing with belief structures that have framed an entire life and world view for Benedict and priests like him. In this sense he is in the same psychological space as any abuse victim whose lives and world views were also determined by these same belief structures. In the case of abuse victims their world views about their self worth and God and Catholicism were as concretely blown apart as Benedict's were concretely set. They are at opposite ends of the consequential spectrum of predatory clerical abuse.

Like it is for victims, it would be a monumental task for priests wedded to clericalism to overcome this enculturation even if they understand it on an intellectual basis. It's not the intellectual understanding that is the big bump in the road. It's the purposeful stunting of the emotional psyche at an immature stage of neural and psychological development. Richard Sipe et al, have been making this point for decades about the priesthood. The very men who move beyond this emotional immaturity are the ones who won't play the clerical game and never get promoted. The system is organized to self perpetuate and it's enforced by those at the top who benefit from how it works. Once a man gets to the level of a bishop he is never allowed to be wrong no matter how wrong he is because the whole ball of wax rests on the unquestioned authority of the bishop as a successor to the Apostles. Neither the Apostles nor their successors make mistakes, even when those original Apostles most certainly did and their successors most certainly have and most certainly still do.

How long Oh Lord will your faithful have to put up with this nonsense and the abuse it generates? Inquiring minds want to know.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

On Maciel And The Legion, Pope Benedict Picks Money Over Vatican Accountability

Maciel with Pius XII and some of his original victims.  Maciel is the one wearing glasses off the Pope's right shoulder.  How does Benedict expect me to believe Maciel was active for over 50 years and the Vatican didn't know?

There was more in Pope Benedict's statements in "Light of the World", than his comments on condoms and HIV.  Some of those statements concerning the Legion of Christ are probably more indicative of his true mindset than his comments on condoms--as least as far as the supremacy and untouchable nature of the clerical system.  It's been remiss of me to let these statements go this long without comment. In my own relationship with Catholicism three issues have stood out as symbolic of the devastation protecting clerical power and authority have had on the laity.  The first was condoms and HIV.  The second was continual protection accorded Maciel and the Legion of Christ.  The third was the response to clerical abuse. Today I deal with the second and tomorrow I will address Benedict's comments on the abuse scandal.

Pope: Vatican acted slowly, late in Legion scandal

By ALEXANDRA OLSON Associated Press - 11/23/2010

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI lamented that the Vatican acted “slowly and late” in a scandal surrounding the Legionaries of Christ, and a Vatican official called Tuesday for an investigation into who covered up for the conservative order’s disgraced founder.

The pope insisted, however, that the order has done good and should not be dissolved despite the double life of the late Rev. Marciel Maciel, who was discovered to have abused seminarians and fathered at least three children. (And raped two of them.)

“Unfortunately we addressed these things very slowly and late,” Benedict said in a book released Tuesday. “Somehow they were concealed very well, and only around the year 2000 did we have any concrete clues.”........ (Maybe you should have looked through the blindfold provided by those who wear Cardinal red.  In any event the Vatican had been investigating Maciel for almost 50 years by 2000. This is a BS statement.)

.........Monsignor Rino Fisichella, who heads the Vatican’s evangelization office, said the Vatican would be wise to look at who covered up for Maciel inside the Legion — “those who took his appointments, those who kept his agenda, those who drove him around.”  (Those who held high posts in the Vatican and took bribes to look the other way.)

Fisichella was responding to questions at a news conference in Rome about the pope’s comment that Maciel’s crimes had been concealed, amid reports that the reverend had high-ranking supporters in the Vatican who protected him for decades.

Maciel is known to have been a favorite of Pope John Paul II because of his orthodoxy and his ability to recruit priests and raise money from wealthy patrons.

But Fisichella said the Vatican suggested looking inside the Legion. “We must be able to verify how well-covered up it was inside his congregation, not outside it,” he said. (Wrong.  You need to look inside the Vatican for those bribed to look the other way.  Or are you afraid to take such a step?)

Jim Fair, the Legion’s communications director, said “the Legion agrees with the pope’s comments in the new book.”
The order announced Tuesday that its powerful vicar general, the Rev. Luis Garza, was giving up some of his duties. Garza has insisted he knew nothing about Maciel’s crimes until recently(Amazing how you can name your own price when you have access to all the security codes to all the money.)

The Legion said in a statement that Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, the Vatican official whom Benedict appointed to profoundly reform the disgraced order, has also expanded the group’s governing general council and will appoint the two new members himself.

In the book, Benedict said the order deserves to continue its work.

“Maciel remains a mysterious figure. There is, on the one hand, a life that, as we now know, was out of moral bounds — an adventurous, wasted, twisted life. On the other hand, we see the dynamism and the strength with which he built up the congregation of Legionaries,” the pope said. “Naturally corrections must be made, but by and large the congregation is sound. In it there are many young men who enthusiastically want to serve the faith. This enthusiasm must not be destroyed. Many of them have been called by a false figure to what is, in the end, right after all.” (All those enthusiastic young men could serve in another order or in dioceses with priest shortages.  Maciel was not 'adventurous, he was Satanic.  All that 'dynamism' was all about the money.)

The revelations have thrown the Legion into chaos, with several prominent priests leaving the order over the past year, and dozens of consecrated members of the Legion’s lay branch, Regnum Christi, quitting.
In October, the order suffered one of the biggest blows with the resignation of the Rev. Santiago Oriol, who headed the Everest School in Madrid and was a member of a wealthy Spanish family that for decades helped the order raise money. (Kudos to Fr. Oriol.  Maybe he can now raise money for AIDS orphans.)


I strongly suspect there is a great deal of fear in the Vatican when it comes to the Legion.  I'm not sure if that fear is about physical retribution or about who will be uncovered as complicit in Maciel's money making scheme inside the Vatican.  Maybe it's both.  Whatever, Benedict's babble about the Legion is pure double speak. He has to know how much corruption both internal and external surrounds this outfit. It's pampered sheltered existence should be another nail in the coffin of any canonization process for John Paul II. 

Archbishop Fisichella is not fooling anyone in his purposeful oversite concerning Maciel having Vatican insiders protecting his flanks. Fisichella didn't address direct questions about the information uncovered by Jason Berry as reported by the NCR.  He deflected those questions, instead referring to an  internal investigation of the Legion.  Berry uncovered a whole bunch of interesting stuff about Vatican personnel accepting 'favors' and 'pious contributions':

"Maciel wanted to buy power," said the priest who facilitated the Mexican family's opera carita to Dziwisz. He did not use the word bribery, but in explaining why he left the Legion, morality was at issue. "It got to a breaking point for me [over] a culture of lying [within the order]. The superiors know they're lying and they know that you know," he said. "They lie about money, where it comes from, where it goes, how it's given."

When Martínez Somalo, a Spaniard, became head of the congregation overseeing religious in 1994, Maciel dispatched this priest to Martínez Somalo's home. The young priest carried an envelope thick with cash. "I didn't bat an eye," he recalled. "I went up to his apartment, handed him the envelope, said goodbye. ... It was a way of making friends, insuring certain help if it were needed, oiling the cogs.

Martínez Somalo did not respond to NCR interview requests.

