The Pope knew what he was setting off

From time to time I have opined about why the Pope says certain things that are sure to provoke controversy.

Some people have suggested that he is naive about the press (e.g., Regensburg, this condom thing).

I don’t buy that.

I have told you my story from years ago about asking the Pope (while still Cardinal Prefect) how he dealt with all the negative press.  We were talking about an especially nasty story in an Italian daily.  He quipped that if he didn’t read something like that, he’d have to examine his conscience.  In other words, if they are not going after you, you are probably not doing your job.

No one who was Prefect of the CDF for that long, with that reputation, with that intelligence, can be naive about a press reaction.   The people around him on the other hand….

Today during the Press conference about the book-interview with the Pope, Fr. Lombardi made it clear that Pope Benedict knew his new comments would spark debate.

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31 Responses to The Pope knew what he was setting off

  1. teaguytom says:

    I was reading out local newspaper today and came across one of the usual AP pieces they put in your local newspapers. It was about the Pope knowing this would spark a debate. The funny thing was, he AP still swayed it to make it look like sparking the debate would ease condom restrictions for Catholics. NO AP! The pope and non of the previous pontiffs and most likely the future ones will not start allowing condoms. The AP can’t be THAT stupid. They are probably hoping that ignorant Catholics reading the paper will join the heterodox Catholics in hoping we can start contracepting. Besides, apparently FOX news was reporting that a study found the sex revolution fans are now complaining their love lives are lousy. Gee heterodox Catholics, liberal AP, where did the condoms and b.c’s lead to? Doesn’t sound like happiness to me. Sounds like dying populations, divorce and unhappiness.

  2. JulieC says:

    The other shoe has just dropped.

    Now that the Pope has apparently expanded his puzzling comments to include heterosexual intercouse, I simply don’t know what to say or think.

    Despite all the well-meaning spin and explanations, I feel utterly confused, betrayed and demoralized. It’s like an earthquake has just occurred in the Vatican, and St. Peter’s edifice which I always believed was rock-solid and permanent now has cracks running all through it.

    All I can say is that as a mother of six children who has undergone numerous miscarriages, surgeries, sacrifices and difficulties to be open to life and remain faithful to the Church’s teaching on marriage and procreation, I’m exceedingly troubled by the Holy Father apparent endorsement of condom use as the lesser of two evils.

    By opening the exception of condom use to heterosexuals where procreation is indeed an issue, are we now to assume that Section 14 (below) of Humanae Vitae is now irrelevant?

    “Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good,” it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (18)—in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general.”

    But, really, what do I know? Despite an abiding interest in papal documents and all my lifelong efforts to keep informed about my Catholic faith, I officially give up the attempt to understand what’s going on.

    After all, I’m just a housewife and maybe it’s time to go back to my pots and pans and leave all this arcane theological ping-pong to the “experts.”

  3. boko fittleworth says:

    The pope sparked a debate on whether or not the Church changed its position on the moral liceity of condom use. That’s the debate I heard from fellow parishioners on Sunday, that’s the debate I’m hearing in my office of two dozen non-Catholic professionals, and that’s the debate I’m reading about on politically conservative blogs and in the main stream media. Most people, other than my fellow parishioners, concluded that the answer was “Yes” and have moved on.

    It’s pretty to think that the pope has a secret plan we don’t quite get, but unless you can convince me, or yourselves, that my experience has been atypical, this has been a failure and a setback. Here’s a secret plan: Teach the truth in plain language instead of instigating media event teachable moments that bring ridicule down on the Faith and the faithful.

  4. traditionalorganist says:

    Well, the way I’m dealing with the whole conundrum is to convince myself the following: The Holy Father is not afraid to speak the truth, despite how it may be twisted and distorted by the press. It’s generally a good thing that he does not shy away from controversy; he realizes that he will never be without it. The Pope knows that we know deep down what is right and wrong, so he explains the truth in a way that leaves the faithful richer in the end. Reading Father Z’s earlier post made me realize all the more that nothing is new here, and the whole situation is just a case of the press playing cut and paste.

  5. Brother Paul Mary says:

    He may have known that he would set off debate. But why didn’t someone tell our dear Holy Father
    that the inevitable result of his theological point would be a complete twisting in the international media.

