In March 2009, during a trip to Africa, Pope Benedict XVI gave an interview to certain members of the media. Among the questions posed to him was one dealing with AIDS sufferers and condom use. Now, in an excerpt from Peter Seewald’s new book, Light of the World, an interview with Pope Benedict XVI, we find the discussion of the condom question revisited. And again we find controversy.
The premature release, leaked by the Vatican media office, is at the bottom of the stir, but only part of that story is being told. The truth of the matter has not changed, as witnessed by the May 2009 statement issued by the African Catholic bishops of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM):
Pope Benedict’s position on condom use is not new. He was only reaffirming the Church’s position with regards to the use of condoms in the fight against AIDS. His predecessor, Pope John Paul II, often said that sexual abstinence, not condoms, was the best way to prevent the spread of the disease. It is also clear that the Catholic Church has always been at the forefront of the battle against AIDS and she is most probably the largest private provider of HIV care in the world.
As Pope Benedict said, you can’t resolve the spread of HIV with the distribution of condoms, “On the contrary, it increases the problem.”
This therefore calls for a responsible and moral attitude toward sex as the only sure way of succeeding in the fight against the disease. The Catholic Church advocates fidelity in marriage, chastity and abstinence from premarital sex as key weapons in the fight against AIDS.
Indeed, the only solution as the Pope pointed out is two-fold: the first is a humanisation of sexuality, a human, spiritual renewal which brings with it a new way of behaving among people and, secondly, a true friendship, especially for those who are suffering, a willingness to make personal sacrifices.
It is very clear that those who want to understand the meaning of the Pope’s message will, and those who do not want to, will never understand it.
And in spite of various media brouhahas on the condoms saga the Pope’s message continues to resonate with very many people in our beloved continent as elsewhere, who do appreciate the Pope’s teaching and understand he is saying things that are important for today’s world, no matter how unpleasant they may sound.
Further, in response to the latest rehash of the same poppycock, Professor Janet Smith opines,
So is the Holy Father saying it is morally good for male prostitutes to use condoms? The Holy Father is not articulating a teaching of the Church about whether or not the use of a condom reduces the amount of evil in a homosexual sexual act that threatens to transmit HIV. The Church has no formal teaching about how to reduce the evil of intrinsically immoral action. … He is speaking about the psychological state of some who might use condoms. The intention behind the use of the condom (the desire not to harm another) may indicate some growth in a sense of moral responsibility.
Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin has a similar view:
Okay, first of all, this is an interview book. The pope is being interviewed. He is not engaging his official teaching capacity. This book is not an encyclical, an apostolic constitution, a papal bull, or anything of the kind. It is not published by the Church. It is an interview conducted by a German-language journalist. Consequently, the book does not represent an act of the Church’s Magisterium and does not have the capacity to “change the Vatican’s official stance” on anything. It does not carry dogmatic or canonical force.
The bottom line is quite simply that not much has changed between the Holy Father’s March 2009 offhand comment on condom use to a reporter while sitting in an airplane and his just-released discussion with Seewald for this new book. Those who thrive on confusion will create it.
But if you want the Catholic explanation to the Holy Father’s words, Professor Janet Smith provides it when she says, “He says that the Church does not find condoms to be a ‘real or moral solution.’ That means the Church does not find condoms either to be moral or an effective way of fighting the transmission of HIV. As the Holy Father indicates in his fuller answer, the most effective portion of programs designed to reduce the transmission of HIV are calls to abstinence and fidelity.”