Glenn Favreau, a Legionary in Rome from 1990 to 1997, and today an attorney in Washington, D.C., recalled: "Martínez Somalo was talked about a lot in the Legion, always in the context of 'our superior' because he was our friend. Un amigo de Legion." Favreau, who knew nothing of the donation to Martínez Somalo, continued: "There were cardinals who weren't amigos. They wouldn't call them enemies, but everyone knew who they were. Pio Laghi did not like the Legion." Cardinal Laghi, former papal nuncio to the United States, was then prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education.

Martínez Somalo's office took a new name: Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. But the job description stayed the same. From 1994 to 2004, the Spanish cardinal's duties included investigating any complaints about religious orders or their leaders.

In the files of that congregation, according to several former Legionaries, sat letters that dated back many years, accusing Maciel of abusing seminarians. When the wrenching accounts of nine seminary-victims of Maciel made news in the 1997 Hartford Courant, Martínez Somalo did nothing. That was the reaction throughout the Roman curia.

I've felt for a long time the Legion is the perfect symbol of what is wrong with institutional hierarchical Catholicism.  It's not just Maciel's personal perversions, it's how he was able to continue for sixty years by preying on the greed of those Vatican personages who had supervisory power over him and his money collection scheme. That this protection went all the way to the top demonstrates just how internally corrupt the Vatican was under JPII. When the heart of an organization is riddled with this kind of cancer, the institution needs a heart transplant or it deserves to die. 

Benedict to his credit refused to take Legion bribes on his own behalf, but to his current discredit,  he seems  all too willing to continue accepting Legion money on behalf of the Church. I wish he would just bite the bullet and disband this order.  I wish he would have the moral fortitude to let Garza and his security codes sail off into the same sunset as Maciel.  

If the Legion and Regnum Christi members have true vocations, those vocations should be to Jesus Christ not 'Nuestro Padre'.  It shouldn't matter to them where the Church assigns their vowed service, or how it chooses to use their gifts. In fact, Benedict could go a long ways towards healing  if he assigned those gifts in a manner more befitting the people who gave those vows rather than defending the organization who betrayed those vows. But unfortunately the treatment of the Legion is not about honoring the honest members who have given so much to the Church in terms of human service, it's about protecting the organization and personalities through which the Vatican has received so much money.  As Catholic mythology would have it, Satan is still calling the shots when it comes to his Legions. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Prada Is On The Other Foot


For conservative Catholics, the cafeteria seems open.  I mean buffet, not cafeteria


While Archbishop Dolan may be shutting the door on inclusion, the door to the Catholic cafeteria has opened wide to welcome conservatives.  The following edited article is from Huffington Post.

Conservatives Reject Vatican Explanation On Condoms

Rachel Zoll - Huffington Post - 11/24/2010

NEW YORK — Faced with a changing outlook from Pope Benedict XVI on condoms and their role in preventing the spread of HIV, many prominent conservative Roman Catholics in the U.S. are rejecting the Vatican's own explanation of what the pope said. (And they are also shooting the messengers.)

Several orthodox Catholics said they would only accept a more formal papal pronouncement. Others insisted that journalists were purposely misrepresenting Benedict's comments. Some questioned whether the papal spokesman, the Rev. Frederico Lombardi, accurately quoted the pope. (Bang, bang, bang.)

Bishops and the experts who advise them were scrambling to make sense of the news.
"It's a mess," said John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, which advises church leaders, hospitals and Vatican offices. "I'm not ready to say that the pope said what Lombardi said.".... (Nothing like being your own pope, following your own selfish need to determine your own doctrine.  Hmmm, where have I heard that before?)

......Jenn Giroux, executive director of Human Life International America, which promotes Catholic teaching on contraception, abortion and other moral issues, said more clarification from the Vatican was needed.

"I am watching very carefully, as everyone is right now, before making a final pronouncement," said Giroux, a registered nurse and mother of nine. "We just got something from a spokesperson. As always, we look to church doctrine on statements like this." (You actually really might not want to go there. Your Pope is trying to tell you that.)

Germain Grisez, a prominent moral theologian who advises bishops, said that promoting condoms as protection against disease would be "pernicious" because it assumes a person does not have the capacity to make good, moral choices. He lamented that the pope's comments "can be – and are being – misused to sow doubt about Catholic teaching." (What's pernicious is pretending the majority of males will voluntarily keep their pecker in their pants as Church teaching dictates. They won't, they don't, they never have. They don't think it's natural.)

"Many of Jesus' own sayings were misused, and he no doubt foresaw that they would be misused. But he nevertheless said what he thought would lead to salvation those who were open to his teaching," Grisez wrote in an e-mail. "I assume that Pope Benedict's intention in speaking out as he does is similar to Jesus' intention. But Benedict's judgment about what to say may not be as sound as Jesus' judgment was."
(I thought the pope was Jesus's representative on earth. Has this changed?)

Haas, also a moral theologian, said he fielded calls all day Tuesday from bishops confused by what Lombardi had said. Benedict's comments come at a time when bishops in the United States are intensely focused on upholding Catholic orthodoxy on marriage and sexuality. (Wrong, they are intent on politicising Catholic orthodoxy.)

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not respond to requests Tuesday for comment.
Philip Lawler, editor of Catholic World News, demanded the resignation of the editor of the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, after the daily printed the pope's quotes on condoms and other topics in a Saturday edition, despite an embargo on the much-anticipated book. (Bang)

Lawler and many other orthodox Catholics argued that the newspaper undermined the pope by quoting him without the proper context. Lawler stood by his criticism and call for the editor's resignation after Lombardi's news conference Tuesday. (boom.)

"I think the clarification was confusing and frustrating," Lawler said. (Actually, it was pretty black and white and pro life.)

Catholic teaching has never totally barred condom use for protection against HIV and the Vatican has no official, authoritative policy on the issue.

In 1987, the U.S. bishops' conference issued the statement, "The Many Face of AIDS," that stressed limiting sex to marriage as the best protection against the virus, but said public education "could include accurate information about prophylactic devices" to prevent transmission. The document was criticized at the time by conservatives and some Vatican officials. (This was back in '87, twenty three years ago, when the USCCB actually had some...well, courage.)

Years ago, Vatican officials reportedly began studying the topic, with the goal of writing a document on the morality of condom use as protection against AIDS, but no statement was issued.

The pope's comments in a book interview do not amount to an official teaching, a point conservative Catholics made repeatedly and vociferously Tuesday. They argued that the pope was only noting that by using a condom, a person with HIV is displaying some moral sense about the consequences of his behavior.

"I maintain that nothing new has happened, that the church's teaching hasn't changed," said the Rev. Joseph Fessio of Ignatius Press, the English publisher of the book, in a phone interview from Rome. (Benedict's point of reference certainly has and with it his pastoral thinking.)

Yet, the pope's remarks are still seen as significant and must be analyzed and explained by church leaders. U.S. bishops oversee AIDS care programs through local and national Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services. In a brief statement, Catholic Relief Services said, "Our current policy holds: we do not purchase, distribute or promote the use of condoms."

Very few U.S. bishops or church officials have commented since the pope's remarks were published last Saturday. (That's because the gang hasn't figured out how to protect it's political turf.)

