"I've often said that if a sports reporter was as clueless about his subject as the typical religion reporter is about his, he couldn't keep his job for a week. The Pope and condom story is the latest confirmation of that observation." -- Paul Thigpen
I have been asked to address the recent statement of Pope Benedict regarding condoms.
I will throw out some quick thoughts, but for far superior analyses, go here (Fr. Fessio), here (George Weigel), and here (Archbishop Chaput).
I don't have much to add to those pieces, but I will do what I usually do, which is to take my simple mind and put things in the simplest way I know how:
- In the Pope's example, the person deciding to use a condom is already engaging in gravely sinful activity (prostitution). Using or not using a condom does not in any way change the morality of the act; the person is still committing a terrible sin, which can never be condoned.
- In the Pope's scenario, the condom is not being used for contraception, but as (perceived) protection against disease. Is condom use a legitimate way to stop the spread of AIDS? According to the Pope: "[The Church] of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution"; however, the intention of not wanting to infect your partner with a deadly disease may be "a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality." In other words, there may be a stirring of the conscience that sex is about love, and not merely "a sort of drug that people administer to themselves."
- It's as if a drug addict was deciding if he should shoot up his partner with the clean needle, or if he should just use the dirty one that's more convenient. That moment of concern for the other might be a step towards morality. It's not the use of the needle that is good; rather, the good is found in the concern for the other. Christianity is all about love, and love is all about willing what is best for the other. Pope Benedict was musing on one of his favorite topics (and the subject of his first encyclical): Love. Even in the midst of a moral hell, there can be movement toward love.
- It is expected by every faithful Catholic on the face of the earth that the media will distort the words of the Pope on any sexual issue, spewing sensational, ignorant or even intentionally misleading headlines all over the globe.
- As in the past, faithful Catholics have looked past the erroneous headlines to uncover the actual story, which is a non-story: No new teaching was given, no changes were made to the moral law. Of course.
- Finally, even if the Pope had waxed eloquent about the moon being made of green cheese, a philosophical musing by a Pontiff in the middle of a long and fascinating interview with a reporter does not rise to the level of an official Church teaching; it is not an exercise of the Magisterium. Not.even.close.
So, here we sit, with the Deposit of Faith intact, as it has been for 20 centuries and will be forever more. But this latest papal interview sure did give the world something to talk about! I do think all the hoopla is ironic, given that the world was long ago supposed to have written off the papacy as an irrelevant, dusty old relic. Yet even the Pope's most nuanced, non-authoritative utterances seem to carry incredible weight and power, even with the secular media. Go figure.
UPDATE: Speaking of condoms, I just read this on my daughter's blog! I couldn't resist posting it here.