    Mad

  6. DHippolito says:

    Let’s suppose the Pope knew he was going to spark a debate. What is the upshot? What does he expect to result? Benedict is not known to do things based on off-hand comments but on careful preparation. During his instillation Mass, he had two people pray for the persecuted. One prayed in Chinese; the other in Arabic. He also extended formal greetings to other Christians and Jews…but not to Muslims. All that was by design, not happenstance, to communicate his messages to China, the Arab-Muslim world and Christians in those nations. To believe that Benedict was trying to “spark debate” is to believe that he and Peter Seewald somehow conspired, that the Pope knew that Seewald would ask the question. Frankly, that’s quite a stretch.

  7. Dave N. says:

    If anything, I think this particular pope is the opposite of naive.

  8. kap says:

    AmericanPapist –
    Papist Parody: Pope said I can have condom?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNGLzQuyeD4&feature=player_embedded

  9. Joe in Canada says:

    If the Holy Father has a deeper plan than his plain words, which seem reasonable, I’m not convinced that Cardinal Sgreccia and Father Lombardi SJ have figured it out. I think they, in an attempt to calm the waters, have muddied them instead.

  10. Geoffrey says:

    “Fr. Lombardi made it clear that Pope Benedict knew his new comments would spark debate.”

    It is also a “call to action” for faithful orthodox Catholics to rise up and defend the Pope and the Faith as necessary (blog comments, letters to the editor, polls, prayer, etc.).

  11. lofstrr says:

    1. Secular people are talking about the book which means some will read it.
    2. In having to fight off the misinformation the real truth about condoms is getting out there. The conversation are happening. Those who want to be deceived will go no farther but those seeking the truth will probably find it. This is all much better than the Church, by and large, continuing to simply ignore the topic.
    3. Suffering is part of the Churches mission. To have to suffer an ignorant neighbor, family member or co-worker by taking the time to explain this is very little to suffer.
    4. The Pope may have smoked out some enemies at that Vatican news agency.

  12. DHippolito says:

    I’m not sure which is more absurd, the Pope’s original comments or spinmeisters in the Vatican and in the Church in general doing all sorts of rhetorical gymnastics trying to make sense of them. It’s too bad Gilbert and Sullivan aren’t around; they would have made a great operetta out of this.

  13. Salaam says:

    … continuing the excellent list above:

    5. Teach to correct all the misunderstandings about Humanae Vitae. It seems that many in the pew only know ‘condoms bad’. Which might be okay for starters. But when they start to hear people tell them how important condoms are to stop the spread of disease, etc., they don’t have the necessary knowledge to counteract, and they end up convinced against church teaching. Improper, incomplete teaching is an invitation to people being mislead. Messages such as ‘It’s not the condom, it’s the fornication that is MORE concerning’ can only be sent and understood when there is correct teaching.

    6. Occupy the airwaves and peoples minds. It’s great when a simple elucidation of the truth gets the Pope heard. He should use this power more often.

  14. webpoppy8 says:

    Oh yeah, he totally knew, just as he did in Regensburg. Anyone with a little sense can see that these incidents reveal much more about the press and other loud responders than they do about the Pope. He is intentionally uncovering it. God bless him!

  15. So, you are saying the pope would purposely cause this degree of confusion?

    Dear, Father… That certainly is no defense of the pope.

  16. smad0142 says:

    Even if the Pope wanted to spark debate, he should not have said this.

    The whole secular world is printing headlines saying that the Vatican has OK condom use. Only a VERY small number of people will actually read the article and only a VERY small number of readers will understand What the Pope Really Said.

    My family, who are very devout and faithful Catholics, needed me to explain the Pope’s comments to them, and they are not stupid people. The Pope’s remarks have wildly confused the secularites and the faithful alike.

    Even though I understand what the Pope was trying to do, I think it will end up doing much more harm than good. I think most people will just walk away thinking the Pope has condoned the use of condoms.

  17. Charles E Flynn says:

    This article seems to have been revised more than once:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/24/world/europe/24pope.html?ref=world&pagewanted=all

    The photo of the pope is an interesting study in white.