"We're in for a long period of confusion," said Russell Shaw, a writer for the Catholic publication Our Sunday Visitor and former spokesman for the U.S. bishops' conference. "The bishops – and clergy especially – will have to go home now to their own dioceses and whether they like it or not start speaking very clearly about what just happened." (I'm sure Jesus will see to it that there is plenty of food in the cafeteria.


I admit I've had great fun with the angst exhibited by the right.  All the big political guns have lined up against Lombardi, L'Osservatore Romano, the 'lame stream' media, and anyone else not named Benedict who had anything to do with what Benedict actually said. On the serious side, I am sadly disappointed that American Catholicism's loudest and most quoted voices, seem to think it's more faithful to Catholic teaching to inflict someone with a death sentence than use a condom. Truthfully, I'm not really sure I want that kind of belief structure in my Catholic cafeteria. Oh well, I didn't have any choice about who was in my grade school cafeteria either. I suppose I'll just have to adjust.

On another subject, today is Thanksgiving and I hope everyone has a safe Thanksgiving weekend. I also hope everyone has a safe Black Friday and doesn't get run over by a shopping cart or a frenzied shopper looking for their next big buy. Only in America would we be thankful for our blessings one day, and manic consumer zombies the next.  Peace, love, and joy to one and all.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How Serious Is Archbishop Dolan About The USCCB's Concern For The "Mass" Exodus?

If Archbishop Dolan wants to stop the exodus, nailing shut the door to pastoral inclusion is not the answer.

Yesterday in a New York Times article, newly elected USCCB President Timothy Dolan had this to say about the priorities of the USCCB:

"He said the bishops would not stop speaking out on political issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and immigration. But he said there was now a movement among them to confront internal problems like the “sobering study” showing that one-third of Americans born and baptized Catholic have left the church."

In the above quote there is a very important observation.  It's one which may help Archbishop Dolan understand he needs to make a very distinct change in approach.  If he makes that change he may indeed help stop some of the bleeding.  He needs to stop using Catholic sexual morality as political fodder and start approaching these issues from a pastoral approach.  That is the hopeful thing that struck me about Benedict's statements on condoms.  Benedict is approaching the topic of AIDS and condoms from a pastoral perspective which places the emphasis on human life.  He has turned from using these topics for political fodder.

In an op ed piece for The Daily Beast on Dolan's election to the presidency, author Jim Carroll wonderfully describes the prevailing attitude at Vatican II--a pastoral council:

The earlier bishops were men of the institution, too, but they were also part of the Church's reckoning, at the Second Vatican Council, with the accumulated cruelty that many doctrines and traditions had inadvertently come to embody. At the Council, ideology was measured by its effect on actual people, and when found to be inhuman was changed. That is the point, of course, of the nuns' protest this week—how the abstractions of Catholic dogma on homosexuality contribute to the moral confusion of anti-gay bullies and the intense suffering of their victims. But Dolan's job, in sync with the mission given to every bishop by Pope Benedict XVI, is to reverse the changes of Vatican II—or what is left of them after the triumphal reaction of the last three decades. Cruelty is sacrosanct.

What Carroll is describing is that notion that progressives call "the Spirit of Vatican II".  It's that idea Dolan and his fellow bishops have thrown over board for the notions of "the Spirits of Ronald Reagan and John Paul II".  If I had to give a short hand synopsis of JPII's papacy, it would be the substitution of political Catholicism for pastoral Catholicism. That has been a monumental betrayal to millions of Catholic in the West. It has directly caused the deaths of millions of Catholics in the South.

Pope Benedict has made a real offer to extend his pastoral hand over condom use and HIV.  I pray that he is seeing the light. He was after all a periti at Vatican II and he most certainly understands the difference between pastoral Catholicism and political Catholicism.  I don't know that too many USCCB members get this difference, but if they are serious about stopping the bleeding or re evangelizing the West, they better get it real quick like.

Eventually, Humanae Vitae will have to be re evaluated. This encyclical stands as the exit door that opened for the exodus. It betrayed the core fundamental principles of Vatican II.  It kept sexual cruelty in place. It allowed for sex to become a political rather than pastoral issue. Yesterday the Russian Orthodox Church approved non abortive artificial birth control measures.  There is no legitimately pastoral reason Catholicism can't follow suit and plenty of positive reasons to take the same stand. 

Until sexual issues are taught from a pastoral approach emphasising growth and relationship rather than a political approach emphasising sin and hell, the permanent exit door will continue to be wide open. The entrance door to full inclusion will continue to be nailed shut

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Faithful Cardinal Burke Not On Benedict's Wave Length? Oh My

Raymond Burke being 'created'  a faithful Cardinal. He's already got some respinning to do, because he is not on Benedict's wave length on the issue of HIV and condoms.

A couple of days ago I ended a post on Fr. Lombardi's clarification of Pope Benedict's statements on condoms/HIV with the following little bit of cynicism: OK truthfully, I would also love to see the expression on "Cardinal" Burke's face if he had to teach it. We'd find out how loyal he was to the papacy." 

Well, today I get the answer to this question.  The following is from the National Catholic Register, a Legion of Christ publication.  It's an excerpt of a phone interview with Cardinal Burke.  (I did notice though, that the article states the interview will happen tomorrow, November 24. I feel really mystical to be able to comment on it before it's even held.)

.......As it became clearer what the Pope actually said in Light of the World, Cardinal Burke discussed the issue by phone Nov. 24 with Register news editor John Burger.

........Is he saying that in some cases condoms can be permitted?
Seewald asks for a clarification: “Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?” The Pope answers, “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.”
What is the Pope saying here?

No, it’s not. I don’t see any change in the Church’s teaching. What he’s commenting on — in fact, he makes the statement very clearly that the Church does not regard the use of condoms as a real or a moral solution — but what he’s talking about in the point he makes about the male prostitute is about a certain conversion process taking place in an individual’s life. He’s simply making the comment that a person who is given to prostitution, at least considers using a condom to prevent giving the disease to another person — even though the effectiveness of this is very questionable — this could be a sign of someone who is having a certain moral awakening. But in no way does it mean that prostitution is morally acceptable, nor does it mean that the use of condoms is morally acceptable. The point the Pope is making is about a certain growth in freedom, an overcoming of an enslavement to a sexual activity that is morally repugnant so that this concern to use a condom in order not to infect a sexual partner could at least be a sign of some moral awakening in the individual, which one hopes would lead the individual to understand that his activity is a trivialization of human sexuality and needs to be changed. (Enslavement to a sexual activity more properly describes the john, not the prostitute.  But in any event, I sense that Burke is really thinking about homosexual male prostitutes.)

Is “the world” assuming too quickly that the Pope all of a sudden is open to “compromising” on condoms, that this may be a small yet significant opening toward “enlightenment” for the Catholic Church? For example: In rare cases, Pope justifies use of condoms (New York Times). “Condoms OK” in some cases — Pope (BBC). Boston Herald quoting male prostitutes saying “too little too late, but it may encourage condom use, and that’s a good thing.”

