Pope Benedict on condoms in his book: Light of the World
What does the Holy Father really say about condoms in his book, Light of the World?
By Dr. Janet E. Smith
Several of the Holy Father's statements have already started making news, particularly his comments regarding condom usage in the prevention of the spread of HIV.
To the charge that “It is madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms,” in the context of an extended answer on the help the Church is giving AIDs victims and the need to fight the banalization of sexuality, Pope Benedict replied:
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.”
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. 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. The Church has no formal teaching about how to reduce the evil of intrinsically immoral action. We must note that what is intrinsically wrong in a homosexual sexual act in which a condom is used is not the moral wrong of contraception but the homosexual act itself.
In the case of homosexual sexual activity, a condom does not act as a contraceptive; it is not possible for homosexuals to contracept since their sexual activity has no procreative power that can be thwarted. 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.
In Familiaris Consortio (On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World), John Paul II spoke of the need for conversion, which often proceeds by gradual steps: To the injustice originating from sin … we must all set ourselves in opposition through a conversion of mind and heart, following Christ Crucified by denying our own selfishness: such a conversion cannot fail to have a beneficial and renewing influence even on the structures of society.
What is needed is a continuous, permanent conversion which, while requiring an interior detachment from every evil and an adherence to good in its fullness, is brought about concretely in steps which lead us ever forward. Thus a dynamic process develops, one which advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God and the demands of His definitive and absolute love in the entire personal and social life of man. Christ himself, of course, called for a turning away from sin.
That is what the Holy Father is advocating here; not a turn towards condoms. Conversion, not condoms! Would it be proper to conclude that the Holy Father would support the distribution of condoms to male prostitutes? Nothing he says here indicates that he would. Public programs of distribution of condoms run the risk of conveying approval for homosexual sexual acts.
The task of the Church is to call individuals to conversion and to moral behavior; it is to help them understand the meaning and purpose of sexuality and to help them come to know Christ, who will provide the healing and graces that enable us to live in accord with the meaning and purpose of sexuality.
Is Pope Benedict indicating that heterosexuals who have HIV could reduce the wrongness of their acts by using condoms? No. In his second answer he says that the Church does not find condoms to be a “real or moral solution.” That means the Church does not find condoms either to be moral or an effective way of fighting the transmission of HIV.
As the Holy Father indicates in his fuller answer, the most effective portion of programs designed to reduce the transmission of HIV are calls to abstinence and fidelity. The Holy Father, again, is saying that the intention to reduce the transmission of any infection is a “first step” in a movement towards a more human way of living sexuality. That more human way would be to do nothing that threatens to harm one’s sexual partner, who should be one’s beloved spouse. For an individual with HIV to have sexual intercourse with or without a condom is to risk transmitting a lethal disease.
If someone was going to rob a bank and was determined to use a gun, it would better for that person to use a gun that had no bullets in it. It would reduce the likelihood of fatal injuries.
But it is not the task of the Church to instruct potential bank robbers how to rob banks more safely and certainly not the task of the Church to support programs of providing potential bank robbers with guns that could not use bullets. Nonetheless, the intent of a bank robber to rob a bank in a way that is safer for the employees and customers of the bank may indicate an element of moral responsibility that could be a step towards eventual understanding of the immorality of bank robbing.
Dr. Janet E. Smith holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. She speaks nationally and internationally on Catholic teachings on sexuality and on bioethics, and has published numerous articles and several books on sexuality and bioethics. She is serving a third term as a consultor to the Pontifical Council on the Family. She is author of The Right to Privacy, a study of Roe v. Wade and related court cases.
Edward C. Green, “The Pope May Be Right” Washington Post (Sunday, March 29, 2009);
Edward C. Green and Allison Herling Ruark, “AIDS and the Churches: Getting the Story Right” First Things (April, 2008);
Edward C. Green, Rethinking AIDS Prevention: Learning from Successes in Developing Countries (Praeger: 2003);
Matthew Hanley and Jokin de Irala, Affirming Love, Avoiding AIDS: What Africa Can Teach The West (National Catholic Bioethics Center, 2009);
Susan E. Wills, “Condoms and AIDS: Is the Pope Right or Just “Horrifically Ignorant?” The Linacre Quarterly, 77:10 (Feb 2010) 17-29;
Edward C. Green, AIDS, Behavior, and Culture: Understanding Evidence-Based Prevention (Left Coast Press: 2010) forthcoming
This article is available courtesy of Catholic World Report magazine, published by Ignatius Press.
