Critics and criticisms of Benedict XVI and his condom comments

Sandro Magister, Italian Vaticanista, has a thought provoking piece today which deals with criticisms of Pope Benedict XVI and what he said offered by his supporters.

I’ll include here just the first part.  Go to Magister’s site for the whole thing.

But this part speaks to something I have been repeating all along.

It is one thing to have concerns about whether Pope Benedict should have said what he said in an interview, and it is another to say that what he said was wrong.   My position is that, properly understood, what the Pope said was correct.  I have strong doubts about whether or not he should have said it.  I know that the Pope isn’t naive, but… he isn’t just a working theologian anymore.

My emphases and comments.

Friendly Fire on Benedict XVI. And a Condom’s to Blame

The pope’s openness to the use of condoms is provoking lively reactions from some fervent “Ratzingerians.” They include Jesuit Fr. Joseph Fessio, his publisher in America, and authoritative members of the Pontifical Academy for Life. Here are their criticisms

by Sandro Magister

Peter Seewald

CLICK TO BUY

ROME, December 1, 2010 – As was to be expected, Benedict XVI’s comments on condoms in the book-length interview “Light of the World” have ignited a very lively discussion within the Catholic Church.In two previous articles, www.chiesa presented the pope’s words in a way that prompted immediate reactions from prominent Catholic figures in the field of sexual morality.

The criticisms are not focused only on www.chiesa and on Professor Martin Rhonheimer, the theologian of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross whose essay was reprinted.

Nor only on “L’Osservatore Romano” or on Fr. Federico Lombardi, accused of fostering a misunderstanding of the pope’s thought.

At the end of it all, the real target of the criticism is Benedict XVI himself.

“Our Holy Father should stop talking about aberrant sex and talk more about Jesus,” [whew!] was the peremptory comment sent to us by Christine Vollmer, president of the Miami-based Alliance for the Family and a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

Another authoritative member of this academy, Professor Luke Gormally, former director of the Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics in London and a professor at the Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Michigan, castigated the pope for wanting to speak as a mere theologian on matters “in which he possesses no particular competence.[He has a point, no?] With these results:

“It seems to many people I know that it is both irresponsible (because it creates confusion in the general populace about the exercise of the papal magisterium) and self-indulgent; self indulgent because it is a case of the Pope retreating to his ‘comfort zone’ of writing and talking while neglecting urgent tasks of governance.[Ouch!  Again, it is hard to say that this is off base.]

Christine Vollmer and Luke Gormally were, in the spring of 2009, among those who accused Archbishop Rino Fisichella, at the time president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, of nearly [NB: nearly] going so far as to justify in “L’Osservatore Romano” the double abortion that had been procured for an underage Brazilian mother. The two, together with other members of the academy, appealed to the pope against Fisichella and obtained a note of clarification from the congregation for the doctrine of the faith.

But this time, in their judgment, it is Benedict XVI who is opening up cracks of “ambiguity” in Catholic morality.

[...]

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32 Responses to Critics and criticisms of Benedict XVI and his condom comments

  1. Torkay says:

    As usual, it is the SSPX who has the Catholic perspective on this mess:

    http://www.dici.org/en/news/note-on-the-remarks-of-benedict-xvi-concerning-condom-use/

    Congratulations, Freemasonry: you have truly made a shambles of Rome.

  2. chcrix says:

    First, I am always eager to hear BXVI on any subject whether he speaks ‘officially’ or unofficially.

    Second, I saw nothing wrong or even questionable in what he said. That it has been misrepresented is certain – so what? Everything is liable to misrepresentation by those with an agenda.

    Third, wrt the critics, I am reminded of those who find the 1962 latin mass unacceptable.

  3. DeaconDean says:

    It seems that either Pope Benedict XVI either says too much, or not enough… I have to agree with cherix on this one. I, too, am happy to hear B16′s thoughts on any subject. I agree that misrepresentation to further an agenda will happen whether he speaks, or is silent. Now, call it “damage control” or a “teachable moment”, let the shepherds of the Church follow the lead of Raymond Cardinal Burke and use this opportunity to instruct the faithful. And let those who are truly faithful listen and learn.

  4. Jason Keener says:

    I think Pope Benedict XVI is a very holy man who is doing the best that he can as Peter’s successor. Having said that, I had a chance to read Pope Benedict’s books over the last couple days, and I was struck by a few things:

    First, I am still more troubled about Pope Benedict’s statement in the book about the conversion of the Jews than the condom issue. The Pope seems to imply that it is no longer appropriate to pray or work for the immediate conversion of the Jews in a missionary sense.