From what I’ve seeing of the coverage in the media, I think that’s correct, that that’s what they’re trying to suggest. But if you read the text there’s no suggestion of that at all. It’s clear that the Pope is holding to what the Church has always taught in these matters. He starts out — the context of the question — he starts out by saying that when he was asked this question on the plane on his way to his pastoral visit to Africa, he felt that he was being provoked, and he wanted to draw attention to all that the Church is doing to care for AIDS victims. In Africa, the Church is the main agent of care for the AIDS victims, and so he was trying to draw some attention to that.

The text itself makes it very clear that he says the Church does not regard it as a real or moral solution. And when he says that it could be a first step in a movement toward a different, more human way of living sexuality, that doesn’t mean in any sense that he’s saying the use of condoms is a good thing. (Actually, he is, just not in a birth control context.)

If the media has misunderstood it, is this perhaps a failure of Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican to communicate effectively? Is there a need to “dumb things down” so the media gets it?

I hope now the fact that the media has interpreted this in a way, at least from what I can gather from the communications that I’ve received, this false interpretation is rather widespread, that it will be rather important for the Holy See now to clarify the matter. [The Vatican Press Office did indeed issue a clarification Nov. 22, saying, “The Pope again makes it clear that his intention was not to take up a position on the problem of condoms in general; his aim, rather, was to reaffirm with force that the problem of AIDS cannot be solved simply by distributing condoms, because much more needs to be done: prevention, education, help, advice, accompaniment, both to prevent people from falling ill and to help them if they do.]
That’s what’s going to have to happen now because even some of the commentators who might be in general well disposed to the Holy See could misinterpret this and take it that indeed the Holy Father is making some change in the Church’s position in regards to the use of condoms, and that would be very sad. (But it most certainly is a change in position with regards to condoms, although not birth control in general.)

Did you see any Catholic commentary on this, e.g., Janet Smith, who holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit? Do you agree with her interpretation? (See yesterday's post for her take.  As of today and the Vatican's new clarification, her analysis is not exactly correct--not very close at all.)

I did. I thought it was a good commentary. It’s quite accurate. She goes into it quite in depth. She might have underlined a little bit more the words of the Holy Father himself, although she does: When she was asked if the Pope is indicating whether heterosexuals who have HIV could reduce the wrongness of their acts by condoms, she says No. “In his second answer, he says the Church does not find condoms to be a real or a moral solution.” Again, she repeats, “the intention to reduce the transmission of an infection is a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.” That is, the intention is the first step, but that doesn’t mean that the Holy Father is justifying the means by which the person wants to fulfill that intention. (Benedict is more or less justifying the means.)

So, if nothing has changed in Catholic teaching on sexuality or the use of condoms, has this conversation changed anything?

I don’t see it at all. What I see is the Holy Father is presenting a classical position of the Church from her moral theology. I imagine that self-mastery and self-discipline is not an immediate accomplishment, so we have to understand that it may take people time to reform their lives, but that doesn’t suggest that he’s diminishing the moral analysis of the immoral actions of the male prostitute, for instance........

What kind of cardinal do you hope to be or will strive to be?

Simply one who is 100% with the Holy Father, using whatever gifts God has given me to help the Holy Father, to give him any counsel he asks me. Also in daily activities, simply to be supporting and promoting what he wishes and desires. I would hope to keep that focus always before me. That’s what being a cardinal is all about.  (OK Cardinal Burke, I am going to hold your feet to the fire, especially on your uber fidelity to the Pope.)


Had Cardinal Burke not jump shifted time, and given this interview today, instead of tomorrow, he might have had this information from Fr. Lombardi and it might have made a difference in his take:

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told reporters Tuesday that he asked the pope whether he intended his comments to only apply to male prostitutes. Benedict replied that it really didn't matter, that the important thing was the person in question took into consideration the life of the other, Lombardi said. (It seems intent does supersede the means as the more important issue.)

"I personally asked the pope if there was a serious, important problem in the choice of the masculine over the feminine," Lombardi said. "He told me no. The problem is this ... It's the first step of taking responsibility, of taking into consideration the risk of the life of another with whom you have a relationship." (This is a green light for the use of condoms in HIV marriages. Trying to spin it any other way will not show 100% allegiance to the Holy Father.
"This is if you're a man, a woman, or a transsexual. We're at the same point. The point is it's a first step of taking responsibility, of avoiding passing a grave risk onto another," Lombardi said.

I hate to point this out to the Cardinal, but he is not 100% on the same wavelength as his Pope. Maybe he needs to get in the same time zone, or at least on the same day. I can understand why Burke wants to say nothing has changed, or that the Pope didn't mean anything like condoms can be condoned to combat the spread of AIDS, or that harm reduction superseded openness to procreation, or desperately believe this is all a gay thing. Sorry, none of that is correct.

In fact, if any of that was correct the Pope would have made another horrific blunder when it comes to the value of women and children relative to the sexual potential of heterosexual intercourse.  As it stands, he is finally correcting a grave injustice that has been perpetrated on women and children for far too long and has been the direct cause of far too many deaths.  He has finally taken a pro life stance when it comes to condoms. 

One thing about this condom issue which has driven me crazy, is the world's military have been actively advocating for the use of condoms since they were invented. They pass them out like candy. They demand  that all soldiers and sailors carry them on week end passes and during military leave.  Not one peep from any bishop about this practice.  Yet when it came to HIV marriages, our bishops couldn't condemn them strongly enough. Burke was no exception.  Let the hypocrisy end now, finally, and let a real conversation about sexual morality begin, now, finally,  and for God's sake, as well as ours, let's not be afraid of where such a conversation might lead.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Condoms Part IV: We'll Know What Benedict Really Meant When Caritas Gets Their Clarification

Pope Benedict photographed while listening to the Holy Spirit.  I've heard there are drugs for that.

Caritas International has asked the Vatican for clarification on how the recent statement of Pope Benedict's and Fr. Lombardi's clarification will affect them on the condom issue.  I'm curious about that as well, but I was also wondering how the trads and neo cons were going to spin Benedict's statement so that it appears Benedict did not make any change in the Church's approach to condoms and AIDS.  How would they spin this to make sure that heterosexual couples would continue to be banned from using them in their marriages in order to prop up the teaching on birth control.  My supposition would be that they would key in on the English translation using the words 'male prostitute' and ignore the Vatican's own translation which used the feminine attribution for prostitute.  It turns out they most certainly have. 

In a piece for Catholic Education Resource Center written by Janet Smith, who holds the Fr. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, she makes the same point I had, when I originally understood that the Pope was specifically speaking about homosexual sex acts which are by definition non procreative. Benedict's observations would not apply to HIV marriages, which means there would be no change and the totally inhumane ban would still be in effect--unless you happen to be a gay male, and they don't count any way except as a useful political football for a certain mindset.  Here's some extracts which give a very good sense of the trad/neo con take. 

What is Pope Benedict saying?

We must note that the example that Pope Benedict gives for the use of a condom is a male prostitute; thus, it is reasonable to assume that he is referring to a male prostitute engaged in homosexual acts. 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 them.  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 sexuality." (Prostitutes do not engage in sex for pleasure.  They engage in sex for money. Oh, I almost forgot, homosexuality itself, is a psychological problem for Ms Smith, so of course, Benedict must have been all about the 'psychology' not the morality.)