  18. Maltese says:

    I became a Catholic (from atheism) partly based on the Church’s stance on this issue. Why is it so imperative that the Pope trudge into these muddy waters at this time?

    John Paul II went 27 years without getting into these waters, why must Benedict XVI do so now?

    Either way you cut it, an avalanche is being created out of the snowball of license when it comes to contraception. You allow this, and that, and pretty soon all is allowed (or, seeming so.) The Vatican might as well invest in the Trojan factory at this point. Very, very, disappointing.

  19. Craigmaddie says:

    Oh yeah, he totally knew, just as he did in Regensburg. Anyone with a little sense can see that these incidents reveal much more about the press and other loud responders than they do about the Pope. He is intentionally uncovering it. God bless him!

    I’m amazed at how delusional some people can become in order to deny the fact that the Holy Father – gloriously reigning – has, quite simply, made a massive error of judgement. This does not detract from the dogma of infallibility. St Peter did quite a number of imprudent things and yet remained the first pope. But where is the St Paul who, out of true charity, will “oppose St Peter to his face”.

    The Cathloic faith is not a cult – we are not obliged to receive every word that falls from the lips of the Supreme Pontiff with jubilation. He’s not L Ron Hubbard, Osho, or Stalin. He is the successor of St Peter, that very shaky Rock. In fact, those who abdicate discernment in the non-Magisterial allocutions of popes are doing the faith a grave disservice as they have to perform mental somersaults in order to accept that truth somehow can and does change.

  20. JenB says:

    I am not a very well-read Catholic. I do not read books on theology, and since grad school has become all consuming, I rarely even read on this blog. In short, I cannot tell the difference between Humanae Vitae and Summa Theologica.

    However, before I came across this commentary by Father Z, I came across the news article in question. After a cursory glance at the article, I shook my head and muttered. It was obvious to me that the headline and the article were not supported by the Pope’s actual statements. I am surprised at the level of confusion this has caused.

    On the other hand, my own conversion helps me to understand how an evil act, even a gravely evil act can, for some, be a step towards conversion. I don’t believe that the Pope ever said or meant that condom use is ok in certain circumstances. What I read and understood was that the use of condoms, in certain circumstances, can be the first signal that one is moving from a completely self-centered world view, to one in which the feelings and well-being of others is taken into consideration. And that, is the beginning of coversion. For some of us, who have walked too long in the shadows, even this is a drastic step. If we care not at all for the well-being of others, if we cannot see beyond our own temporal needs and selfish wants, we most certainly cannot see God or respond to His call.

  21. Salaam says:

    “My family, who are very devout and faithful Catholics, needed me to explain the Pope’s comments to them, and they are not stupid people. The Pope’s remarks have wildly confused the secularites and the faithful alike.”

    Humbly, I think that is the issue. The problem is not the Pope’s remarks, but that even though these remarks are a straightforward rendition of 2000 years of Catholic dogma, many Catholics don’t understand them. This signals the real problem – that people have not been taught properly and enough.

    One of the challenges of modernity, I think, is that it demands that laity (and clergy for that matter) become even more steeped in faith and knowledge. Otherwise people are easily confused or co-opted by secular ideas. This is the world we live in today.

    In order to become more steeped in faith and knowledge, these issues must be open and frankly and truthfully discussed, not ignored or hidden for fear of ‘muddying the waters.’ The more the Pope speaks openly and frankly, of course the more chance there is of misinterpretation and mischaracterization, of people taking soundbites and interpreting them the wrong way.

    But this is the price that has to be paid.

    I’ve seen the same problem in my Orthodox church, where not only certain issues such as sexuality, but a lot of other teaching, is ignored because the priests/homilists/patriarchs find it difficult to talk about or think the audience isn’t ready for it or some such reason. Before we know it, the laity ends up being ‘formed’ and ‘catechised’ by secularism instead of the Church!! And mind you, this is despite the Orthodox Church’s strong emphasis on praxis, repentance, and the Church Fathers.

    Just as the bishops back in Chrysostom’s time had the challenges of the time, so do we today.

    Father Z, what say you?