    Second, the Pope is still very much a man of the Second Vatican Council and a man tied to the Communio theology of the Council. I do not think the Pope is as attached to traditional worship as found in the 1962 Missal or traditional things in general, as those things are appreciated by the SSPX and others. If you are looking for the Pope to turn back the clock, you will be in for a major disappointment.

    Third, it is quite evident to me again that the post-conciliar period has seen a major shift in categories. For example, in speaking about the Liturgy, Pope Benedict always speaks about it as a way of being in communion with the Lord now or a foretaste of the end of time when we will all be completely one with the Lord; however, the Pope makes no mention of the Sacred Liturgy as it was understood for centuries before the Council—the unbloodly re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Calvary. There is no mention of man’s need to offer God sacrifice for the atonement of sin, to thank God, to adore God, etc. I think that the reader will find the thoughts of the current Pope on the Liturgy quite different, for example, than Pope Pius XII’s description of the Liturgy in his “Mediator Dei” of 1947. The Liturgy is certainly a wonderfully complex thing that has many aspects, but I wonder why it seems that today there is little emphasis on its sacrificial character, especially in the Roman Rite, which always seemed to emphasize that facet of the Liturgy.

  5. Moscatelli says:

    Even worse is the question of chastity within marriage, where the “wider prospectives of Humanae Vitae” will always attract a “convinced minority” that will be an attractive model for others to follow; but the Pope himself seems to believe that this is a way that is on the limit of what is humanly possible (“Le prospettive della Humanae Vitae restano valide, ma altra cosa è trovare strade umanamente percorribili”), ending by saying that “Esprimere tutto questo anche dal punto di vista pastorale, teologico e concettuale nel contesto dell’attuale sessuologia e ricerca antropologica è un grande compito al quale bisogna dedicarsi di più e meglio”, sorry for not being able to translate, but more or less saying that we need Christopher West and modern anthropology to explain Humanae Vitae. Somebody who has read the book could enlighten me, please, on how this is in continuity with Casti Connubii.

  6. Dorothy says:

    Even if the Holy Father clarifies his words, I fear that in many quarters it will not be his corrected version, or the restrictions he places on the application of his comments, that will be remembered and followed. It will be the misinterpretations and the misapplications. These will continue to be broadcast to those who trust the “Catholic” advice they receive.

    I am thinking, for example, of the wives in certain countries, whose infected husbands have so far restrained themselves but may now feel encouraged to increase the pressure on their wives to resume sexual relations. These women have, up to now, avoided the risk of death, and of leaving their children as orphans. What will happen to them now?

    This is not simply a matter of assurances that the Holy Father’s actual words are in accordance with Catholic teaching. It is about the consequences, in terms of death, suffering, and perdition, of the falsehood that has succeeded with such ease in slithering through the confusion.

  7. kgurries says:

    I must say that I agree with Magister’s basic assessment of the situation. Much of the criticism is really aimed (directly or indirectly) at the Pope himself. I think the Pope’s position is defensible — and it relates to a series of open questions. Therefore, I think it seems excessive to attack the Pope on doctrinal grounds. I think the prudential judgement to discuss this in an interview book is certainly questionable. But then again we don’t have the same perspective as Pope Benedict XVI.

  8. I think that we, instead of criticizing the Pope, we should acknowledge that he has more brains that we all together so, let’s trust in him. He’s not perfect but he’s more perfect then we can be. He’s a holy man with good intentions. It’s very funny seeing everybody throwing stones. Why shouldn’t then, the world attack the Pope if we, catholics do the same every time we can.
    Let’s shut up and trust in the Pope. He’s very wise even if he’s not perfect.

  9. (1) What Paula said. Hear, hear!

    (2) ““Our Holy Father should stop talking about aberrant sex and talk more about Jesus,””

    Uhhh…holy crow! All the Holy Father ever DOES is talk about Jesus, in his books, sermons, speeches, etc etc. Where do some people get off?

  10. Mike says:

    I think we’re being too critical. The Pope is orthodox in his beliefs; there is a fairly wide spectrum of approaches in our Church–St. Augustine and St. Thomas and St. Francis.

    Come on! Lighten up!

  11. wolfeken says:

    It is encouraging that there are at least a few men to the pope’s right who will stand up and speak up during this mess. The hardest thing to do is say something unpopular toward a friend. But we must. With charity and clarity.

    Personally, I was lambasted when I critized the pope on his (through a commission) position on limbo. All of a sudden, conservatives abandoned the necessity of baptism for salvation: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/28/AR2007042800831.html No, Church teaching is quite clear that baptism is necessary for salvation — it does not matter what the current pope’s opinion is on the matter. If you kill an unborn baby, the baby cannot be baptized. Without baptism, he cannot attain salvation. Otherwise, the sacrament of baptism is a game.