Anyone having sex that threatens to transmit HIV needs to grow in moral discernment. This is why Benedict focused on a "first step" in moral growth. The Church is always going to be focused on moving people away from immoral acts towards love of Jesus, virtue, and holiness. We can say that 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. (No, 'we' can't say that.  It is just as reasonable to say that Benedict specifically used condoms as a legitimate example of one way to move towards a more evolved moral understanding about sexuality or that he wants to give light to the fact there are legitimate cases where mitigating harm to another is the true 'pro life' stance.)

So is the Holy Father saying it is morally good for male prostitutes to use condoms? The Holy Father is not articulating a teaching of the Church about whether or not the use of a condom reduces the amount of evil in a homosexual sexual act that threatens to transmit HIV.......(He can't articulate such a teaching. Mortal sin means eternal hell. To teach there are gradations concerning mortal sin would be pretty close to heresy.)

........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 moral responsibility. (Heterosexuals are not allowed the freedom to make such a choice in a monogamous marriage. They are forced by Humanae Vitae to abstain or harm each other.  Actually abstinence is usually harmful to a marriage so I guess it's a lose/lose situation all the way around for married heterosexuals.)


Ms. Smith went quite a bit beyond me in her interpretation of Benedict's statement when I too thought the operative words were 'male prostitute'.  Fr. Lombardi's clarification takes things beyond male prostitute. He could easily have clarified Benedict's words in exactly the same way Smith has in her piece.  He did not. Lombardi talks about HIV and condoms without parsing it down to gay sex for money, or sex for money period. In fact, Lombardi never mentions gay prostitutes, gay sex, or prostitutes.  He speaks generically across the board.  He articulates the position of calculating the harm of HIV infection into the birth control equation when it comes to condoms.  We will know precisely what Benedict intended when Caritas International gets confirmation from the Vatican on condom distribution.

What I am most curious about is the semantics issue.  Why in the English speaking world was Benedict's statement translated as gay prostitute, the German translation as prostitute in the male gendered sense, but the Italian translation from L'Osservatore Romano used the feminine form of prostitute.  I find this most curious because depending on one's Catholic world view there is a definition for everyone.  In my own case, I totally prefer Lombardi's explanation which transcends all of these semantics and gets to the heart of the issue which is harm reduction, spiritual and moral development, and the nascent stages of a sexual morality in terms of relationships.  He will undoubtedly be re spun by the Chaput News Agency.

There's another whole train of comments I've found to both mystifying and anger generating, and that's the train of thought espoused by commentators like Austen Ivereigh and Michael Sean Winters.  They maintain that this moral thinking about condoms has been underground and well defined by theologians and bishops, and has been a valid Catholic approach to the subject of HIV and condoms for quite some time. Nice of them to keep it all to themselves while women, their children, and their husbands have been dieing in the millions because the 'not underground' teaching has precipitated many of these needless deaths--and not only because of the 'official' teaching but because Catholic charities like Caritas have been forced to keep their condoms in their warehouses.

To conclude this, I have found this weekend highly instructive in how various 'wings' of the Catholic church have chosen to approach Benedict's statement on condoms.  I have a Mormon friend who has found this all mind boggling.  She can not get her head around the fact that Catholics seem to be obsessed with semantic and logic minutiae. She now has a better understanding of the old saying "the devil is in the details'.  I told her about the line from the movie A Man For All Seasons which sort of sums up this silly attitude.  St. Thomas More tells his daughter that God made man to serve Him in the tangle of his mind.  Benedict needs to untangle all of this with a clear statement to Caritas that it's time to provide condoms to those who want them--well past time.


Update:  Sandro Magister has this additional quote about Humanae Vitae from Benedict on his blog today.

The perspectives of "Humanae Vitae" remain valid, but it is another thing to find humanly accessible paths. I believe that there will always be minorities that are deeply persuaded of the correctness of those perspectives and that, in living them, will be so fully rewarded that they will become for others a fascinating model to follow. We are sinners. But we should not take this fact as evidence against the truth, when that high moral standard is not met. We should seek to do all the good possible, and sustain and support one another. To express all of this from the pastoral, theological, and conceptual point of view as well in the context of current sexology and anthropological research is a great task to which we must be more and better dedicated.

The 'perspecive' of Humanae Vitae? Find humanly accessible paths?  Always be minorities that are deeply persuaded of the correctness of these perspectives?  Holy cow, has Benedict been infected with common sense, here to for commonly described as 'relativism.  Is he saying there is more to the Body of Christ than the 'minority' who follow every jot and tittle?  I am at a loss for words, but with the few I can still muster, I really encourage my readership to parse Sandro Magister's link because it contains really fascinating excerpts
from Benedict on a number of other issues.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pope Benedict And Condoms Part III--The Vatican Clarification Goes Where No Pope Has Gone Before

Papal Spokesman Fr. Frederico Lombardi had reason to smile over this clarification of Benedict's statement on condoms and HIV.

The Vatican has come out with a statement clarifying Pope Benedict's statement on HIV and condoms.  The following is an English translation by John Allen of the NCR.

Note of Fr. Lombardi on the words of the pope on the question of condoms
John Allen - National Catholic Reporter - 11/21/2010
At the end of chapter ten [note: in the English edition, chapter eleven] of the book Light of the World, the pope responds to two questions about the struggle against AIDS and the use of condoms, questions which refer back to the discussons which followed some words spoken by the pope on the subject in the course of his trip to Africa in 2009.

The pope clearly reaffirms that he had not meant [in 2009] to take a position on the problem of condoms in general, but simply wanted to affirm strongly that the problem of AIDS cannot be resolved solely with the distribution of condoms, because much more has to be done: prevention, education, help, council, and staying close to the people – both so they don’t become sick, but also when they are sick.

The pope observed that even in non-ecclesial environments, there’s a similar awareness, such as that of the so-called “ABC” approach (abstinence – be faithful – condoms), in which the first two elements (abstinence and fidelity) are far more determinative and fundamental for the struggle against AIDS. Meanwhile the condom, in the final analysis, seems like a shortcut when the other two elements are missing. It must be clear, therefore, that condoms are not the solution to the problem.

The pope then broadens the focus, insisting that to concentrate solely on condoms is tantamount to making sexuality into something banal, losing its meaning as an expression of love between persons, and turning it into a sort of “drug.” Struggling against the banalization of sexuality is “part of a great effort to see that sexuality is positively understood, and can exercise its positive effect on the human person in his or her totality.” (This statement is relational, and takes sexual morality beyond the biological Natural Law realm. This is very interesting.)

In the light of this ample and profound vision of human sexuality, and its modern challenges, the pope reaffirms that “naturally the church does not consider condoms as the authentic and moral solution” to the problem of AIDS. (I'm not sure who did think condoms were an authentic solution to the problem of AIDS.  They were part of a solution to the spread of AIDS.)

Thus the pope is not reforming or changing the teaching of the church, but reaffirming it by placing it in the context of the value and the dignity of human sexuality as an expression of love and responsibility.

At the same time, the pope considers an exceptional situation in which the exercise of sexuality respresents a true risk to the life of another. In that case, the pope does not morally justify the disordered exercise of sexuality, but holds that the use of a condom in order to diminish the threat of infection is “a first assumption of responsibility,” and “a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality,” rather than not using a condom and exposing the other person to a threat to their life.

