NEWS:  November 29, 2010

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Bird’s Eye View of the News

Atila Sinke Guimarães

SCHIZOPHRENIA AT THE VATICAN?  - Readers and friends have asked my opinion on the reported example Benedict XVI gave for a use of the condom, at least in the case of prostitution, to avoid spreading the virus of AIDS. His comments were made in Light of the World, a book-interview with German journalist Peter Seewald. In the case of a prostitute, Benedict said, using a condom to reduce the risk of HIV infection "can be a first step in the direction of 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." Let me try to place this statement in its broader context.

Peter Seewald interviews Benedict XVI

Peter Seewald interviewing Benedict XVI. The meetings took place in Castel Gandolfo, one hour away from Rome
In the last 50 years since the election of John XXIII, the conciliar Popes – although efficient destroyers of the previous status quo of the Catholic Church in her institution, dogma, liturgy, canon law, etc. – had maintained a partial consistency with the traditional Catholic Morals.

A partial consistency, I say, because we know that they opened the doors wide to “Catholic divorce” - marriage annulments that almost anyone can get from almost any diocesan tribunal under almost any pretext. Also, homosexuality has been de facto approved in the clergy by allowing persons with this inclination into the seminaries, as well as in parishes with the various “lesbian and gay ministries.” The third major moral stain of the New Church is the clamorous complacency shown toward pedophile priests.

But on other moral topics, such as abortion, euthanasia, contraception and stem cells, the last five Popes were moderately consistent with the previous Catholic Magisterium. In the general lines of Humanae vitae Paul VI followed the same path of Pius XII; John Paul II theatrically boasted that he was against the “culture of death,” and on his 2009 trip to Africa Benedict XVI made the headlines by opposing the use of condoms to prevent AIDS (check here).

Now, in his book Light of the World released on November 23 in Rome, he opened a hole in the dike of the Church’s position on contraception by establishing a precedent where the use of condoms would be acceptable. This is according to what has been revealed by both the official organ of the Holy See, L’Osservatore Romano (OR) and the Pope’s spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi.

More than a week has passed since November 20, when OR first published excerpts from the book, including this controversial allowance for condoms. Even thought after that statements were issued saying “nothing changed in the previous doctrine,” there has been no substantial denial of the Holy See. On the contrary, on November 23, Fr. Lombardi affirmed that “he asked the Pope whether he intended his comments to only apply to male prostitutes. Benedict replied that it really didn’t matter, that the important thing was the person in question took into consideration the life of the other” (here). In other words, the official spokesman of the Pope double-checked with him and confirmed his statements, further specifying that condoms could be used by either male, female or transsexual prostitutes.

Benedict in The Light of the World
So, despite intricate interpretations of that paragraph made by some conservative Catholics to conclude that nothing has changed, either words no longer mean anything or we are actually facing a de facto approval of the use of condoms in some cases.

Therefore, nine days after this breaking news, a first consequence is that with this affirmation, Benedict contradicts his own teachings on the topic: In 2009 he presented Morals as forbidding the use of condoms to prevent AIDS; in 2010 he said the opposite. I think this can be called a schizophrenic magisterium on prophylactics.

We are witnessing schizophrenia in both moral doctrine and language, because at the same time Fr. Lombardi extended the use of condoms for all kind of prostitutes, he affirmed that this did not change the previous teaching.

These contradictions create an atmosphere of confusion that deserves further analysis to not lose touch with reality, simplify the picture, and, consequently, reach wrong conclusions.

Why is this confusion being created by the Vatican and the Pope himself? First let me lay out some presuppositions of the problem.

Why does a Pope need an interview book?

Ever since JPII gave a series of interviews to journalist Vittorio Messori that resulted in Crossing the Threshold of Hope (1994), I wonder why a Pope needs to release a book of interviews. No mortal on earth has greater means to communicate his thoughts to the whole Church than does a Pope. Ex cathedra definitions, encyclicals, apostolic letters, exhortations, briefs, bulls, homilies, allocutions, greetings, etc – every means imaginable is at his disposal to speak to either the faithful or the entire world. The Catholic Church created her own channels to communicate her thinking independent of the resources of the secular world. She doesn’t need them. So, again: Why use the world’s means to express papal opinions?