    Now we face a similar debacle, where unclear statements by the pope followed by unhelpful statements by Vatican officials have made another mess out of another Church teaching. The result is a confused one billion Catholics who assume a change has been made. And can you blame them?

    The pope needs to hear criticism from friends. Otherwise the mainstream media (and Catholic left) will continue its spin, and in another few weeks just about every Catholic in the world will think that condom use is A-OK. Of course, that’s not what the pope said. But by saying anything off the beaten path he opened a can of worms that needs to be cleaned and re-sealed.

    Nothing short of a formal statement by the pope himself — or even a full news conference by Benedict — will change the current direction. With each passing day, more of the general public is believing the Catholic Church is starting to accept the use of condoms. This is a p-r mess that needs to be cleaned up from the very top ASAP. Simply trying to spin the pope’s words or, worse, just saluting as a yes-man, is not helpful when the other side is hard at work.

  12. RichardR says:

    Given that, according to what I read on this site, the Roman Catholic Church since Pius XII has been abandoned by the Holy Spirit and, despite hopes for him, Benedict XVI is as bad as John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II, and given that we are promised that the Lord with be with the true Church until the end of time and that the gates of hell will not prevail against her, should we look elsewhere (away from Rome) for the true Church? Perhaps Michael Voris can tell us what to do.

  13. dans0622 says:

    I find no value in the negative commentary offered in the article, unless these people have also addressed these same words to the Pope, personally. How is anyone or anything helped by people in the Pontifical Academy for Life saying the Pope is incompetent, irresponsible, and self-indulgent, in a public forum? Such commentary is bound to be scandalous to some.

    Dan

  14. Scott W. says:

    Nothing short of a formal statement by the pope himself — or even a full news conference by Benedict — will change the current direction. With each passing day, more of the general public is believing the Catholic Church is starting to accept the use of condoms. This is a p-r mess that needs to be cleaned up from the very top ASAP. Simply trying to spin the pope’s words or, worse, just saluting as a yes-man, is not helpful when the other side is hard at work.

    I’m inclined to agree. People who have struggled very hard to follow the Church’s teaching on contraception (yes, there are a few of those) in a world determined to condition everyone otherwise are feeling adrift at sea.

  15. CTSpokesman says:

    Torkay is absolutely correct. Thank God for the Society of Saint Pius X.

    I am utterly amazed that any Catholic, lay or ordained, would attempt to justify what the Pope said. He is, without a shadow of a doubt, completely wrong on this. He MUST retract his erroneus statements AND apologise.

    This is a prime example of diobolical disorientation of the clergy that Sr Lucia of Fatima warned of. God have mercy on Pope Benedict’s soul.

    Our Lady of Fatima, pray for him.

    [I suspect you didn't understand what the Pope wrote.]

  16. MikeM says:

    “Our Holy Father should stop talking about aberrant sex and talk more about Jesus,”

    Umm… is Christine Vollmer really going to try to pretend that discussing ethics has nothing to do with Christ?

    “Professor Luke Gormally…castigated the pope for wanting to speak as a mere theologian on matters ‘in which he possesses no particular competence.’”

    Did the Pope give up the right to have conversations on theology and ethics? I think that’s a dangerous road to go down. Not to mention that I wonder if Gormally has complained about every other non-authoritative comment that Benedict has made, or if he only complains because he disagrees in this case. Who invited Gormally to censor the Pope, anyway? That sort of comment is presumptuous, obnoxious, and is an insult to the person and the liberty of our Pope. I’ll bet Gormally considers himself a competent expert on the matter, too.

    I’m quickly tiring of a few academics (and many others with no particular qualifications who follow their lead) who think that it’s their job to shut up anyone who might have even a marginally different opinion from theirs on even the most fringe ethical case, regardless of their “opponent’s” academic qualifications, history of orthodoxy, or position in the Church. I previously hadn’t thought they’d be so arrogant as to bring their self-authorized inquisition against Pope Benedict, though.

    “It seems to many people I know that it is both irresponsible (because it creates confusion in the general populace about the exercise of the papal magisterium)…”

    Wait, so the Pope is supposed to shut up because other people don’t understand how the papacy works? Actually, I don’t think that’s their real problem. I think they like to be able to cherry pick papal comments, often misrepresenting their degree of authority, and wield them like a sword against anyone who happens to disagree with the pronouncements of their small academic cabal… and now, suddenly, they’re forced to choose between admitting that not every papal comment is infallible and open to hijacking, or emboldening the left who now has their very own papal comment to misrepresent for their own purposes.

    “…and self-indulgent; self indulgent because it is a case of the Pope retreating to his ‘comfort zone’ of writing and talking while neglecting urgent tasks of governance.”

