Doctrine office says Pope’s words on condoms and AIDS were 'manipulated'

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI

.- More than a month later, Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks about condom use and AIDS, made in his latest book, continue to provoke commentary and controversy.

The Vatican’s doctrine office says the Pope’s words were widely “manipulated for ends and interests which are entirely foreign to the meaning of his words” — resulting in “confusion” about the Church’s true teaching on sexual morality.

But in fact the Pope did not change anything in Catholic moral teaching or pastoral practice, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in a note issued Dec. 21.  

The 1,100-word clarification note, “On the Trivialization of Sexuality, ” addressed remarks the Pope made in his new book-length interview with German journalist Peter Seewald, “Light of the World” (Ignatius Press, $22).

In the book, the Pope was asked to revisit remarks he made during his 2009 trip to Africa. He repeated that condoms are not a “real or moral solution” to the AIDS pandemic on the continent. However, he suggested that condom use, although never moral or justifiable, might be sign of moral awakening in some people.

He cited the example of a male prostitute using a condom. The Pope said, “this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, 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.”

Pope Benedict’s words were widely reported as breaking with the Church’s long-standing prohibitions against the use of artificial means of birth control. 

Such interpretations were “erroneous,” according to the new Vatican statement: “The intention of the Holy Father is clear: to rediscover the beauty of the divine gift of human sexuality and, in this way, to avoid the cheapening of sexuality which is common today.”

The Vatican said that “anyone who reads” the Pope’s words in context could see that the Pope was not talking about the use of condoms by married couples, as some commentators argued.

“As is clear from an attentive reading of the pages in question, the Holy Father was talking neither about conjugal morality nor about the moral norm concerning contraception,” it said.

“The idea that anyone could deduce from the words of Benedict XVI that it is somehow legitimate, in certain situations, to use condoms to avoid an unwanted pregnancy is completely arbitrary and is in no way justified either by his words or in his thought,” it added.

The Pope’s words instead referred to “the completely different case of prostitution, a type of behavior which Christian morality has always considered gravely immoral,” according to the new statement.

The statement acknowledged the role of prostitution in spreading AIDS and said those who have AIDS and still engage in sexual activity “are consciously putting the lives of others at risk through behavior which has repercussions on public health.”

What the Pope said was only that “anyone who uses a condom in order to diminish the risk posed to another person is intending to reduce the evil connected with his or her immoral activity,” according to the statement. 

The Vatican also countered claims made widely in the media that the Pope was teaching that condom use would be the “lesser of two evils.”

 “An action which is objectively evil, even if a lesser evil, can never be licitly willed,” according to the statement.

“The Church teaches that prostitution is immoral and should be shunned. However, those involved in prostitution who are HIV positive and who seek to diminish the risk of contagion by the use of a condom may be taking the first step in respecting the life of another — even if the evil of prostitution remains in all its gravity. This understanding is in full conformity with the moral theological tradition of the Church.”

The Vatican concluded that the Church’s role in the fight against AIDS continues to be one of caring for those infected with the disease and encouraging all men and women to “live abstinence before and fidelity within marriage.”

Quoting from the “Light of the World,” the Vatican added: “It is also important to condemn any behavior which cheapens sexuality because, as the Pope says, such behavior is the reason why so many people no longer see in sexuality an expression of their love: ‘This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.’”

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