Catholic Contraception Controversy   Leave a comment

Pope Benedict XVI

Over the weekend, snippets have emerged from a new book which compiles a series of interviews Pope Benedict XVI gave to a German journalist.  These prior-to-release fragments have caused a bit of a stir in the Catholic world because His Holiness appears to have made what the media are describing as a U-turn in traditional Catholic doctrine on contraception.

In the book, called Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times, journalist Peter Seewald refers to a trip the Pope made to Africa in 2009 and the media criticism of the Vatican’s official policy claiming that the only way to stop the spread of Aids is traditional Catholic teaching of abstinence and not the use of condoms, even for a high-risk population.  Pope Benedict defends his comments on that earlier trip as he explains that he believed – and still does – that merely distributing condoms is not the answer to the problem.  So far, it’s a usual sort of reply; but then, it gets interesting as the Pope continues to officially clarify his position (which he has never done in such detail since becoming Pope)…

Pope Benedict: 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 moralisation, 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.

Hmm… so there seems to be a moral case for the use of condoms – at least for those people who would already be considered to be living a less-than-saintly life.  Intrigued by this, the journalist prompts the Pope into given a clear answer to a direct question on the subject…

Peter Seewald: Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?
Pope Benedict: She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.

And so there is the comment that has been causing rifts across the Catholic world: is this the new official position on the use of condoms?  Well, there of course arguments for and against this.  Perhaps there seems to be a slight tweaking as the Church is trying to keep up with the changing situation in the world.  Or perhaps it’s simply a case of re-interpreting an old doctrine because the teaching was always there for guidance towards living a more moral life and, in some circumstances, the ethical dilemma is not black-and-white.  However, critics would argue that if we “re-interpret” this particular traditional teaching so readily, where will it lead the Catholic Church next?  What would be next to be ‘adapted’?  A Vatican spokesman (Friar Lombardi) has downplayed the supposedly “revolutionary” comments by noting that, “The Pope considered an exceptional situation.”

Moving on to a more cynical point now, why have these comments from Pope Benedict suddenly come to light now?  Well, it’s obviously because this German journalist’s book is out this week.  Book publishers have a habit of leaking tantalising or controversial parts of their forthcoming biographies to the media in the hope of creating some news interest which would mean they get a bit of free advertising.  The sort of media frenzy surrounding this book will help the book’s publishers enormously as it will generate more interest in the book than there might otherwise have been and so lead to more copies being sold.  Of course I wouldn’t dream of claiming that that is the real reason why this story has been in the news this week – I’m sure journalists have more important fish to fry than tracking down various Catholic leaders to ask their opinions on what the Pope has been saying to some other journalist.

Lastly, does anyone care?  I personally doubt that the Pope’s comments will actually make any difference to the lives of ordinary Catholics as they will have already made up their own minds on the issue and would be unlikely to change their opinion based on these remarks.  Any real significance is more likely to unfold in the following months and years when we will see if the Vatican are beginning a process of ‘softening’ the Catholic Church’s more hard-line policies on the subjects which have been the most controversial in recent decades.


Posted 23/11/2010 by thinkmindy in belief, conscience, ethics, Morality, Pope, Religion

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