In that sense, the reasoning of the pope certainly cannot be defined as a revolutionary shift. Numerous moral theologians and authoritative ecclesiastical personalities have sustained, and still sustain, similar positions. Nevertheless, it’s true that until now they have not been heard with such clarity from the mouth of the pope, even if it’s in a colloquial rather than magisterial form. (Wow, that's an interesting way of putting this. It's sort of like saying this a minor league statement rather than a major league statement.)

Benedict XVI therefore courageously gives us an important contribution of clarification and deepening on a question that has long been debated. It’s an original contribution, because on the one hand it remains faithful to moral principles and demonstrates lucidity in rejecting “faith in condoms” as an illusory path; on the other hand, it shows a comprehensive and far-sighted vision, attentive to discovering the small steps – even if they’re only initial and still confused – of a humanity often spiritually and culturally impoverished, towards a more human and responsible exercise of sexuality.


Austen Ivereigh on America also has posted an interesting take on Benedict's real meaning behind his statement.  Ivereigh maintains this position is nothing new and that the reason it hasn't been stated before is that it would be a communications nightmare and be totally misunderstood: 

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor shortly before becoming Pope that "we can't have cardinals disagreeing about this" and set up a commission of moral theologians to look into the question.
And there the issue lay, and no more was heard.

In 2008, while at a conference in Rome, I happened to meet a senior CDF official (I won't give his name) and  asked him what had happened to the commission. "Everyone knows that theologically there is a strong case for clarifying that teaching," he told me, "but there's just no way of doing it publicly without it being misunderstood." Do you mean, I pressed him, that the Vatican feared the headlines that would result? "Exactly," he said. "It would be confusing for the faithful." There was "just no way", he said, that the Vatican could make this clarification without seeing headlines like "Pope backs condoms" or "Church in reverse on contraception.

I actually don't think the Vatican's real problem was with media misinterpretation, although there seems to be a certain amount of that, I think it was with the orthodox going off the deep end--and they will, just like they are reinterpreting or ignoring Benedict's recent statement on health care. I'm sure this is the reason Vatican correspondents like Ivereigh and Allen are suddenly emphasising the potential harassment of Benedict from the right and his courage in making this statement in view of that potential harassment.

I wrote yesterday that this statement had to be clarified by the Vatican because there were real differences in the details.  I wrote I believed Benedict meant to take the straight and narrow approach and that his statement wasn't meant to apply to heterosexual couples.  I am happy to admit I was wrong. In the original Italian Benedict actually doesn't qualify his use of the word prostitute to male prostitute or homosexual male prostitute. He just said prostitute.  It's interesting this got garbled in the English translation.  It could be that we all projected our own stuff into what he actually said because we couldn't hear what he was actually saying.  It literally didn't compute.  Which says a great deal about how beat down the progressive wing is when we can't hear good news from the Vatican.

But the real important messages for me are that this is also a small step in the direction of redefining sexual morality on the basis of relationship as opposed to biology.  It's also a small step in the notion of humanity evolving as individuals in moral and spiritual maturity.  That is a huge statement because the prevailing attitude in Catholicism doesn't include the notion of evolution in understanding or maturity.  It's all been obedience, obedience, obedience ad nauseum.

It could be this interview that Benedict has given is the opening salvo in the re evangelization of the West.  It's Benedict opening his eyes (and heart) to the fact he can't evangelize the west by using the same ideas that caused the massive losses in the first place. Along this line, there are some other really interesting statements that have been released to the media.  One involves papal retirement and Benedict's justifications for such a move on the part of a sitting Pope.  That one could have serious repercussions as well if he's actually thinking about himself.

I think if Benedict let this play out for awhile and then called another committee similar to Paul VI's birth control commission to evaluate the totality of Catholic sexual morality, he would go a long way to changing the tone of his papal legacy.  I would love to see a sexual morality based on relationship and individual maturation developed a long the lines espoused by Saltzman and Lawlor. 

OK truthfully, I would also love to see the expression on "Cardinal" Burke's face if he had to teach it. We'd find out how loyal he was to the papacy.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Benedict On Condoms Part II

Benedict's condom statement really means something different if this is the kind of male prostitute he actually meant.  The AP and John Allen aren't as specific as was the BBC. In this kind of Catholic debate one word makes a world of difference.

The National Catholic Reporter has just posted John Allen's analysis of Benedict's dip into new thinking on condoms.  The following is the meat of his analysis.  The entire post can be read here.

Excerpts from the Seewald interview were published today by L’Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper.

The question of condoms arises in chapter eleven, in the context of Benedict’s March 2009 journey to Africa. That trip was largely overshadowed by controversy over comments the pontiff made to reporters aboard the papal plane, to the effect that condoms actually make the HIV/AIDS crisis worse.

Benedict is clearly still annoyed by that reaction, saying he felt he was being “provoked” by the question about condoms. The suggestion was that the church is indifferent to HIV/AIDS, when in reality “the church does more than anyone else,” Benedict says. ( He picks his own questions to answer on these plane interview opportunities. How was he provoked?)

Benedict goes on to say that his point was simply that one cannot solve the problem of HIV/AIDS merely by distributing condoms, something that even secular AIDS experts would concede. (He said quite a bit more than this.  He said condoms may even increase HIV transmission.)

While broadly defending traditional Catholic teaching against artificial birth control, Benedict also suggests that in some limited instances the use of a condom might be morally defensible.

“In this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality,” the pope says.

Benedict offers the example of a male prostitute. In that situation, he says, the use of a condom “can be a first step in the direction of 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.”  (Interesting that the BBC article uses the term 'homosexual male prostitute' and Allen uses 'male prostitute'.)

Beyond the question of prostitution, many mainstream Catholic moral theologians have also argued for the moral acceptability of condoms in the case of a married heterosexual couple where one partner is HIV-positive and the other is not. In that set of circumstances, theologians have argued, condoms would be acceptable since the aim is not to prevent new life, but to prevent infection.

Back in 2006, Benedict asked the Pontifical Council for the Health Care Pastoral under Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, who has since retired, to examine precisely that question. Having polled the doctors and other health care professionals, as well as theologians, who consult with the council, 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 justified. (Which is a logical inference on Allen's part, unless the BBC has quoted Benedict correctly.  Then it's not.)

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. Yet Benedict’s comments to Seewald suggest that the pope himself is at least positively inclined to such a development.


If John Allen is right, and the BBC got it wrong,  there may actually be some hope in Benedict's statement for heterosexual couples dealing with HIV.  If the BBC has it right, then there is little to no hope.  Benedict would then still see condoms for heterosexuals as primarily a birth control measure and illicit under Humanae Vitae---which is why he would have been intentionally specific in referencing 'homosexual' male prostitutes.

My bet is Benedict was this intentionally specific precisely because he listens to the people in the Vatican who worry such a move for married heterosexual couples 'would be seen publicly as a blanket endorsement of condoms'. These Vatican men would also see this kind of step as a very real chink in the armor of papal authority and the notions of infallibility it is now based on. Preserving the illusion of papal infallibility is much more important to them than the reality of mothers and children dieing from AIDS. 

