Hell’s Bible (aka The New York Times) had this story yesterday. It is written by David Gibson, David Gibson, a writer for PoliticsDaily.com and author of “The Rule of Benedict: Pope Benedict XVI and His Battle With the Modern World” (which I have not read).
My friend Fr. Tim Finigan is quoted.
My emphases and comments.
The Catholic Church, Condoms and ‘Lesser Evils’
By DAVID GIBSON
Published: November 27, 2010
When Pope Benedict XVI said last week that using condoms could be justified in some cases, like preventing AIDS, his remarks caused an uproar because some thought they signaled a turnabout in longstanding church doctrine against artificial birth control. [Is that what the Pope really said? Benedict said that condoms are neither a real nor a moral solution and described a narrow scenario in which the choice to use one was a step in the right direction. That does not mean that the Pope “justified” the use the condoms.]
[But wait! There’s more!] But in an institution as old and windy as the church, what seems like a significant shift can also simply be reaching back to another long-held tradition. [That’s not what we have been getting from the MSM, is it?] By allowing for exceptions for condom use, [That’s not what he did, btw.] for example, the pope was not, as many of his unsettled allies on the Catholic right feared, capitulating to the very moral relativism that he himself has long decried. [A good point. Does it even sound reasonable that the Pope would do that?] Instead, he was only espousing a tradition of Catholic moral reasoning based on ethical categories like the lesser evil and the principle of the double-effect, which says that you can undertake a “good” act even if it has a secondary “evil” but unintended effect. [YES. But why does the writer say that the Pope said that the use of condoms is justified in some cases? A better word would be tolerated.]
Such formulations are associated with casuistry, or “case-based” moral thinking that Catholic philosophers elaborated in the 17th century to help believers make the best decision when faced with vexing options. This kind of thinking was often linked to highly educated priests of the influential Jesuit order and helped coin “Jesuitical” as a pejorative term for a brainy ethics that critics saw as a way to find loopholes to justify immoral actions. [I think that puts a profoundly negative stamp on a thought process which deals with very difficult moral situations. It is important to come up with answers to moral questions.]
That dislike remains strong among many Catholic conservatives, and may be sharper than ever because they fear that in a secularized, modern world, granting even a single concession to a church rule will lead to the dreaded “slippery slope.” [Indeed, the Pope did not “grant a concession”, did he.]
Hence the unusual dissent to Benedict’s comments, [It is wrong to introduce the word “dissent” into this context. It implies that what Benedict told a guy with a microphone during a chat has something to do with Benedict’s Magisterium.] which were prompted by a question from Peter Seewald, a German journalist, in a new book-length interview, “Light of the World.” He asked the pope about a controversy that arose last year during a trip to Africa when Benedict said the scourge of AIDS on the continent could not be resolved by condoms. “On the contrary, they increase the problem,” the pope said then. [Thus demonstrating that the Pope probably knows more about condoms that his critics.]
Critics responded loudly. The pope, they said, was placing the church’s teaching against contraception over the lives of Africans, especially sex workers and spouses of the infected. [B as in B. S as in S.]
Speaking to Mr. Seewald, Benedict said the news media had misconstrued his remarks. Condoms are not the sole answer to the AIDS epidemic, he said, [“Sole” answer? Grrr. The Pope said that condoms are not a “real” solution. In other words, they don’t do what people say they do. They fail. They are not an effective way to halt the spread of HIV.] but, “There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where 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.”
Later, a Vatican spokesman said the pope’s words were meant to apply broadly — beyond gay sex workers. “This is if you’re a man, a woman or a transsexual,” the spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said. “The point is it’s a first step of taking responsibility, of avoiding passing a grave risk onto another.” [I don’t want to say “Ignore the papal spokesman”, but Fr. Lombardi is not the Pope.]
And Vatican officials said that the pope was indeed invoking the principle of the “lesser evil,” though he did not use that exact phrase. Conservative critics were dismayed. “I’m sorry. I love the Holy Father very much; he is a deeply holy man and has done a great deal for the church,” Father Tim Finigan, a British priest, wrote on his blog. “On this particular issue, I disagree with him.” Another conservative Catholic blogger posted the title of the new book above a picture of Pandora opening a box and releasing all the world’s evils. [How boring and predictable. A writer in the NYT quotes someone such as Fr. Finigan only because he says he disagrees with the Pope. FLASH! “Conservative disagrees with Benedict!” BOOOOORRRRRIIIIING. On a deeper level of analysis, though I love Fr. Finigan and think he is a deeply holy man, I disagree with him. I think Fr. Finigan has perhaps placed his foot wrong when he gently disagrees with the Holy Father’s comment about a “first step in the direction of a moralization.”]
A chief reason for the conservative distress — and the extended media coverage of the pope’s comments — is that Benedict himself, when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and the longtime guardian of doctrine for the Vatican, had fought hard against any invoking of casuistical reasoning in dealing with the AIDS epidemic.
For instance, Cardinal Ratzinger strongly disapproved of a 2000 article published in America magazine, a Jesuit weekly, that argued that there was a “moral consensus” among Catholic theologians that condoms could be used to fight the spread of H.I.V. [Therefore, we ought to return to what the Pope really said in the interview.]
[The piece goes off the rails from here on…]
When Cardinal Ratzinger was elected pope in April 2005, the editor of America, Father Thomas Reese, was forced to resign in part for publishing that piece. And just last year the Vatican acknowledged it had shelved a formal study on the morality of condom use to fight AIDS out of concern that issuing a pronouncement would cause more confusion than clarity.
The campaign against condoms by Cardinal Ratzinger and other conservatives gave the impression that the Vatican had barred condoms even for the prevention of AIDS — it never has — and that Rome formally disapproved of casuistry and related types of moral reasoning.
“The pope’s new statement blasts that idea out of the water,” as Father Reese wrote last week in The Washington Post. Indeed, Benedict has clearly changed course, if not church teaching. Father Martin Rhonheimer, a priest of the conservative Opus Dei order who raised some official hackles by writing in 2004 that church teaching allows that condoms could be used to prevent H.I.V. transmission, suggested that the pope’s trip to Africa last year, when the condom controversy erupted, may have been a conversion experience.
Vatican officials said the pope simply wanted to “kick-start a debate” on the topic.
“This pope gave this interview,” Monsignor Jacques Suaudeau, an expert on the Vatican’s bioethics advisory board, told The Associated Press. “He was not foolish. It was intentional. He thought that this was a way of bringing up many questions. Why? Because it’s true that the church sometimes has not been too clear.”
Whether there will be greater clarity now, or more confusion, may depend on what the pope says next, if anything.