A Strange Global Misunderstanding

There’s something surreal about the continuing insistence that Pope Benedict has somehow changed Catholic teachings on condom use. This Christian Science Monitor article captures, pretty well, the error:

Secular Europe is a region that Pope Benedict views as critical to rebuilding Roman Catholicism. The pope’s notice of acceptable condom use in some cases, such as by male prostitutes, may be a technically narrow shift; the pope also stated that “fixating on condoms is a trivialization of sexuality.”
But given the Vatican’s more conservative direction under Benedict, this is being read as a shift from negative to positive language on matters related to sexual behavior — at a time when the public image of the church in Europe is badly damaged over priestly child abuse scandals in Ireland, Germany, and Belgium.

The only explanation for so many writers and editors’ considering “acceptable condom use” as an appropriate paraphrase of Benedict’s statement is that they lack the intellectual vocabulary to be more accurate. It’s a bit like saying that it is acceptable to hit a bank clerk over the head rather than shoot her dead during a robbery. In the actual quotation, the Pope strove to articulate quite a different view.
Perhaps the most substantial underlying error is the focus on acts rather than spiritual frame of mind. Condom use by a male prostitute, in the Pope’s example, is an indication that a glimmer of hope exists for moral reasoning, which may lead from the understanding that transmitting a deadly virus is immoral to the understanding that perpetuating a sinful lifestyle is immoral.
Prophylactics are more tragic than actively sinful. The sin comes in the context that make condom use the “lesser evil” — whether that means the practice of promiscuous sex that risks the spread of infectious disease or the deterioration of a married couple’s circumstances to the point at which they can no longer be open to new life in their families.
However, the typical presentation of condoms in the secular arena is as devices that take away the danger (read: sin) of sex. Thus, in Benedict’s words, “the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality,” which is the underlying problem perpetuating the AIDS crisis in Africa and some instances of the moral disintegration of the West.

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13 years ago

Most popular press reports regarding Catholicism are a stew of ignorance and malice, and virtually everything is viewed through the lens of politics.
But part of the blame for the distorted reporting lies with the Vatican itself, where the press operation seems utterly incapable of anticipating how the media will report the Pope’s statements or unwilling to take action to correct things.

13 years ago

It could be that the pope is trying to protect the health of those who work for/with him. It wasn’t even a year ago that members of an elite group called “Gentlemen of His Holiness,” ushers and choir members who are called to serve in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace on major occasions such as when the pope receives heads of state or presides at big events were involved in a gay prostitution scandal.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
13 years ago

I am not sure I like this, but outside of the Third World, the Pope’s statements carry little weight. They are hardly even newsworthy. The Western world has just seen too much of “say one thing, and do another” from The Church (only in industrial, and Hispanic, states is “the church” understood to mean the Catholic Church).
In a world of a declining number of Catholic priests, a declining number of Nuns, and declining attendance at Mass, This just isn’t “news” anymore, it is a human interest piece on “the passing of the guard”.
There is some sadness in this. The Church’s teachings, but perhaps not its actions, have contributed significantly to the development of western civilization. Perhaps it is only a philosophy now, empty of the spiritual guidance it once made claim to.
I suppose we all have questions about the church. I know I do. For instance, why does the Swiss Guard have Chinese AK-47’s instead of European weapons?

13 years ago

Pope Benedict, accused by victims’ lawyers of being ultimately responsible for a “cover-up” of sexual abuse of children by priests, cannot be called to testify at any trial because he has immunity as a head of state,
according to a top Vatican legal official
Of course he could voluntarily testify, but he has refused to
“Man Up” Pope Benedict……as Sarah Palin would say

12 years ago

If this leads to people in third world countries having only the babies they can afford to feed, then it is a positive change.
As for the prostitution issues, if you are working as/frequenting a prostitute, I somehow doubt you care what the pope thinks about condom use.

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