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.


  1. what about dolan, george, and gang. Now we can hear all those wonderful loyal, latin mass, neocon, republicans, talk about how they just can't believe it. what next actual women priest, or blessings of same sex loving unions?? Honestly, is it worth wainting around for?? Like I said yesterday, the other show will somehow fall, this is good, don't get me wrong, I have learned, that this statement, that gives me hope, that this church actully has something to do with God, will step up and spiritually rape me somehow if I start to extend anything of good will toward them. What about all those poor Anglicans that are making the swim?? I actully think it is time for this Roman church,as we know it, if not all of Christianity, to be gone. History porves most of it detrimental to the well being of man kind. Thanks for letting me rant. Blessings and peace to all

  2. Anon you have articulated my own hesitancy as well. I seem always to be at war with myself over hopeful optimism and total cyncism when it comes to Benedict.

    I do know this much, if Benedict has come to the conclusion that the abuse scandal has really damaged the Church way beyond what he himself thought it would, then he is taking the first step towards real wisdom. If he then saw that he really needed to make some sweeping reforming changes, he's got the perfect hierarchy in place--all those obedience robots who swore allegiance to him and his office. They could hardly turn around and suddenly become dissenters unless they went into schism--ala SSPX.

    Along these lines, he could also retire, see to it that Schoenborn replaced him, and let a younger man work the 'dirty deed'.

    For a number of reasons I may go into some day, God will not let the consensus reality called Roman Catholicism stay mired in the Trentan ditch, kept there by international corporate interests and OD influence in the Vatican.

  3. I hope to the point of tears that u are right. And pray for me to have peace at the place where i am at now...again peace and blessings, comfort of soul to you...thanks again

  4. Count me among the cynics. However, if there is a glimmer, even a sliver of light that there may be change then I'm hoping and praying that it will be now.


  5. Thanks for the clarification and the excellent comments here. They are right on. The comment about international corporate interests and OD interests are food for thought. I don't really know a lot about international corporate interests connections to the Catholic Church.

  6. Expecting any positive changes from this pope to me is like waiting for snow in death valley, I'll believe it when I see it. Count me in on the Cynic side.


  7. Talk about not being sensitive to good news coming from the Vatican, I did not pay any attention to this until tonight. So I have tried to catch up. Colleen, your research and analysis has been very helpful. It does seem that the pope is opting for a more relational and developmental approach to sexuality. In short the approach seems much more human.

    I do have the image that while Benedict may be opening the door a tiny bit on the issue of the Roman Catholic Church's teaching on sexuality, he is also still leaning against that door with all his might!

    We'll see where this goes!

  8. Colleen, this get more and more interesting - and hopeful.

    I find it fascinating that whenever the church makes an important change in thinking, they find ways to represent it as part of a continuous tradition. There is an important reason why the theologians (and bishops) who have made these suggestions in the past "were not heard" - they were not allowed to be (think Kevin Dowland of Rustenburg, for instance).

    In the same way, when (not if) the CDF finally comes to recognize the validity of committed and permanent same sex relationships, perhaps they will then too, present their discovery as part of the long tradition of the Church.

  9. One more observation. The question of male / female prostitutes is important, but this may not be as simple as just a corruption in translation.

    The German noun used is gender – neutral: but Deutsche Welt seems to think that male only was implied. As they note, fir the full significance, we will have to wait for the full passage to become available.

    Die Passage zur Prostitution könnte mehr als explosiv sein. So scheint Benedikt sich hier auf männliche Prostituierte zu beziehen und damit auf den Homo-Sex, den es nach Ansicht der Kirche gar nicht geben dürfte. Für eine endgültige Aufklärung der Formulierung gilt es abzuwarten, bis das Buch am Dienstag präsentiert wird.

  10. Hello Mareczku and all, I found a statement in the NCR blog that discusses the international corporate interests of the Church, currently and in history. It was posted by a person who calls himself Sylvester. I could not however find his reference at the end in my Safari browser. It would not let me go there for some reason.

    "Politics, like religion, have to do with the "sense of the faithful." Faithful living implicates the religious-secular person. In peoples' lives, the religious-practical and the spiritual-secular belong essentially to faith-consciousness and reason-exercise. The role of the sexual persona is part and parcel of human reality. The celibate hierarchy lacks the experience and perspective of the lay person, and is jaundiced by misinformation and predisposition. In the postmodern world, rocked by misguided religious prejudice, the conscientious lay person is compelled to move beyond hierarchical misinformation and predisposition.

    The internal corruption of Roman Catholicism was officially sanctioned under the de Medici popes, most notably by Pope Leo X who commissioned the sale of indulgences to capitalize the construction of St Peter Basilica in Rome. This official act of crass commercialism provoked the Protestant Reformation by the Augustinian Monk Martin Luther.

    The recent corporate corrupt decision of the “Catholic” U.S. Supreme Court to unleash money indiscriminately in elective politics is crassly reminiscent of the de Medici corruption of selling guarantees of spiritual credit in heaven (even if the money is used to construct a monument to arrogance.) Money instincts are religiously, politically linked, i.e. to the "religious right."

    The giving over of American politics to crass mercantilism is no accident, and is equally corruptive of democracy as mercantilism continues to be for church/ religion. The further desecration of the people and nature is the certain outcome of corrupt corporatism whose god is money and whose soul is owned by it.

    This 2010 election cycle starkly exposes the overreach of corrupt corporate money — even at a time when nature is being mortally wasted by corporate greed. Nature is screaming “enough is enough,” and corporations don’t hear. It’s time for people to join with nature and divinity intuitions to resist death by suffocation from corporate greed.

    Corporate capitalism has run amok and is bankrupting global life’s basic economies, ecologies — and religion, bishops, are blinded by obsession with sex; this simple-minded monotony of hierarchical obsession is deadening. Church hierarchy is fearsomely misinformed at so many levels, the moral, the political, the scientific, and the practical. Hierarchy yet chooses the imprisonment of history and mercantilism; hierarchs live in the luxury of self-arrogation and at the mortal expense of people and nature.

    As a people of conscience, Americans should feel mortified and violated by the corporate complicity of Religion and Law in the mercantile complicity of Church and State. President Obama is not to blame for the corporate bankrupting of America, of global life. To the contrary, he is America’s best hope to work out of it. It’s enough to make St Paul roll over in his grave!

    “RELIGION & CIVILITY, the Primacy of Conscience”, pp 183, 184; 192-194;"

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  12. Dennis, Sylvester Steffan is a long time NCR commenter. He's quite brilliant if at times his writing style is a little dense.
    This quote is Sylvester at his best. Succinct, intense, a verbal swordsman with a killer instinct.

    He used to have a couple of different blog sites and I assume he still does.

    This paragraph is just great:

    "The recent corporate corrupt decision of the “Catholic” U.S. Supreme Court to unleash money indiscriminately in elective politics is crassly reminiscent of the de Medici corruption of selling guarantees of spiritual credit in heaven (even if the money is used to construct a monument to arrogance.) Money instincts are religiously, politically linked, i.e. to the "religious right."

    Nice to see you back Dennis. Hope you are feeling all right.