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Could You Clarify the CDF ‘Clarification’?

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Dear TIA,

I wonder if you can comment on the Vatican's recent “clarification” (see it here) of the Pope's recent controversial comments regarding condoms.

The Vatican claims that the Pope never intended to change the Church's teaching.


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Dear TIA,

How are we to interpret the pope's condom remarks in light of the note of clarification released on December 21, 2010 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, entitled “On the Trivialization of Sexuality: Regarding Certain Interpretations of Light of the World”?

After a close reading, I do not believe the clarification note refutes the arguments TIA has made against the pope's comments as recorded in the book, Light of the World [here and here].



P.S. - I've included the English text of the note of clarification here for your convenience

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Note of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the Trivialization of Sexuality Regarding Certain Interpretations of Light of The World

December 21, 2010 - Following the publication of the interview-book Light of the World by Benedict XVI, a number of erroneous interpretations have emerged which have caused confusion concerning the position of the Catholic Church regarding certain questions of sexual morality. The thought of the Pope has been repeatedly manipulated for ends and interests which are entirely foreign to the meaning of his words – a meaning which is evident to anyone who reads the entire chapters in which human sexuality is treated. 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.

Some interpretations have presented the words of the Pope as a contradiction of the traditional moral teaching of the Church. This hypothesis has been welcomed by some as a positive change and lamented by others as a cause of concern – as if his statements represented a break with the doctrine concerning contraception and with the Church’s stance in the fight against AIDS. In reality, the words of the Pope – which specifically concern a gravely disordered type of human behavior, namely prostitution (cf. Light of the World, pp. 117-119) – do not signify a change in Catholic moral teaching or in the pastoral practice of the Church.

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. This norm belongs to the tradition of the Church and was summarized succinctly by Pope Paul VI in paragraph 14 of his Encyclical Letter Humanae vitae, when he wrote that “also to be excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation – whether as an end or as a means.” 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. On this issue the Pope proposes instead – and also calls the pastors of the Church to propose more often and more effectively (cf. Light of the World, p. 147) – humanly and ethically acceptable ways of behaving which respect the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative meaning of every conjugal act, through the possible use of natural family planning in view of responsible procreation.

On the pages in question, the Holy Father refers to the completely different case of prostitution, a type of behavior which Christian morality has always considered gravely immoral (cf. Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, n. 27; Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2355). The response of the entire Christian tradition – and indeed not only of the Christian tradition – to the practice of prostitution can be summed up in the words of St. Paul: “Flee from fornication” (1 Cor 6:18). The practice of prostitution should be shunned, and it is the duty of the agencies of the Church, of civil society and of the State to do all they can to liberate those involved from this practice.

In this regard, it must be noted that the situation created by the spread of AIDS in many areas of the world has made the problem of prostitution even more serious. Those who know themselves to be infected with HIV and who therefore run the risk of infecting others, apart from committing a sin against the sixth commandment are also committing a sin against the fifth commandment – because they are consciously putting the lives of others at risk through behavior which has repercussions on public health. In this situation, the Holy Father clearly affirms that the provision of condoms does not constitute “the real or moral solution” to the problem of AIDS and also that “the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality” in that it refuses to address the mistaken human behavior which is the root cause of the spread of the virus. In this context, however, it cannot be denied 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. In this sense the Holy Father points out that the use of a condom “with the intention of reducing the risk of infection, can be a first step in a movement towards a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.” This affirmation is clearly compatible with the Holy Father’s previous statement that this is “not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection.”

Some commentators have interpreted the words of Benedict XVI according to the so-called theory of the “lesser evil”. This theory is, however, susceptible to proportionalistic misinterpretation (cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis splendor, n. 75-77). An action that is objectively evil, even if a lesser evil, can never be licitly willed. The Holy Father did not say – as some people have claimed – that prostitution with the use of a condom can be chosen as a lesser evil. 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.

In conclusion, in the battle against AIDS, the Catholic faithful and the agencies of the Catholic Church should be close to those affected, should care for the sick and should encourage all people to live abstinence before and fidelity within marriage. In this regard 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” (Light of the World, p. 119).

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TIA responds:

Dear Mr. J.P. and Mr. K.B.,

We thank for your interest and for sending us the original text of the note put out by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. A reading of this document suggests some thoughts to us:

1. We believe that the CDF note does not change the validity of the comments on this topic by A.S. Guimarães (here and here). Rather, it confirms them.

Indeed, he affirmed that Benedict XVI has issued contradictory teachings on the topic. On the one hand, there is a theoretical and feeble condemnation of prophylactics, as the CDF note stresses: “The Holy Father clearly affirms that the provision of condoms does not constitute ‘the real or moral solution’ to the problem of AIDS and also that ‘the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality.’”

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On the other hand, there is a practical or pastoral permission to use them on this or that occasion, under this or that excuse, as the note also says: “In this context, it cannot be denied 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.”

So, the comments of those two articles remain valid and objective.

2. The note stresses that the main goal of Benedict’s words was neither to endorse the use of condoms for married couples nor to give an explicit approval of prostitution. These are good statements, but misplaced, because almost no one pretended that these were the Pope's first goals.

The point under discussion is the “pastoral” appraisal that condoms can be used by prostitutes to avoid infection as a step toward moralization. By way of development - that is, as a consequence, not as a primary goal - the question has been raised whether this can apply with regard to other infectious diseases contracted in or out of wedlock. This point was only addressed in the note's conclusion with these ambiguous words: “The agencies of the Catholic Church should be close to those affected, should care for the sick and should encourage all people to live abstinence before and fidelity within marriage.”

This “encouragement” appears in the note after it admits the use of condoms following Benedict’s criteria. In other words, the note tells Catholic Prelates and priests to do their best to promote abstinence and fidelity, but to permit condoms when necessary. It is an admission and a confirmation of the so-called abc rule: abstinence - be faithful - use condoms.

3. When the note pretends that the papal statements did not change moral or pastoral practices, it does not cite the traditional doctrine of the Church, but the conciliar and post-conciliar doctrine; idem regarding pastoral. But, since this 40-year-old doctrine and "inculturated pastoral" are not always in harmony with perennial Catholic doctrine, we see that the argument is not necessarily conclusive.

4. Putting things in perspective, the CDF note - as well as the Pope’s remarks - make it clear that the “pastoral” use of condoms is being unchained from moral doctrine, which seems to be relegated to the arena of theoretical discussions to determine, in this case, to what measure it corresponds to the “beauty of human sexuality.”

This separation of theoretical morals from a practical pastoral is deleterious. Authentic Catholic Morals is already the application of the principles of the Faith to human behavior, to customs. The Latin word mors, from which moral comes, means customs, ways of behaving. Catholic Morals is already the application of the Catholic Faith to practice.

Hence, a legitimate pastoral can only in rare exceptions and very discreetly engage in actions that are not in full accordance with Morals, such as missionary work among nude Indians or apostolate among active prostitutes, as explained in a previous article. The Church accepted these actions as long as they were rare and discrete.

But now, we see papal “pastoral exceptions” being taught publicly in the general media to reach the entire world. “Pastoral” actually is becoming the new morals, while the traditional Catholic Morals is being laid to rest.

These are the considerations that occur to us after a first reading of this unnecessarily long note.

We hope these comments can help you.


     TIA correspondence desk

Blason de Charlemagne
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Posted January 20, 2011

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