Cong. for Doctrine of the Faith issues a note: On the trivilization of sexuality – Regarding certain interpretations of “Light of the World”

Peter Seewald

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The Holy See’ Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has issued a clarification about the Holy Father’s comments about HIV and condoms made in his book interview Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times.

Watch for the comment about proportionalism which was also a feature of Benedict XVI’s “state of the union” address to the Roman Curia.

I think the main point of this CDF Note should have been published before the book was released.  But…   spilled milk and all.

By the way… the quality of English here leads me to imagine that may have originally been written in English.

My emphases.

Note of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

On the trivilization of sexuality

Regarding certain interpretations of “Light of the World”

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 behaviour, 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 behaviour 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 behaviour 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 behaviour 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 which 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 behaviour which cheapens sexuality because, as the Pope says, such behaviour 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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18 Responses to Cong. for Doctrine of the Faith issues a note: On the trivilization of sexuality – Regarding certain interpretations of “Light of the World”

  1. JimmyA says:

    It is hard to see how this could be clearer – one hopes this will shut down a number of the more wayward interpretations in the media but that may be the triumph of hope over experience. Nonetheless it provides good clear material for those of us laypeople who in daily life find ourselves engaged in discussions on this topic and often confronted with grave misunderstanding.

    I would agree with the observation that the precision of the language suggests that it was composed in English rather than translated.

  2. Bill Haley says:

    A catechetical summary:

    Prostitution in Aids situation w/o condom = Breaking 6th commandment + 5th commandment = 2 mortal sins

    Prostitution in Aids situation w/ condom = Breaking 6th commandment + attempting not to break 5th commandment with condom = 1 sure mortal sin + 1 hint of nascent conversion, which does not negate the mortal sin.

    Does that work for us catechists?

  3. Brad says:

    Amazing that the obfuscators of the world pretend to not comprehend the Holy Father is simply asking us not to knowingly give one another a deadly disease: but more so he is asking us not to fornicate. No fornication: no problem.

  4. Father Flores says:

    @ Bill Haley
    I appreciate the effort to try and break down the statement into an ‘equation’. But one mortal sin is sufficient to damn me for eternity, so the fact that there are two mortal sins in the former and only one ‘sure’ one in the latter is negligible.

    It is like saying: Jumping off the Sears Tower with a 50 lb backpack = messy death
    Jumping off the Sears Tower with a 10 lb backpack = slightly less messy death

    I think, catechetically speaking it would be best to take the Holy Father’s own words (and now the CDF’s emphasis) on their own and go with the paternal language of the “first step” towards living morally.

    When a child takes their first step, what comes after? Is there someone there encouraging them? Picking them up when they fall? Is there someone holding them by the hand to aid them in walking upright?

    Following the example of Our Lord and our Holy Father, we hope that the Church can fan into flame this smoldering wick of a more human way of living sexuality.

  5. kgurries says:

    Much here depends on whether this is viewed as ONE “act” or TWO distinct acts. I think the Pope (and CDF) is considering this case according to the later where two distinct sins are considered (5th and 6th commandments). I think the implication here is that one can choose to avoid the 5th — even if he is bent on sinning against the 6th. This is not a “lesser of evils” approach — but really considering two distinct will-acts. I tried to bring this out here:

    http://opuscula.blogspot.com/2010/11/sources-of-morality.html

  6. Pingback: The day so far… | Fr. Z's Blog – What Does The Prayer Really Say?

  7. pseudomodo says:

    Actually the mortal sin equation may have a basis in Theology.

    From Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma:
    The souls of those who die in the condition of personal grievous sin enter Hell. (De fide. )
    The punishment of Hell lasts for all eternity. (De fide.)
    The punishment of the damned is proportioned to each one’s guilt. (Sent. communis.)

  8. Oneros says:

    The lesser evil may never be licitly chosen, it is still evil. But it’s still BETTER than a greater evil, obviously. Saying something is better is not the same as saying it is good!! Are people really so stupid as to confuse the two??

  9. Fr. A.M. says:

    The Holy Father commented on circumstances which may or may not be actually rare. However it does ‘invite’ people, in those, or perhaps in similar circumstances, to reflect on their lives. For example, ‘Why am I concerned to prevent the spread of Aids [in itself a good intention]when I am doing something that may cause it ?’ ‘Is there a problem with my lifestyle ?’ etc. Even if one of those people were to be affected by the pope’s comments, then surely this is a positive (good) thing, which will lead someone to change their life ? I do believe that the pope’s comments have been misunderstood, as the teachings of the Church, and their faithful (objective), application in situations, are often misunderstood, or not sufficiently so. The note by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, re-affirming the Church’s teaching, should dispel any doubts we may have.

