Monday, 22 November 2010

Pope Benedict XVI on condoms

The Holy See Press Office issued a statement Nov. 21 in response to wide international coverage of Pope Benedict XVI's comments on condoms in a new book-length interview with the German journalist Peter Seewald.

The Pope’s remark has opened a crack in the Church's ban on contraception because of the aids epidemic, particularly in Africa. Catholic moral theologians have been discussing for years the theory of what the Pope has now openly expressed in terms of accepting the lesser of two evils. This marks a major shift in Vatican attitudes, if not in the formal teaching of the Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict XVI said the use of condoms might be justified in exceptional circumstances. He gave the example of male prostitutes using condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS which could be seen as an act of moral responsibility, even though condoms were "not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. It was only a year ago (2009), while visiting Cameroon, that Pope Benedict XVI said that handing out condoms might actually make HIV infection worse.

The Pope's response reversing the Church's teaching on the use of condoms was most unfortunate - but reminiscent of several comments in the past made in the same vain. In trying to avoid saying,'we made a mistake' he wanted to reflect on what other more compassionate theologians have been saying for years. "the use of condoms is permitted for the prevention of AID's as the lesser of two evils. In other words how many children can we allow to die or become orphaned as their mother passes on the AID's virus and dies before the child(ren) reach the age of independence?

A spokesman speaking on behalf of ‘Catholic Voices’ suggested that this was the first time the Pope had voiced such a contrary opinion on condoms. Still other groups now believe what while this is only a small concession it could easily become a collapse in the whole edifice of Catholic teaching on contraception.

Meanwhile Vatican officials are scrambling to play down the Pope’s comments in the light of established Church teaching prohibiting the use of condoms under any circumstances. Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi, for example, quickly suggested “the Pope was speaking about "an exceptional situation and is not reforming or changing the teaching of the church, but reaffirming it by placing it in the context of the value and the dignity of human sexuality as an expression of love and responsibility.” Such language, true to Vatican form, almost intimates that the Pope may have been misunderstood and misquoted. That not being the case many will be left wondering if the Vatican will ever admit they were wrong! After all that is the basic premise under which the laity are instructed to commit themselves every-time they celebrate Mass - Mia Culpa, Mia Culpa. An institution that cannot admit to error cannot ask its followers to do the same.

Is it possible therefore that the gap which has now been created could in fact open the way for the Church to reconsider some other associated Aids issues such as the case involving Sr. Jeannine Gramick. Since 1971, she worked for justice and peace for sexual minorities by offering a church ministry to lesbian and gay people. However, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) declared in 1999 that she should no longer be engaged in pastoral work with lesbian and gay persons. Perhaps the Catholic Church is now able to re-examine their grossly prejudiced and offensive views against homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and a host of other sexual ‘sins’. It might just relieve them of these pressures and allow them to deal more effectively with the far greater sin of having covered up hundreds of cases of sexual abuse for decades. This gap might just present an opportunity to admit to and learn from its mistakes in the past.

There is another aspect about the Pope’s surprising statement on condoms and that concerns the sticky question of collegiality.  Collegiality is of course the instrument through which the bishops including the Pope collectively represent the teaching office of the Roman Catholic Church.  If anyone had asked a member of clergy about the use of condoms prior to Benedict’s revelation the other day, they would have received a definite ‘no’ not under any circumstances!  Since the Pope’s remarks have now definitely made an exception to the rule it does suggest that exceptions to other dogmatic teachings are possible.  At the same time it highlights the marked deficiency that exists within the Vatican on the matter of collegiality. Benedict along with his predecessor seems to prefer a ‘from the top down’ approach even to the exclusion of his bishops.  When this abuse of power is mixed with a hint of ‘infallibility’ it is easy to see how church teachings become so polarized and absolute.

Pope Paul's message was that it is immoral for a married couple to have sex merely to express mutual love, that they must also preserve the possibility of procreation. His logical mistake was to claim that the hapless rhythm method of birth control (periodic abstinence) could be approved because it retained an intrinsic link to procreation -- when, in fact, both partners were seeking to avoid procreation.

A few theologians pointed out Paul's errors publicly and incurred the wrath of the church. Charles Curran, for example, who led a group of protesting theologians, was forbidden to continue teaching moral theology at Catholic University.

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