But it is apparent that the Pope’s words have been misunderstood or worse, badly distorted. While he said clearly that the use of condoms "is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection," he conceded that they could be used "in the intention of reducing the risk of infection."
Unable to wait for further explanations, the Australian daily, The Age, reported: "Pope lifts ban on condoms." This became the common theme in the reporting.
However, the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said Nov. 21 that "the reasoning of the Pope certainly cannot be defined as a revolutionary turning point."
He said that, instead, it offers an "original contribution" and a "far-sighted vision" of taking small steps to "a more human and responsible exercise of sexuality."
Janet Smith, an ethicist at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, published a statement on the website of Ignatius Press, the English language publisher of Seewald's “Light of the World.”
She said the Pope "is simply observing that for some homosexual prostitutes the use of a condom may indicate an awakening of a moral sense; an awakening that sexual pleasure is not the highest value, but that we must take care that we harm no one with our choices.
The Pope, she added, is not talking about morality, but the psychological state of those who make use of condoms. "If such individuals are using condoms to avoid harming another, they may eventually realize that sexual acts between members of the same sex are inherently harmful since they are not in accord with human nature.
"The Holy Father does not in any way think the use of condoms is a part of the solution to reducing the risk of AIDS. As he explicitly states, the true solution involves 'humanizing sexuality'.”
A former student of the Pope's, Father Joseph Fessio, editor-in-chief of Ignatius Press, said the Pope's comment on condoms is "very carefully qualified."
“It would be wrong to say, ‘Pope Approves Condoms'," Fr. Fessio said. "He’s saying it’s immoral, but in an individual case the use of a condom could be an awakening to someone that he’s got to be more conscious of his actions.’’
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver, writing in “On the Square,” the blog for the magazine First Things, explained: “The Church holds that condom use is morally flawed by its nature, and that, equally important, condom use does not prevent AIDS and can actually enable its spread by creating a false sense of security.”
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"In the context of the book's later discussion of contraception and Catholic teaching on sexuality, the Pope's comments are morally insightful,” Archbishop Chaput continued. “But taken out of context, they can easily be inferred as approving condoms under certain circumstances," he said.
Archbishop Chaput said the Pope’s aides should have been better prepared for the controversy over his remarks.
“One might reasonably expect the Holy Father's assistants to have an advance communications plan in place, and to involve bishops and Catholic media in a timely way to explain and defend the Holy Father's remarks,” he said. “Instead, the Vatican's own semi-official newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, violated the book's publication embargo and released excerpts of the content early. Not surprisingly, news media instantly zeroed in on the issue of condoms, and the rest of this marvelous book already seems like an afterthought.”
Seewald himself is expected to explain his viewpoint and give more context from the interview in a press conference at the Vatican on Nov. 23.