Of course they won't actually say anything like that publicly.  They will instead say things like it's better to die than to jeopardize one's eternal soul by choosing life and using a condom. They tend to ignore the additional moral issue that a resultant child born with HIV has actually had it's right to life compromised in it's very conception.  HIV marriages present their own moral difficulties to say the least. Gay relationships are much cleaner in this sense.  If I were advising Benedict right now, I would bring these points up and tell him condoms can also be considered morally neutral for married HIV heterosexual couples because they:  “can be a first step in the direction of 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.” 

Now that I've actually digested that last quote of Benedict's, that 's really the kind of attitude I wish the Church would take on all so called sexual sins. An attitude which recognizes growth towards an ideal is far more reasonable than one which insists on the ideal as the first and only step. 

In any event it will be most instructive to have the Vatican clarify just what kind of male prostitute Benedict was referencing.  Actually it's kind of amazing to think a major teaching change might revolve around a male  prostitute. How utterly novel.

For more on the entire interview with Benedict try this link from TIME.  There's a lot more than condoms of interest in this interview. Such as this quote in women priests:  "The Church has 'no authority' to ordain women. The point is not that we are saying that we don't want to, but that we can't" - that is, because there is no biblical or historical basis for it. Even though he says that "Jesus brought women into a closer relationship with him than had been thinkable before his time," he says that women can shape the Church in more powerful ways than men without having to be priests.  I wonder how prophetic this statement might be fifty years from now when women and men of like mind will have dumped the trentan priesthood all together as a completely corrupt and lost cause.

An Amazing Exercise In Vatican PR

Pope Benedict 'condones condom use in some cases'

BBC News - Europe - 11/20/2010

Pope Benedict XVI is reported to have said the use of condoms is acceptable "in certain cases".

In a book due to be published on Tuesday, he said they could reduce the risk of infection with HIV, such as for a homosexual prostitute. (This just so duplicitous and it's not funny.)

The pontiff is reported to have made the comments in an interview with a German journalist. The Vatican newspaper ran excerpts on Saturday.

The comments appear to soften the Roman Catholic Church's hardline stance. (Absolutely not. It does not soften the Vatican's hardline stance.)

When asked whether the Catholic Church is "fundamentally against the use of condoms", he is said to have replied, in the book entitled Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times:

"It of course does not see it as a real and moral solution.

"In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality," he told German author Peter Seewald.

Until now, the Vatican had banned the use of any form of contraception - other than abstinence - even to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. (In the case of homosexual prostitutes condoms are not a form of contraception. Nothing has changed. The Pope is playing PR games with people's lives.)

This has led to the Vatican being criticised for its position in the context of the Aids crisis.


I'm sure every wife married to an HIV positive husband or vice versa, is over joyed with the news that it's probably OK with Benedict for homosexual prostitutes to use condoms.  This is absolutely no change in the condom policy for heterosexuals.  Wait for the brouha this will cause in Africa.  I have to question what in the world Benedict or the Vatican actually thought they were accomplishing in this case.  This will be a PR disaster when all is said and done.

One last point.  In my mind this actually places the relative worth of women vis a vis their reproductive organs at a new low point in Catholic moral theology.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

This Is What Fearless Christianity Looks Like--As Opposed To Fearfilled Catholicism

The above photo is of Fr. Geoff Farrow whose blog is linked on the side bar.  This photo was taken in front of the White House as part of a call for Barack Obama to follow through on his stated desire to end DADT.
I encourage my readers to follow this link to read Fr. Geoff's reasons for handcuffing himself to the White House fence.  This is prophecy in action. This is compassion and love in action.  This is what Catholicism needs more of.

Catholic Fear Or Christian Love?

Perhaps this is a prophetic photo for the Catholic Church of the future.

I had begun writing a post on Dolan's election and then the inter net service provider went down before I could post it.  I didn't get service back until late last night, so my post never made it to the blog and now feels a little out of date.  Many other folks have written on this subject and so my 'opinion' would be redundant. 

The one aspect I focused on was AB Dolan's statement that he would be more in the line of Cardinal O'Connor than Cardinal Bernardin.  I have my doubts.  O'Connor, for all his blustering and battling with ACT UP over gay rights and AIDS, also had a real commitment to Catholic social justice issues.  I suspect when Dolan says he will be more like O'Connor he really means he will be willing to take on the East Coast gay rights groups.  We won't hear much of anything about social justice issues or Christian love except in the sense of heterosexual pro creative sex. Love reduced to heterosexual sex is not what Jesus taught. Not by a long shot.

Anyway, I had more free time yesterday to think about a few things.  One of those things concerned how far Catholicism has moved from being a living Christian community.  It's as if we are all being asked where our faith lies, in Catholicism, or Christianity.  My faith lies in Christianity because for me, Catholicism has become way to toxic for me to work towards becoming a more faithful Christian and stay with in it. At least in any meaningful sense.  I realized there were a number of issues coming to prominence in the statements of our teaching authorities we haven't heard much about for decades. This is not a good trend.  It's not good because a number of these statements really disempower the individual Catholic believer. They lay the ground work for more abuse of the laity and are actually part of the cult paradigm.

I'm not just referencing statements like Cardinal George's that laity have mere opinions while bishops have the truth. It's far more than that.  At this same USCCB meeting bishops were attending an optional workshop in exorcism.  The scary powerful version of the devil is back. 

AB Neinstedt suggested that a mother who accepted her daughter's lesbian partner was threatening the salvation of her own soul.  Hell is back. 

There have been suggestions from a number of orthodox bishops that natural disasters and diseases are God's retribution for mankind's sins.  Divine retribution is back. 

Many statements have been made by pro life bishops - Chaput comes to mind -
that somehow we are all answerable to aborted fetuses before, I guess, we are answerable to God and that blastocysts are somehow ontologically more innocent than babies and need more protection.  Defining an unsubstantiated opinion as a truth which can send one to hell is back.

And then there is Pope Benedict's campaign to convince us that the priesthood is ontologically different from the laity in some kind of meaningful spiritual sense----in spite of all the abuse issues.  Triumphant clericalism is off the rails, it's so far back. 

It's almost as if the Vatican can't get enough of going back in the tradition in order to resurrect a concept which will disempower the laity. Or find one to tweak clerical fears about their authority---laicism in Europe for instance-- that will spur on some of our bishops to even more fear mongering.

What this all says is that at a very deep level our current clerical leadership is deathly afraid of the laity and the culture the laity lives in. They are afraid of an open gay culture. They are afraid of equal rights truly being given to women.  They are afraid of scientific advances. They are afraid for their own status and power. They are so terrified they are becoming irrelevant,  they have opted to write off huge blocks of the western flock in order to pander to the minority of western laity who seem to wallow in the fear they sell.   Pandering to that minority demands the bishops expend a great deal of energy attempting to convince the rest of us that we need to be just as afraid.  That lay minority is also throwing lots of money at the bishops to speak so. Money is the one sure and eternal way laity can be empowered when it comes to bishops. Money didn't have to make a come back. 

On another level what the bishops are saying is we need to be just as disempowered as the bishops themselves are in their relationship to Rome.  In the end Dolan was elected to become the talking head for all this fear.  I don't envy Dolan at all.  (I suspect also, that  one other reason he was elected is to put a happy face on what will be a huge uproar when the Mass translations are put in practice.)

