Pope’s remarks reflect no change in Catholic teaching

December 04, 2010
by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

A lot of attention has been given recently to the interview with Pope Benedict XVI published in the book called Light of the World, by Peter Seewald. Much has been wrongly reported on some quotes from this interview, incorrectly interpreting them as a change in the church’s view of human sexuality.

What did the Holy Father say that has been so widely misunderstood? He said “perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom … this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility.” People are jumping all over this to attribute things to the pope that he did not say. First of all, notice the “perhaps” with which he starts: hardly the formula for an infallible statement. The pope makes infallible pronouncements on faith and morals only when he clearly proclaims that he is doing so. At other times, the pope may be offering non-infallible pastoral guidance or even an opinion that is only conjecture or speculation. The “perhaps” with which he introduces the statement indicates the latter.

Then he does not say that the condom use is justifiable or acceptable, but only that it “can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility.” That’s not saying much. That reminds me of the news reports a few years ago about the so-called “Gentleman Bandit” who was given that nickname because he was very courteous to the bank tellers during a hold-up. One could say that the thief’s courtesy “can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility,” but that does not justify his theft. He was still a crook!

Just as courtesy during a hold-up does not take away the culpability of the theft, the use of a condom, even if it begins to show some sense of responsibility, does not take away the culpability of the immoral sexual activity. The Holy Father in fact made this point in the sentence immediately preceding the one that has gotten so much attention when he said that “the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a 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.”

The point is, in an oversexed culture, part of the difficulty is the failure to make any distinction between the physical and the emotional dynamics of human sexuality. In such a climate, it is easy to misinterpret the pope’s comments as a wholesale endorsement of any human sexual interaction as long as condoms are used. This is what secular society does. But the fact is that any action which is inherently sinful, such as homosexual intercourse, pre-marital sex or adultery, cannot be made right with the use of a condom.

Moreover, condom distribution creates a false sense of security that erodes the moral responsibility of sexual intercourse. Statistics show that such encouragement becomes a license for promiscuity, and the indisputable fact is that promiscuity is the cause of the spread of AIDS.

Although the reality is that condom use itself is not physically guaranteed to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, its use fuels an appetite of sexual consumption because of the false perception that one need not worry about any physical consequences (pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, etc.). In fact, there is no evidence that the distribution of condoms in Africa has curbed the spread of AIDS. There is evidence that abstinence and fidelity have a positive physical and emotional effect.

All of this is part of the larger question of our culture’s misunderstanding of the proper purpose of sexuality. This misunderstanding is also seen in the misguided efforts to legalize “civil unions” and “same-sex marriage,” often led unfortunately by Catholic politicians who mistakenly think that they are promoting a civil rights issue rather than trying to redefine a social institution that has existed since the beginning of civilization and that they have no moral authority to change. Voters in Iowa recently recalled three judges from their supreme court who had voted to legalize same-sex marriages. Voters in Illinois should do the same with politicians who disregard the moral foundations of marriage and family life as between one man and one woman.

As Catholics, we should pray for and promote an authentic understanding of human sexuality in relation to the love of husband and wife and the procreation and education of children.

May God give us this grace. Amen.

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