  10. Well. Hope certainly springs eternal with youse guys.

    Average MSM reporter: I can read all that! {skim, skim, skim} Oh, here it is: it still says “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.”
    Editor: Print it.
    Headline editor: “Pope Okays Condoms”

    cricket

  11. kgurries says:

    This latest clarification from the CDF seems to support the following conclusions.

    1) “An action which is objectively evil, even if a lesser evil, can never be licitly willed.”
    2) the decision to use a condom in this context may be licitly willed in order to avoid a sin against the 5th commandment. “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.’”
    3) the decision to use a condom in this context does not justify prostitution (even if it can be said to lessen the evil in connection with prostitution) or sins against the 6th commandment. the error of proportionalism does not apply.
    4) none of this has anything to do with the traditional teaching on contraception. “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.”

  12. Moscatelli says:

    Once upon a time, Italians used the words “papale papale” (“the way a Pope does it”, literaly “popish popish”) as an adverb to indicate clarity, exhaustivity when expressing a thaught; somebody speaking “papale papale” would be somebody leaving you without the shade of a doubt of his ideas, somebody getting his message through with a utmost clarity. Now when Peter (or is it Simon?) speaks, you need the former Holy Office to straighten things out. I’m glad the clarification came, sad that it was needed.

  13. catholicmidwest says:

    My original objection was that speaking casually about something of such gravity would be misunderstood by the press. It was. And I thought that eventuality should have been expected, which it apparently wasn’t at some level.

    However, now a clarification comes and that is good. But now that the press has had it’s fun with the original quote, will they print the gist of this? Or even read it? One can only hope. Maybe they will.

  14. Hidden One says:

    There shall be a lot of backpedaling now – I’m not looking at the press, but at moral theologians and self-appointed lay authorities on such matters. The way this note reads, I’ve read a lot of well-meaning heresy lately.

  15. trespinos says:

    I’m going to give a kudos here to someone who rarely gets credit due: His Eminence Cardinal Levada. Perhaps the reference to proportionalism is a clue that the Holy Father himself guided this statement, and perhaps the welcome clarity of the English is due to another drafter, an English speaker assisting him in his shop, but the fact remains that this document is the Cardinal’s work, and characteristic of the quality work he has consistently produced since he was appointed to follow in the footsteps of Joseph Ratzinger. Actually, as curial output goes, it’s been rather speedily produced and that, too, was as necessary as the doctrinal clarity. Well done.

  16. sea the stars says:

    It has been reported accurately online in the German gutter media web.de (sort of equivalent to msm)

  17. santoeusebio says:

    My problem is that I do not have the text from “Light of the World” – perhaps someone can help. However the Catholic Herald of 26th November quotes the following text:

    “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 moralisation, 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.”

    My question is what does the word “this” relate to? Some seem to think it relates to the words “when a male prostitute uses a condom”. E.g. Fr Alexander Lucie Smith in the Catholic Herald of 1st December writes:

    Then why is the Pope talking of an example “when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralisation, 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”

    Fr Alexander evidently understands the Pope as saying that the act of using a condom is a first step. However I think this is not grammatically sound and the “this” relates to the start of the sentence “a basis in the case of an individual” i.e. he is looking at a wider picture than just the use of a condom and he is also looking at the decision or intention to use a condom – the whole context. This interpretation seems to be confirmed later when the Pope says “She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.”

    But now we have the CDF’s note which says:

    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 seems to suggest that the use of a condom is the first step. But again this is not the same text as appeared in the Catholic Herald of 26th November which I have quoted above. A crucial difference is that the CDF quotes the Pope as saying “with the intention” where the Catholic Herald says “in the intention”. “With” instead of “in” seems to change the sense. If you say “with” the intention is merely a concomitant of the use whereas with “in” it seems clear to me that the intention is what the Pope is talking about as the first step.

    Nicolas Bellord

  18. QMJ says:

    Grateful for the clarification, though it is sad that one was needed. Anyone who reads what the Pope actually said (and not what the media-who-can-twist-anything says) would know that the Pope was being “papale”.