  22. LaudemGloriae says:

    It is very distressing to me to see people defending what appears to now be the Pope’s media stunt to “spark debate.” Debate to what end? The net effect has been confusion and outrage. If we say (as I believe) that the Pope inteded all this, what was the larger picture? What was he trying to accomplish? This construct of “the intention of doing xyz … could be a first step towards responsibility …” will be debated in every freshman health class in every Catholic high school beginning immediately. It will be dissected in Catholic Universities by students and academic who will use to defend all sorts of nonsense.

    Isn’t the proper role of the Pope to end debate and confusion by defining the Church’s teachning?

    JulieC – thank you for your post. Your excerpt of Human Vitae is a sledgehammer of truth against this nonsense and I will be reading the full encyclical today.

    One last bit to ponder: the pope’s scenario does not say that either party definitively knows that either is HIV positive, which means the intention of mitigating risk is not in the case of *known* risk, but a perception of *potential* risk. This is no small nuance.

  23. benedetta says:

    I agree, Fr. Z., that the Pope of course knew what kind of media uproar would ensue from the remarks. In these times when the major news outlets are so biased against the Church and its teachings to begin with, it takes a unique turn of phrase or exaggerated hypothetical to stealthily propose a point. We all know the media will never report as a factual matter, without slant or bias, the solid teaching and treasure of the faith that is Humanae Vitae. I think we are also well aware that many in church circles, clergy, so-called Catholic press, Bishops will not speak the truth of this teaching out of the same bias and for fear of seeming unfortunately “not with the times”. I don’t think this is about condoms in particular but more that this is about the entire culture of death that dominates us all in various ways, pervasive, rooted in. The drumbeat is constantly to accuse, accuse, accuse, the Church of “hypocrisy” these days and this is a subtle and perhaps disturbing way to shine a spotlight on the consciences formed by relativism and secularism. For if their very own standards accuse them then what? If one accepts that one is capable of just that most minimal dose of selflessness, in the example of one who is HIV positive and without morality, then, what does that say about what the rest of us “good and decent” people are also then capable of sacrificing on behalf of a greater good, no matter our religious belief system. After all many of us recycle but we will not be around to enjoy the fruits of our altruism here. We agree to humanely treat animals and the environment with no thanks from the species affected. Couldn’t we all agree to save future generations from genocide then? I do not think that the Pope is worried about confusing our already loyal faithful who clearly see the evil of the contraceptive mentality…I think he is aiming at a much much wider audience than Catholics in general and it will be interesting to see how unsettling to the culture of death regime this becomes over time.

  24. robtbrown says:

    Craigmaddie says:

    I’m amazed at how delusional some people can become in order to deny the fact that the Holy Father – gloriously reigning – has, quite simply, made a massive error of judgement. This does not detract from the dogma of infallibility. St Peter did quite a number of imprudent things and yet remained the first pope. But where is the St Paul who, out of true charity, will “oppose St Peter to his face”.

    It seems as if you don’t understand the basis for the prohibition against contraception.

    The Cathloic faith is not a cult

    Actually, it is a cult–with Christ as the center.

    we are not obliged to receive every word that falls from the lips of the Supreme Pontiff with jubilation. He’s not L Ron Hubbard, Osho, or Stalin. He is the successor of St Peter, that very shaky Rock. In fact, those who abdicate discernment in the non-Magisterial allocutions of popes are doing the faith a grave disservice as they have to perform mental somersaults in order to accept that truth somehow can and does change.

    What you seem to be saying is that just because you don’t understand the theological principle involved, no one else does. Although, as I noted before, such a nuance is usually something that would come up in a good theology class, nevertheless, what I like about what BXVI said is that it causes people to think. What I don’t like is that certain people don’t want to think. They are sure that he is unraveling Humanae Vitae.

  25. Craigmaddie says:

    …what I like about what BXVI said is that it causes people to think.

    I have seen my salt-of-the-earth cradle Catholic father-in-law almost weep because he thought the Pope had changed Church teaching. I was able to point out that the Pope was making a theoretical statement. How many people will not have someone on hand to explain and be deeply confused – leading to a weakening of their faith?

  26. luiz says:

    People want to save what has been said ignoring the disaster caused by those words.

