Monday, November 22, 2010

Light of the World - The Controversy

What follows is a description of the controversy that has arisen following the release of certain remarks about condom usage by Pope Benedict. We will confine this posting to explaining that controversy. In a succeeding post, we will examine the underlying question regarding the morality of condom usage.

Light of the World is the title of the soon-to-be released book-length interview of Pope Benedict XVI. It is also what we, as Catholics, are each called to be, a light of love and truth to a dark world. It is truth and only truth which will set one free, and few people have been so skillful in demonstrating how simple and clear truth is than has Pope Benedict.

But there has not been much truth regarding this book, specifically, with certain excerpts of the Pope's remarks concerning condoms. Now, to set the background, certain segments of society have long advocated and actively pushed condom usage for a variety of reasons. And they have not only been promoted for married persons, but even for children, including distribution in schools. And, of course, this advocacy has been accompanied by malicious attacks on the Church, which is said to be harsh and uncaring in her teachings.

As a supposed example of when usage should be morally permissible, if not obligatory, the condom pushers raise the issue of spouses who are infected with HIV-AIDS, insisting that condom usage is necessary to prevent the spread of the disease, as in Africa. The vast majority of African bishops have opposed the distribution of condoms as an answer in cases of HIV-AIDS infection. It is with that background that Pope Benedict was asked about condom usage in Light of the World.

And this is how Pope Benedict's answer was distorted and twisted by the mainstream media in its reporting --

"Pope says condoms acceptable 'in certain cases': book"

Pope Benedict XVI says that condom use is acceptable "in certain cases", notably to reduce the risk of HIV infection, in a book due out Tuesday, apparently softening his once hardline stance. In a series of interviews published in his native German, the 83-year-old Benedict is asked whether "the Catholic Church is not fundamentally against the use of condoms." . . . "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," said the head of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics. The new volume, entitled "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times," is based on 20 hours of interviews conducted by German journalist Peter Seewald. Until now, the Vatican had prohibited the use of any form of contraception -- other than abstinence -- even as a guard against sexually transmitted disease. . . .

This report provoked an outcry in various Catholic circles, including those people who should know better than to trust anything that the mainstream media reports about Pope Benedict and the Catholic Church.

Here is what Pope Benedict actually said in Light of the World in response to this particular question --

Seewald: On the occasion of your trip to Africa in March 2009, the Vatican’s policy on AIDs once again became the target of media criticism. Twenty-five percent of all AIDs victims around the world today are treated in Catholic facilities. In some countries, such as Lesotho, for example, the statistic is 40 percent. In Africa you stated that the Church’s traditional teaching has proven to be the only sure way to stop the spread of HIV. Critics, including critics from the Church’s own ranks, object that it is madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms.

Pope Benedict: The media coverage completely ignored the rest of the trip to Africa on account of a single statement. Someone had asked me why the Catholic Church adopts an unrealistic and ineffective position on AIDs. At that point, I really felt that I was being provoked, because the Church does more than anyone else. And I stand by that claim. Because she is the only institution that assists people up close and concretely, with prevention, education, help, counsel, and accompaniment. And because she is second to none in treating so many AIDs victims, especially children with AIDs.

I had the chance to visit one of these wards and to speak with the patients. That was the real answer: The Church does more than anyone else, because she does not speak from the tribunal of the newspapers, but helps her brothers and sisters where they are actually suffering. In my remarks I was not making a general statement about the condom issue, but merely said, and this is what caused such great offense, that we cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms. Much more needs to be done. We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help them; and we must do this both before and after they contract the disease.

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

There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.

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

Pope 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.

Now, in reading Pope Benedict, it is important to understand that he often thinks out-loud, so to speak, that he goes step by step, first stating the problem, then considering various objections to Church teaching, then explaining why Church teaching must necessarily be true and correct. The Pope is ever the Professor, and we plainly see that this is yet another case of Pope Benedict looking at a given problem from every angle, not merely rejecting out of hand the pro-condom argument, but giving thoughtful consideration to it. Far from being the mean and harsh ogre that his detractors say he is, he displays a great deal of sympathy and understanding of the problem, he recognizes that people might at least have enough moral awareness to be concerned with another's physical health, before then coming to the ultimate conclusion — “But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.” (emphasis added)

Also, in seeking to understand what Pope Benedict means whenever he speaks, we should also, not merely consider the immediate context of his remarks, but read them in the entirety of the Pope's teachings, as well as the teachings of the entire Church as a whole.

Thus, we should note that these remarks follow those made by Pope Benedict at a press interview during his apostolic journey to Africa --

Philippe Visseyrias of France 2: Among the many ills that afflict Africa there is, in particular, the widespread prevalence of AIDS. The Church's position on how to fight the disease is often considered unrealistic and ineffectual. Will you confront this issue during this trip?

Pope Benedict: I would say the contrary. I think that the most efficient reality, the most present at the front of the struggle against AIDS, is precisely the Catholic Church, with her movements, with her various organizations. I am thinking of the Sant'Egidio Community that does so much, visibly and also invisibly, for the struggle against AIDS, of the Camilliani, of all the sisters who are at the disposition of the sick.

I would say that this problem of AIDS can't be overcome only with publicity slogans. If there is not the soul, if the Africans are not helped. The scourge can't be resolved with the distribution of condoms: on the contrary, there is a risk of increasing the problem. The solution can only be found in a double commitment: first, a humanization of sexuality, that is, a spiritual and human renewal that brings with it a new way of behaving with one another; and second, a true friendship, also and above all for those who suffer, the willingness -- even with sacrifice and self-denial -- to be with the suffering. And these are the factors that help and that lead to visible progress.

Because of this, I would say that this, our double effort to renew man interiorly, to give spiritual and human strength for correct behavior with regard to one's body and that of another, and this capacity to suffer with those who suffer, to remain present in situations of trial. It seems to me that this is the correct answer, and the Church does this and thus offers a very great and important contribution. We thank all those who do this. (emphasis added)

If we consider Pope Benedict's Light of the World remarks in full context, it is very clear what he said and what he meant. And if we consider those remarks together with his prior remarks on the subject, including the prior press interview, and homilies and other magisterial teachings, as well as what he said and wrote as Cardinal Ratzinger, including authoritative documents from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and also including the teachings of the Church as a whole, including the magisterial documents of past popes, then we see that what he has said here is entirely consistent with the lost-standing teaching of the Church on moral questions, including the usage of condoms.

Next: What is the morality of condom usage?

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