After reflection, I offer some reasons that fit with the progressivist agenda:
  • It destroys the image of a monarch Pope who speaks from the summit of the Church hierarchy; the Pope who emerges in such interviews is more democratic, a person like everybody else;

  • It removes the dogmatic character associated with his words; his opinions seem like those of an elderly judge, professor or general who shares his views with the public;

  • Thus, in practice, he abandons his mission as Vicar of Christ and enters the arena of public opinion like one who says: “Like it or not, here is what I think. If you don’t agree, we can discuss it.”
This voluntary divestment of the sacral, monarchical and dogmatic characters of the papacy made by both John Paul II and Benedict XVI brings to mind the words of Paul VI about the process of self-destruction of the Church.

 A cascading confusion 

Regarding the authority of the statements in this book and the precision of their language, almost everything is confused:
  1. We are working with by-the-pope-but-not-by-the-pope statements. That is, Benedict made these declarations, but should it be necessary to save his name, Peter Seewald, who actually wrote the book, can say that he misunderstood this or that remark.

  2. Ratzinger and Seewald spoke in German, but the book was first published in Italian and launched on November 23. A mistake was made in the translation: The German text used male prostitute mentioning when condoms could be used, but the word was translated in Italian as a female prostitute. The official printing house of the Holy See responsible for the Italian translation - Libreria Editrice Vaticana - missed this distinction. If one mistake was present the question arises: Is the Italian translation reliable? Further, it is the normal base for the Spanish, French and Portuguese translations. Hence, a whole wake of errors may have been printed in these three languages…

  3. When a new papal document appears, the Vatican Information Press (VIS) normally sends to accredited Vatican journalists and international agencies a press release, which becomes the source for news reports on the document’s content. I imagine that a VIS press release was sent before November 20 announcing the coming book. If this is so, the press hullabaloo that followed was caused by the Vatican itself rather than by the media, as some conservatives pretended.

  4. L’Osservatore Romano published excerpts from the book in Italian. But it did so prematurely, before the release date established by VIS. Instead of waiting until the eve of the book release on November 22, it published an article with excerpts on November 20, breaking the rules and stealing the scoop. Thus, inside the Vatican we see a split between VIS, which issued the press release, and L’Osservatore Romano, which violated the VIS deadline. Which side should be trusted, the official Vatican Information Service or the official paper of the Holy See?

Fr Federico Lombardi gives his personal opinion

Fr. Lombardi should restrain himself from presenting personal opinions
  1. The spokesman of the Holy See, Fr. Federico Lombardi, is under suspicion as well. He was indirectly referred to in Light of the World when the Pope reportedly said that “our public relations work was a failure” (here). Regarding the papal statements on condoms Fr. Lombardi added fuel to the fire on November 23 when he called “Benedict’s remarks unprecedented, the first time such comments had come from the mouth of a Pope” (here). A spokesman should report the Pope’s word and leave the commentary for others. When he starts to make personal comments, how do we know whether we are listening to the Pope or Fr. Lombardi? Also, we have another possible scapegoat. Should it prove necessary, the blame for all this confusion can be placed on Lombardi’s eagerness to offer his own comments.

  2. Finally, there are other cases where Pope Ratzinger has denied what he had indisputably affirmed. For example: he said one thing about Muslims in his Regensburg lecture on September 12, 2006, which he then repudiated in an Angelus talk on September 17 (here).
This cascading confusion coming from the top, from the Pope himself and the Vatican official organs, lead us to ask whether it was released on purpose to serve an agenda. A similar policy on “Catholic divorce” and homosexuality has been applied for some time now: In theory the Vatican says the doctrine remains the same – opposed to divorce and homosexuality – but in practice those moral errors have been increasingly accepted. Therefore, it appears that regarding condoms we are witnessing the same ruse or, to use the language of the Gospel, the same Pharisaic hypocrisy.

 Consequences for the faithful

In practical terms, the dam broke. Is it impossible to put back the released waters. I believe that no matter what nuance-excuse-denial the Vatican presents, the situation on this issue will never be the same as before.

However, condoms should never be used. They characterize the sin of onanism. This name derived from Onan in Scripture, who had relations with his wife but took preventions not to have children. To punish him, God slew Onan (Gen 38: 8-10). Also the Catholic Church has always condemned this practice.

What should a Catholic couple do? Follow the waters of the broken dam? No, of course not. This is another point where Catholics must resist Progressivism and follow the perennial Magisterium of the Church on conjugal life, as taught, for example, in Casti connubii of Pius XI.

These are difficult times, indeed. But God never permits a trial without giving, through the powerful intercession of Our Lady, the graces necessary to conquer.


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