Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI did not say condoms are acceptable

Yesterday news came out that Pope Benedict has changed the Church's stance on condoms and that they are now allowed under certain circumstances. However, this assertion is false, and I will show you why.

The BBC has proclaimed the following:

"Some parishioners have welcomed Pope Benedict's remarks over the acceptable use of condoms in exceptional cases, to prevent the spread of HIV.

The Vatican has long opposed condoms as an artificial form of contraception but the pontiff has suggested using condoms might not always be wrong."

The Guardian, another British paper wrote an article titled "Pope Benedict's condom U-turn"

Others have gone even further stating Pope Benedict now allows condom use.

Is this accurate? I think it's important to be objective to find out exactly what the pope said and meant. It's not about what I want him to have said or what I think he should have said, but what he actually said. And the same goes for other groups as well.

The pope was, in a very rare event, being interviewed by reporter Peter Seewald, who asked him about his comments on condoms. Here is what was said:

Seewald: . . . In Africa you stated that the Church’s traditional teaching has proven to be the only sure way to stop the spread of HIV. Critics, including critics from the Church’s own ranks, object that it is madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms.

Benedict: . . . In my remarks I was not making a general statement about the condom issue, but merely said, and this is what caused such great offense, that we cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms. Much more needs to be done. We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help them; and we must do this both before and after they contract the disease.

As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work. This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.

Then later, the interviewer asks a follow-up question, and it goes as follows:

Seewald: Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

Benedict: 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.

Of course, the media cannot detect nuance and make clear distinctions about what the pope is or is not saying. The pope is not talking about using condoms, but rather the intention behind it. He says the intention to reduce harm to another human being is a first step.

That would be no different than talking about the good intention of a man who is euthanizing his suffering wife as a first step toward compassion. The intention of the man is to reduce suffering which is a good intention, even if euthanasia is never permissible. So it's not contradictory.

As a preeminent theologian, Pope Benedict realizes that a good intention is a good first step for any action, even if the action itself proves evil. A woman who prostitutes herself to make money to support her child is another example. The intention to help her child is a good first step.

The subtlety was sorely missed by the media who threw the baby out with the bathwater by declaring the Church is now in favour of condom use.

It's also important to note that the pope's comments do not constitute an official declaration by the Church. This may be a concept that's hard for non-Catholics to understand, even some Catholics. The pope was not speaking in an official magesterial way when he was doing this interview, so it does not carry any legal force. It was not an encyclical, or papal bull. It's similar to if President Obama made a comment on the weekend to a friend. It wouldn't immediately become law in the United States.

This reminds me of the evolution debate with regards to the Catholic Church when blaring headlines asserted that Pope John Paul II believes in evolution or the Church officially accepts evolution, etc. But again, the subtlety was missed. All the pope at the time said was that evolution can be an acceptable theory on the physical development of the human body as long as it does not violate Catholic priniciples. However, he further clarified that the Church does not take any official stance on scientific issues so that is up to each individual. That does not mean that the Church officially endorses evolution, but that it does not forbid anyone from believing in certain scientific theories. The Church "accepts" evolution no more than it "accepts" Young Earth Creationism. The Vatican stays out of the business of science, unless it conflicts with faith and morals.

Beware any time you see a newspaper article declaring that the pope has reversed a decision or changed a teaching. It's probably a misunderstanding on the part of the paper.

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