Excerpts of Pope Benedict XVI’s new book are already causing a stir. Though some media reports claim he offers a change in papal teaching about condom use, Pope Benedict in fact says that a humanized sexuality, not condoms, is the right response to HIV.
The Nov. 21 edition of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano (LOR) will release excerpts of the pontiff’s book "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times.”
The book contains the Pope's responses to questions from Peter Seewald, a German reporter who spoke with him over a week last summer about the most sensitive and important questions in Church life today.
The themes treated in the book are edgy and the reception of the Pope's words is likely to be varied. But his answers offer readers a unique look into his teachings and his perspective on the Church and the world.
In the excerpts offered in LOR, just two brief paragraphs provide the Pope's response to a question on sexuality in the world today. He says that concentrating on the use of the condom only serves to trivialize sexuality.
This trivialization leads many people to no longer see sex as an expression of love, but as a self-administered drug. The fight against the banalization of sexuality is part of a great effort to change this view to a more positive one.
According to one much-commented excerpt printed in L'Osservatore Romano, the Pope concedes that there can be single cases in which the use of a condom may be justified.
He uses the example of prostitutes who might use prophylactics as a first step toward moralization, that is, becoming moral. In such a case, condom use might be their first act of responsibility to redevelop their consciousness of the fact that not everything is permitted and that one cannot do everything one wants.
While secular outlets such as the Associated Press characterized this remark as “a stunning turnaround” for the Church, Pope Benedict goes on to explain that this is not the true and proper way to defeat HIV. Instead what is necessary is the humanization of sexuality.
Elsewhere in the excerpts from the forthcoming book, the pontiff speaks of the footprint of Judaism, Islam and Christianity in the modern world.
He also expresses his shock at the extent of the sexual abuse of minors in the Church and the evident wish of mass media to discredit the Church for these abuses rather than purely to investigate the truth.
He warns that true tolerance can fall victim to current misunderstandings of the concept. He also speaks of the destruction of families, young people and society due to drug consumption.
Another controversy Pope Benedict addresses is whether the ordination of women to the Catholic priesthood is possible.
In brief, Pope Benedict says that it is not a question of responding to the wishes of the people, but a question of whether the Church has the power to ordain women. Repeating the words of John Paul II from a 1994 document on the priesthood, he said the Church "has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women.”
He explains that following Christ's establishment of the Church's leadership on the foundation of the original 12 male apostles is a question of obedience. It is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects to obey, he explains, but this is what makes it important.
The Church is not an arbitrary regime, he comments, and the priesthood is supposed to be a form of service and not domination. Even though it might be difficult, the Church follows the Lord's will and cannot be molded to the wishes of individuals.
The function of women in the Church is too significant to speak of discrimination, says the Pope, who notes the importance of historic figures such as Mary, St. Monica and Mother Teresa.
Women are so important, he says, that in many ways they define the face of the Church more than men.
Elsewhere in the excerpts, Pope Benedict describes himself as a beggar who relies on his friendship with the Lord, Mary and the saints to live his vocation. His life without Christian joy would be unsupportable, he declares.