Posted on Tuesday 23 November 2010

Pope’s Comments on Condoms Sow Confusion
The New York Times

November 22, 2010

ROME — In a papacy troubled by communications missteps, Pope Benedict XVI’s unprecedented new book of interviews with a German journalist sought to clarify matters by going straight to the source. But ever since the Vatican’s official newspaper published highlights on Saturday, the book has created the opposite effect: widespread confusion, most notably over the pope’s comments that in select cases, such as those involving male prostitutes, condom use might be a step toward acting responsibly to reduce “the risk of infection.” AIDS activists are calling the pope’s comments a breakthrough, while members of the church hierarchy and some Catholic commentators say the comments have been misconstrued. The Vatican itself has furiously played down Benedict’s words, or rather contextualized them, noting that the pope was not changing church doctrine banning contraception, or justifying condom use — even though the Vatican newspaper clearly used the phrase “justified in some cases.”

On Sunday, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, added to the confusion. He called Benedict’s remarks unprecedented, the first time such comments had come “from the mouth of a pope,” but he added that they were “not a revolutionary turn,” as they echoed the stance of other moral theologians — and had been offered “colloquially,” not as part of official church teaching.
As a kid, my same age cousin and I occupied ourselves discussing such things while our parents talked in the living room. They were Catholic and he went to parochial schools. We weren’t [particularly religious] and I went to public schools. So he would explain the various things he learned in Catechism classes, and I would ask questions. I didn’t much know what such classes were even about. At the Sunday School at the Methodist Church where I was sporadically taken, we talked mostly about Bible Stories or memorized various verses. So my cousin’s long explanations of things like Papal Infallibility, Transfiguration, Birth Control, Mortal and Venal Sins, Confession, etc. were confusing at best – but they passed the time in those pre-television, pre-video game, pre-radio music days.

The most confusing pieces of all were about the "holy father" and the "blessed mother" – the Pope and Mary. I never quite understood the part about the Pope speaking for God absolutely, so I would ask things like, "Was the Pope Infallible before he was the Pope, like when he was a kid?" My cousin didn’t seem to mind, saying some 1940’s 1950’s equivalent of "I’ll get back to you on that one" [he never did clear that up]. That quip about the Pope speaking "‘colloquially,’ not as part of official church teaching"  sounds like one of my questions back then.
As is often the case with the Vatican, the clarification yielded more ambiguity. Was Benedict, in his book of interviews with the German journalist, Peter Seewald, opening up a conversation on condom use — albeit in specific cases to prevent AIDS between male sex partners — or wasn’t he? And how is the world supposed to consider remarks by the pope that are not official church teaching? “It’s not very easy to define the difference,” said Sandro Magister, a veteran Vatican reporter in Italy. In the “graduated spectrum of authority” between official church teachings — encyclicals, laws, homilies — and Benedict’s conversational remarks, “I’d say this is an inferior grade,” Mr. Magister added. “The important thing is that he said it,” he added. “Said by a cardinal it’s one thing, but said by the pope, it’s another.”
Well, Mr. Magister didn’t clear that part about Infallibility up any more than my cousin. Then there’s this from

Papal Infallibility

The Catholic Church’s teaching on papal infallibility is one which is generally misunderstood by those outside the Church. In particular, Fundamentalists and other "Bible Christians" often confuse the charism of papal "infallibility" with "impeccability." They imagine Catholics believe the pope cannot sin. Others, who avoid this elementary blunder, think the pope relies on some sort of amulet or magical incantation when an infallible definition is due.