Jesus did not teach about fear from fear.  He taught the opposite. He taught about love from a state of inner peace. As long as Catholicism treads the path of fear, they are not treading the path taught by Jesus.  Jesus's teachings were not based in disempowering people.  They were about empowering people.  In my book Catholics are being asked to make a simple decision:  Do you choose to support Catholic fear; or do you choose to support Christian love?  The two are becoming more and more incompatible.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The USCCB Meets In Baltimore And Cardinal George Pontificates

Cardinal reviews health reform debate as 'wound to church's unity'

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien, Catholic News Service - 11/15/2010

BALTIMORE -- In his final address as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago criticized those who define the church's usefulness by whether it provides "foot soldiers for a political commitment, whether of the left or the right." 

In his talk opening the Nov. 15-18 fall general assembly of the USCCB, the cardinal devoted much of his time to reviewing the debate over health care reform earlier this year and the "wound to the church's unity" caused by differences over the final legislation.

George said "developments since the passage of the legislation" have confirmed that "our analysis of what the law itself says was correct and our moral judgments are secure."

He did not specify what those developments were. (Of course he didn't. Archbishops don't have to, every opinion they have is pure truth.)

The USCCB opposed passage of the final health reform legislation, saying that it would permit federal funding of abortion, inadequately protect the conscience rights of health care providers and leave out immigrants. Other Catholic groups, including the Catholic Health Association and many orders of women religious, said the final bill and an executive order signed by President Barack Obama would exclude any possibility of federal money going to pay for abortions under the health plan.

George said the debate also raised the question of "who speaks for the Catholic Church."

"The bishops ... speak for the church in matters of faith and in moral issues and the laws surrounding them," he said. "All the rest is opinion, often well-considered opinion and important opinion that deserves a careful and respectful hearing, but still opinion." (Creeping infallibility has hit the USCCB.)

He said the Catholic Church "should not fear political isolation; the church has often been isolated in politics and in diplomacy." (The bigger question is why should the Church care.  Jesus certainly didn't and He in fact rejected political influence and power.)

"We need to be deeply concerned, however, about the wound to the church's unity that has been inflicted in this debate and I hope, trusting in the good will of all concerned, that means can be found to restore the seamless garment of ecclesial communion," he added.  (This is a seamless garment which is all seam and no garment.
He also dismissed arguments that the health reform legislation was too complex for the bishops to understand it.

"If you will excuse my saying so, this implies either that no one can understand or judge complicated pieces of legislation, in which case it is immoral to act until sufficient clarity is obtained, or it is to say that only bishops are too dense to understand complicated pieces of legislation," George said. (No, my problem with certain members of the USCCB is they were projecting into the document what wasn't there.  They are in this sense, 'dense' about the workings of their own personalities.)

The latter comment drew laughter from the bishops and a comment from the cardinal that this was "an arguable proposition, but we won't argue it now."

The cardinal, who was completing a three-year term as USCCB president, also warned against the U.S. Catholic Church seeing itself as "a purely American denomination."

He expressed concern for Christians in the Middle East, saying that they were "uniquely ... without protection in the wake of the American invasion of Iraq."

George's voice caught as he told the story, recounted by a U.S. Dominican nun in Iraq who is a friend of a friend, of a 3-year-old boy named Adam who "witnessed the horror of dozens of deaths, including that of his own parents," during the Oct. 31 massacre at the Syrian Catholic church in Baghdad.

"He wandered among the corpses and the blood, following the terrorists around and admonishing them, 'Enough, enough, enough,'" the cardinal said, quoting the Dominican. "According to witnesses, this continued for two hours until Adam was himself murdered."

"As bishops, as Americans, we cannot turn from this scene or allow the world to overlook it," George said. (So where was the USCCB when it needed to be heard? JPII said this war was immoral and you bishops said nothing. Were you too dense to read the fine print, or were you just 'foot soldiers' for GW, as opposed to faithful Catholic shepherds loyal to your Pope?)

He also urged attention to "the active persecution of Catholics in other parts of the Middle East, in India and Pakistan, in China and in Vietnam, in Sudan and African countries rent by civil conflict." (I know this is just an 'opinion', but our lack of appreciation for Islam, and the one million plus deaths this has caused in Iraq, has had a great deal to do with the persecution of Catholics.)

George also stressed the church's "consistent concern for the gift of human life, a concern that judges the full continuum of technological manipulation of life the use of artificial contraception to the destruction of human embryos to the artificial conception of human beings in a Petri dish to genetic profiling to the killing of unwanted children through abortion."

"If the poor are allowed to be born, then the voice of Christ continues to speak to the homeless and the jobless, the hungry and the naked, the uneducated, the migrant, the imprisoned, the sick and the dying," he said.  (I can't believe he actually said this.  This is neocon social justice which is so far from traditional Catholic understanding it's scary. It basically says the poor exist to justify the Christ like charity of the rich.)

"Our ministry is consistent because the concerns of Jesus Christ are consistent," he added. "He is at the side of the poor."


I wrote yesterday that the real battle is over the consensus reality created by Roman Catholicism. I know what I wrote was only an 'opinion' and carries no real weight, because Cardinal George says so. That doesn't make my opinion untrue in reality.  This battle is now being waged in high schools.  Censorship was used against an intelligent award winning high school newspaper because the editors dared print an editorial comment which questioned Archbishop Neinstedt's gay marriage DVD campaign.  This censoring also included the personal story of a gay senior.  Again, it's OK to be gay as long as you deny it and silence yourself.

Cardinal George needed to be worried about Iraqi Catholics nine years ago.  His belated teary concern rings very hollow when the USCCB has said virtually nothing about this war or it's devastation on innocent Iraqi Muslims.  Iraqi Catholics needed the support of American Catholics nine years ago, which is why half of them left the country when they understood that support stopped with John Paul II as the USCCB muzzled itself. This is just another of my worthless 'opinions'.

Our illustrious leadership is meeting in Baltimore and rather than deal with the serious issue of the hemorrhaging of Catholic laity or the closing of numerous parishes, they can choose to entertain themselves with an instructive program on exorcism. That is, when they are not selecting other narcissistic members of their fraternity to lead them, and instruct the rest of us on how to vote---and reiterating Cardinal George's other observation that the duty of the laity is to practice orthodoxy and obedience. 

No wonder the laity are only allowed opinions and only allowed to voice opinions that concur with the official opinion.  The consensus reality demanded by the USCCB seems to be that of infantilizing the laity--even high school laity.  My question is how much further do we need to be infantilized until our bishops feel secure in their authority? I'm sure they will tell us, one way or another.

Update:  Interesting development this morning for the USCCB.  Rather than rubber stamping Bishop Kicanis of Tuscon as the next president, the bishops voted 118-111 to elect Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York.  It took three ballots.  Kicanis has been in the middle of a controversy conscerning his decision as rector of Chicago's Mundelein seminary (1990's) to ordain a seminarian with serious personality issues. The seminarian then went on to become a priest abuser whose handling by Cardinal George was abysmal and violated the 2002 Dallas Charter. The story is linked in the above post. 

Hmmm, maybe laity still do have opinions that matter.  Either that or the USCCB is unwilling to take another onslaught of bad press.