Let’s clarify right off the bat: the pope’s comments in regards to condom use do not signal a change in the church’s teaching on contraception and condoms. And though some mainstream media sources are reporting the pope’s comments in that light, Catholics need to understand what the pope said and what he meant.
L’Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, released parts of the pope’s new book Light of the World: the Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times, an extended interview with journalist Peter Seewald. The book is schedule to be released this week, and according to some who had early access, leaking of contents of the book was not allowed. That being said, someone at L’Osservatore leaked part of it and a firestorm erupted among Catholics and among the media.
Catholic World Report had the full text of this section of the interview up, and I was able to read it yesterday. However, their entire website appears to be down this afternoon. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately), Catholic journalists and bloggers have gotten used to responding to confusion about the church, so articles explaining what the pope actually said and what it means for Catholics abound.
The National Catholic Register has a great piece, explaining the background of Pope Benedict’s statements on condoms, with the actual text from the book interview.
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. [EMPHASIS ADDED] 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.
In other words, condoms are available and they’re not fixing the problem of AIDS in Africa. Furthermore, when the focus is on the use of a condom, sex becomes trivialized to a self-administered act, instead of a human act and expression of love.
And so the pope continued in this answer to point out what he meant by humanizing sex:
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. [EMPHASIS ADDED]
And this is where the media fixated their attention and thus misunderstood.
Condom usage may be a first step to humanizing sex in the case a male prostitute beginning to take responsibility for their actions. Why? Because the act of using a condom could indicate an awareness of the morality and responsibility of the sexual act, acting to prevent the spread of disease. And therefore, perhaps the beginning of a humanizing of the sexual act.
But as Thomas Peters at CatholicVote points out:
Pope Benedict never says condoms are good. He says the intention to reduce the risk of disease while engaging in a disordered act is “better” than engaging in a disordered act while in addition recklessly endangering the health of the other person. Just as an alcoholic who begins reducing the number of times he binge drinks may be described as having made the “first step” towards sobriety. But binge drinking is still wrong. Binge drinking is never a “real or moral solution” because it is a disordered act.
So the church’s message remains the same: We must work to understand the morality and responsibility of sex within and outside of marriage. Sex outside of marriage is never a moral act and the use of condoms in any sex is not moral either. But the steps a person takes to break immoral habits are better than simply remaining in immoral acts.
To humanize sex is to understand that sex is a mutual act effecting the emotional, spiritual, and physical health of two individuals. Its God-given procreative and unitive nature is only fully realized in the unconditional love of marriage. That teaching will never change, it is the most freeing, and the one that all Catholics – singles included – should work to align their lives with.
Yesterday Tammy-492301 asked fellow CatholicMatchers for their take on this story in the Our Lady Of Guadalupe room, a CM forum for life issues. Her question has already generated more than 160 responses.