Vatican Press Office Re: Condoms – November 2010
21 NOV 2010 (VIS) - Given below is the text of a note issued by Holy See Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi
S.J. concerning certain remarks by the Pope on the use of condoms, which appear the new book "Light of the
VIS 20101122 (630)
VIS - Holy See Press Office
Pope Benedict Misquoted on Condoms -- Again
By Colin Mason and Steven W. Mosher
This past weekend, in a particularly embarrassing journalistic feeding frenzy, the mainstream media fell all over itself to see who could most egregiously misquote Pope Benedict XVI.
For those who are unaware of the “controversy”: On Saturday the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, published an excerpt from an upcoming book, Light of the World: The Pope, The Church and The Signs Of The Times. The book, which is slated to be released in English by Ignatius Press tomorrow, is essentially a long interview with Pope Benedict by journalist Peter Seewald. In it, Seewald engages Benedict in a discussion of the Church's take on condom use, particularly in Africa.
The editors at the usually reliable L'Osservatore Romano made two critical errors. First, they decided that they would be the only major news source in the world to violate the book's strict press embargo, releasing Italian-language excerpts from the book before the official launch date. Secondly, they inexplicably decided that they would only publish a tiny segment of Benedict's statements on condom usage, without any context whatsoever.
Here is the quote that has drawn so much attention:
This paragraph doesn't strike me as at all ambiguous. Benedict is merely pointing out that when people like prostitutes use a condom, it can be seen as a faint glimmer of responsibility, a tiny baby step on the road to moral recovery. And he goes on to explicitly rule out condoms as a solution to HIV/AIDS, pointing out that the epidemic will only end when human sexuality is understood in its proper context of faithful and responsible human love.
Of course, for those who delight in mischaracterizing the Church's position, this was all the opening they needed. The internet was instantly ablaze with headlines like “Pope says condoms acceptable 'in certain cases',” and “Pope Endorses Condoms for Male Prostitutes For AIDS Prevention”. Our personal favorite is this story from Britain's The Telegraph, which claims, impossibly, that “after decades of fierce opposition to the use of all contraception, the pontiff will end the Catholic Church's absolute ban on the use of condoms.” What?
Fortunately, The Catholic World Report released its own excerpt of Benedict's remarks with the surrounding context (and a proper translation), which makes the Pope's original meaning abundantly clear:
Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?
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.
There is little mistaking the Pope's meaning in this quote (be sure to read the entire excerpt). He points out that condoms can't possibly be halting the spread of HIV, since the disease is rampant where condoms are widely available. He notes that even secular sources agree that a condom-only solution is no solution at all, and points to the “banalization of sexuality” as the primary culprit for the spread of AIDS.
But what is truly unacceptable here is the fact that L'Osservatore Romano omitted the clarifying follow-up question, where Benedict assures Seewald that condoms are not “a real or moral solution,” and reiterates that their usage is often just a “first step” toward a truer morality. If that quote had been released along with the more ambiguous preceding one, this entire firestorm might have been avoided.
At any rate, this entire controversy appears to be yet another media frenzy about … nothing. Once again, the Pope made some highly intelligent, nuanced remarks about a controversial subject, remarks that ham-fisted reporters across the globe proved completely incapable of processing.
But don't expect any retractions from the media anytime soon. It labors under the delusion that the Church stands in the way if a modern, evidence-based solution to the AIDS epidemic. The reality is that it is the international AIDS Establishment, with its billions of dollars of funding and its rigid sex-at-all-costs ideology, that has not only failed to stop the epidemic, but has actually encouraged its spread.
The Pope and his Church view Man as a creature, only a little lower than the angels, who is capable of sacrificial love and sexual self-control. The AIDS Establishment (along with the population controllers and the pro-abortion groups) view Man as nothing more than an intelligent ape, subject to the same selfish behavior and uncontrollable ruts as his lower brethren.
The media, unfortunately, is firmly on the side of the apes.
With acknowledgement to: Population Research Institute
Web site: www.pop.org