Given these common misapprehensions regarding the basic tenets of papal infallibility, it is necessary to explain exactly what infallibility is not. Infallibility is not the absence of sin. Nor is it a charism that belongs only to the pope. Indeed, infallibility also belongs to the body of bishops as a whole, when, in doctrinal unity with the pope, they solemnly teach a doctrine as true. We have this from Jesus himself, who promised the apostles and their successors the bishops, the magisterium of the Church: "He who hears you hears me" (Luke 10:16), and "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven" (Matt. 18:18).
This article goes on with the same kind of confusing business as those discussions with my cousin long ago – when is the Pope speaking Doctrine and when is he just taking like the rest of us – saying what he thinks? But then Mr. Magister comes through:
Amid the confusion, there is one incontrovertible fact: Since Pope Paul VI released the 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” denouncing birth control, Benedict in the book has become the first pope to put the question of condoms directly on the table — particularly remarkable for a theologian seen as removed from the chaotic reality of everyday life. For Mr. Magister, the impressive thing about Benedict’s book is that it shows the pope to be firmly rooted in the space between the ideal of Catholic teachings and the messy reality of the world. “He puts himself in this space, which is the real space of people’s lives,” Mr. Magister said. “A book like this is worth more than a lot of homilies,” he added.
Which, to my mind, contrasts Church Dogma and Common Sense – "in select cases, such as those involving male prostitutes, condom use might be a step toward acting responsibly to reduce ‘the risk of infection.’" They’ve been hung up on Dogma and trying to make it air tight since the early days in the Roman Empire – like the days when cousins must’ve argued about whether the Emperor was Divine or just a very important guy. I’ll bet I would have asked, "Was the Emperor Divine before he was the Emperor? When he was a kid?"  In fact, I expect that the ontogeny of all of this business about absolute truth [Dogma] dates from those days when the "Infallibility" moved from the Emperor’s Palace to the Vatican.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Pope would say, "What the Church teaches is that that the Clergy is celibate and that sex is for procreation only. But if you can’t meet that high standard, at the least, use good judgment and avoid having unwanted children, or abusing minors [or anybody else, for that matter], or passing on or contracting deadly diseases. After all, only we Popes and Bishops are Infallible"…
    November 23, 2010 | 2:08 PM

    To me, the 800 pound gorilla in the room that no one is talking about is that this confusing statement tends to obscure the clear fact that this statement contradicts — perhaps that was the intention — the pope’s statement last spring that condoms INCREASE the spread of HIV.

    Here, amid all the confusion, he is saying that they may be justified in some very limited circumstances, TO PREVENT INFECTION.

    Big difference. Sounds like they listened to the huge outcry of that Africa-focused statement last March. But — maybe there is more method in their madness than even I realize until just now. Amid all the fog over what it means about homosexual sex, contraception, etc, they sneaked through a retraction of that untenable position.

    November 24, 2010 | 10:01 AM

    One of the big reasons I left the church(I had been in the convent and came out on a leave of absence and was a Eucharistic Minister)was because of the condom issue. I couldn’t stand giving out Communion every Sunday and say that the Catholic church was right to forbid condoms when people were dying all over the world with aids and other diseases. I felt the Popes refusal to listen to the doctors and other experts was criminal and a sin. I went to Catholic school and we were taught the pope was infallible when it came to church doctrine. I’m happy to see this pope doing the right thing.

    November 24, 2010 | 11:00 AM

    Sorry to get off the story on the pope but I had to let off some steam about how Obama needs to compromise more. If you watch the news(very little very depressing to me) you see the GOP saying Obama needs to compromise. I just saw the headline in the NJ Star Ledger Gov Christie(R) says he wants Obama to succeed but he has to compromise. I guess saying that they don’t want him to succeed wasn’t working for them in the polls but if they say (ha ha) we want him to succeed but he has to compromise does work for them. Of course no president has tried harder to work out a compromise with Rep and Dem more in my lifetime. What they really mean is do as I say or else. That’s the Republican compromise. Republicans and their big corporations(health insurance companies, energy and big oil companies etc) Bush and the GOP didn’t compromise for 8 years when they were in power. Bush and Cheney did what they wanted and never asked. I think the Democrats have to do something way more demonstrative to show the majority what it’s all about. FDR never said we have to try to compromise to help poor people and the unemployed he just did it and said the hell with the Republicans and that is what Obama has to do. People need help not giving in to the GOP and their rich friends and corporations.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.