|The papal interview - JAN 2, 2011|
|2011 - Archbishop's column by Archbishop Edward J Gilbert|
|Friday, 31 December 2010 15:12|
On November 23, Ignatius Press published Light of the World a book-interview which reported on a conversation between Pope Benedict XVI and the veteran journalist, Peter Seewald. Pre-publication excerpts for advertising purposes alerted the international media and general public. In the days that followed the publication of the book, there was a frenzy in the international media over a reference in the book about the use of condoms. The bloggers of the world also joined the discussion on both sides of the issue.
Unsurprisingly, I received a number of calls from the local media and interested Catholics. I also received questions during my radio/television programme, Shepherd’s Corner. I did not respond to the questions at the time for two reasons:
1) At the time, I did not have a copy of the book, which obviously prevented me from studying the text of the Holy Father’s remarks and, most importantly, the context of his remarks;
2) Due to the international reaction to the condom question, I was morally certain that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would soon issue a formal statement to clarify the international confusion.
Now I have the book and can study the text and context of the Holy Father’s remarks. Secondly, as I expected, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith did in fact issue a clarifying text, “Light of the World – Regarding certain readings of the Text.”
The text and context
One of the first rules of interpretation in Canon Law and Theology is to study carefully the text and context of the law or the theological teaching before making evaluative statements. The same is true of papal statements.
Allow me to begin with the context of the statement.
The interviewer raised the question of the AIDS pandemic. The interviewer raised two points in formulating his question: 1) He mentioned the fact that 25%-40% of AIDS cases around the world are cared for in Catholic health facilities and 2) That Benedict in a pastoral visit to Africa in 2009 had mentioned that the teaching of the Catholic Church is the best safeguard, the only sure way, to stop the spread of HIV.
He (the interviewer) then stated: Critics within the Catholic Church think it is madness to forbid a high-risk population from using condoms.
Allow me to continue with the text of the statement.
The Pope responded to the interviewer: The media coverage in 2009 completely ignored the total message of the pastoral visit to Africa. The Church is the only institution that assists people comprehensively: prevention, education, help, counsel and accompaniment with suffering especially children with AIDS. The Pope said he felt he was being deliberately provoked by the media. He stated that it is not possible to stop the spread of AIDS by distributing condoms. That is already established because people have had access to condoms for years. The Holy Father referred to secular programmes that have been developed to protect people from AIDS (the ABC formula – Abstinence, Be Faithful, Condoms). Even in these secular programmes condoms is listed as the last resort.
The real issue for the Holy Father is the complete banalisation of sexuality i.e. the movement from understanding sexuality as an expression of love to viewing sexuality as a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. That is why the Church struggles to ensure that sexuality is a positive value that has a positive influence on the whole of the human person’s being.
At this point in the interview, the Holy Father used the example of a male prostitute who has AIDS. He refers to the prostitute who uses a condom to protect his partners from being infected. The Pope sees this decision as a first assumption of responsibility (a small step) on the way to an awareness of moral responsibility that not everything is allowed. However, it is not the ideal way to deal with the evil of HIV infection.
In the press conference during which the book was launched, the Vatican Press spokesperson, Father Federico Lombardi SJ, stated that he specifically asked the Pope whether the reference to the male prostitute was exhaustive or whether it could be applied to a female or a transsexual prostitute. The Pope replied that it was not exhaustive. The main point is that avoiding a grave risk to another person is a first step to responsibility.
The interviewer concluded with this question: Are you saying that the Catholic Church is not opposed to the use of condoms in principle? The Pope responded that the Church does not regard condoms as a real or a moral solution. Nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection it can be considered as a first step of living sexuality in a more human way.
It is on this issue that the media explosion took place. The media and bloggers attempted to expand the limited examples used by the Holy Father to infer that the moral tradition of the Catholic Church had been changed.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
On December 22, 2010, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published the expected clarification in L’Osservatore Romano to deal with the international confusion.
The statement of clarification makes the following points:
1) The thought of the Holy Father has been repeatedly manipulated by interests which are entirely foreign to the meaning of his words;
2) The Holy Father is trying to rediscover the beauty of the divine gift of human sexuality and, in this way to avoid the cheapening of sexuality which is common today;
3) The example of the male prostitute (a gravely disordered type of human behaviour) does not change Catholic moral teaching or the pastoral practice of he Church;
4) The Holy Father was not even talking about conjugal morality or contraception in this section of his interview;
5) The spread of AIDS has made the problem of prostitution even more serious. It is not only a question of violating the 6th commandment (You shall not commit adultery) but also violating the 5th commandment (You shall not kill). It is in this sense that the Holy Father speaks to the issue of condom use to avoid infecting a partner. He calls it a first step in a more human way of living sexuality. His observation is clearly compatible with his prior statement that condom use is “not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection.”
6) The Holy Father’s words are not to be understood as an example of the “lesser evil” theory in moral theology. He clearly never made that statement. He did indicate that the prostitute’s intention of respecting the life of another person is a first step in avoiding a violation of the 5th commandment. The evil of prostitution remains in all its gravity as a violation of the 6th commandment.
The short-term result of the confusion resulting from the interview was quite unfortunate. However, in the long run it may help people to understand that caution is to be used when the international media, which, at times, has shown a clearly anti Catholic bias, becomes the self-appointed interpreter of papal statements.
For the general population, it contains another lesson: Follow the first rule of interpretation of Canon Law and Theology – say nothing about any statement until you have read the text and understood the context.________________________________________________________________________________________ **DISCLAIMER**: User comments posted on this website are the sole views and opinions of the comment writer and are not representative of Camsel/Catholic News or its staff. Camsel/Catholic News accepts no liability and will not be held accountable for user comments. Please help us keep our site clean from inappropriate comments by using the flag option. Camsel/Catholic News reserves the right to remove, to edit or to censor any comments. Any content which is considered unsuitable, unlawful or offensive, includes personal details, advertises or promotes products, services or websites or repeats previous comments will be removed. Before posting, please refer to the Comments Policy under Resources