  27. Supertradmum says:

    Because I teach young adults, I am not amazed at the inability of people in 2010 to think through situations on their own. For some reason, the art of rational discourse has been lost and replaced almost solely by knee-jerk reactions based on feelings or half-truths 0r laziness rather than research and reflection.

    Many of the comments here show immaturity of thought and fall into the category of taking a comment meant for discussion, not in order to change some position, but in order to understand a position, and twist it. The media and some commentators here need to realize that the Catholic Church has always discussed issues, and not merely mandated without understanding. This is a huge difference with some religions, such as Islam, which only demands blind obedience outside of any thought.

    If one is an adult Catholic, one must work through the beliefs, or else be quietly obedient until one does understand, either by a gift of the Holy Spirit (Confirmation), or reflection, which takes time. It is the duty of the laity to try and understand things. That is what it means to be an adult in faith.

    I do not believe the Pope made a mistake. He agreed to answer all the questions asked before the interview started. His answer is in keeping with Thomistic, Scholastic thought regarding serious sin. If one looks at other moral dilemmas, such as the just war theory, or the idea of torture, one sees similar discussions through-out the history of the Church. If his comment sparked debate, it is a good thing, as the Church has a right to defend Her position in the market place, which is what is happening.

    If adults are weakened by such comments, and I do not single anyone here out, those adults must look clearly at their own lack of study, which is the duty of all adult Catholics, to some point. I also think that the clergy is at fault locally for not helping people work through such problems. We are not children.

    Maltese,
    if you do not think JPII got into sticky wickets, I suggest you look more closely at the Assisi happenings and his visit to Taize, which was started partly by ex-Catholics, as well as Protestants. Also, that particular Pope’s visits to mosques and the kissing of the Koran, sparked much controversy and still do.

    Julie C,
    You are obviously trying to live a perfect life and I commend you. However, the Church has always allowed some forms of contraception for life or death situations, depending on the “greater good”, even before and after Humane Vitae. These are decisions made with a spiritual director and in keeping with the Teaching of the Magisterium. If you feel or think that your situation has not been looked at with sensitivity and truth, I would pursue that. The Church is a loving Mother and you have choices. St. Gianna Beretta Molla is our example. If we chose saintliness, we chose suffering. And, here is a great comment from the Pope;s first encyclical:
    “Openness to life is at the centre of true development,” writes the Pope. “When a society moves toward the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good. If personal and social sensitivity toward the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.”

    His comment on condoms is not a contradiction of that statement.

  28. Supertradmum says:

    And, may I add, are we here on this comment box (in?) not like the older of the two sons of the parable of the Prodigal Son? We who are with the Lord at all times cannot criticize the loving Father who accepts the newly repentant son and possibly, not one with a sensitive conscience, back into the fold.
    The Prodigal Son came back because he was hungry and knew his Father’s house was a better place to live. He did not necessarily love the Father as he should have. So, do we criticize the male prostitute who uses a condom in order not to spread death until he has an full awakening of his conscience? The older son may have had a right to criticize the younger son, but it was not a loving thing to do. Acceptance of the imperfections of others on their way to God is hard, and are we not the same in some areas of our lives, such as pride? The Byzantines have a tale which applies here. The onion dome on the churches reminds all that when we die, an angel brings down an onion from Heaven, which is the one good work we did, and if we can cling to that onion and not drop down to hell, we are saved. I hope I have one onion.

  29. lhwhitaker says:

    I’m quite certain that if this Pope were to stand up and declare himself a Nazi, admit to knowing all about the sexual abuse scandal, then proclaim “Humanae Vitae” null and void, certain members of this list would praise his courage, claim he “knew what he was doing” and call him the “Pope of Christian Unity.”

    [I am quite certain that that is one of the rudest comments posted here in a long time. I am also quite certain that you shouldn’t post again for a while.]

  30. anna 6 says:

    Supertradmom…
    Thank you for your thoughtful and wise post!

  31. Supertradmum says:

    Thanks, Anna 6, I sincerely hope that more of us Catholic adults take hold of our Faith and are able to pass it down to the next generation with all the glory and clarity the Church gives us, if we are willing to learn.