    Oh, for Heaven’s sake! Back to trying to lock the Pope in a cage, telling him what he is and is not permitted to discuss? And since when is talking about the ethical issues of the day outside the role of the papacy, anyway? Gormally, Vollmer and Co. certainly would prefer the Pope shut up and become a mere administrator, though… that would help them in their quest to steal the church’s magisterial authority for themselves.

    I was uncomfortable with their little rebellion against Fisichella, but at least in that case I thought that Fisichella had said something that was incorrect, and in that case he had also made things more difficult for Archbishop Sobrinho in Brazil who was actually responsible in the matter. But this time, the Pope isn’t stepping on anyone else’s authority (except perhaps the self-proclaimed authority of a few academics and commentators), and what he said was entirely reasonable.

    Suddenly, the crew who faked devotion to papal authority when it could be used as a tool to silence those who didn’t toe their party line dropped the facade and turned their guns on the Holy Father.

    I’m sick of people feigning orthodoxy by trying to force their own positions down everyone’s throats even when their positions are in no way actually dogmas of the Church. That ultimately forces out very faithful Catholics and shows the world a church dripping vitriol and authoritarianism, all the while robbing the Church of the vibrant thought and discussion that have helped it develop over the millennia.

    [/end rant]

  17. Bill Haley says:

    I do not see how this is out of the competency of the Pope. The author makes that claim and does not give evidence that it is within the competency of a theologian to speak on matters leading to conversion. Wasn’t Pope Benedict’s specialty in fundamental theology? Wouldn’t that touch on pre-moral actions?

    It may have not been his focus, but to claim it is out of his competency needs more justification.

  18. kgurries says:

    Perhaps there was a reason behind the Pope’s decision to entertain the question in a casual context and bringing this issue to light in the manner that he did. What if this had been a text with Magisterial weight (apparently there was/is a formal study on similar questions)? The reactions probably would be much worse — and it would put many private theologians (and laity) in the unfortunate position of dissent. Was this a Papal “master-stroke” after all?

  19. asophist says:

    With the help of the media and Vatican spokesmen, the Holy Father’s comments have sown confusion (albeit unintentionally). I hope he will make a very clear, easily understandable statement about this, soon. Let us pray for the pope.

  20. robtbrown says:

    I knew Christine Vollmer a bit–the family is excellent. One of the daughters studied Latin with me and did a JCL–she was very smart. Her sister did a doctorate in philosophy. Christine is American, married to a Venezuelan. In the mid 90′s her husband was Ambassador to the Vatican from Venezuela.

    To Jason Keener,

    The project for the conversion of the Jews has never been considered a mission for obvious reasons.

  21. boko fittleworth says:

    Magister, in his first line, describes the situation as “[t]he pope’s openness to the use of condoms….” So, according to the pope’s apologists, Magister himself doesn’t get it. Whose fault is that?

  22. Maltese says:

    Chris Ferrara has an interesting take on this:

    http://www.remnantnewspaper.com/Archives/2010-1130-ferrara-pope-conversationalist.htm

    Essentially, he argues that, though the Pope is technically correct in his arguments, it was beneath his dignity and office to engage in such a “conversation” with a journalist, where he might speak imprudently or his words used out-of-context (as they have clearly been used in this instance.)

    A reigning Pontiff should not be talking about the use of condoms among gay prostitutes, period.

    Having said that, I love and admire this Pope. Though Christ’s Vicar on earth, he is, afterall, human. Other Pope’s have failed in this-or-that, including the thrice-Christ-denying first Pope. So, though I think the Pope made a big mistake, that does not diminish my respect for and fealty to him.

  23. robtbrown says:

    wolfeken says:

    Personally, I was lambasted when I critized the pope on his (through a commission) position on limbo. All of a sudden, conservatives abandoned the necessity of baptism for salvation:

    That is completely untrue. Baptism is still necessary for salvation. You can read that yourself in the Catechism (which was a Ratzinger project). Further, because God is God and not hamstrung administratively, He is not bound by the Sacraments. The couplet is Necessary-Possible: Baptism is necessary for salvation, but it is possible that God grant the fruits of the Sacrament outside its celebration. Two examples are the Good Thief and the Holy Innocents.

  24. robtbrown says:

    boko fittleworth says:

    Magister, in his first line, describes the situation as “[t]he pope’s openness to the use of condoms….” So, according to the pope’s apologists, Magister himself doesn’t get it. Whose fault is that?

    It’s yours because you don’t see the point.

    Just because someone is open to the use of guns for hunting pheasant doesn’t mean he’s open to their use for murder.

  25. Thomist says:

    Dorothy says:
    “I am thinking, for example, of the wives in certain countries, whose infected husbands have so far restrained themselves but may now feel encouraged to increase the pressure on their wives to resume sexual relations. These women have, up to now, avoided the risk of death, and of leaving their children as orphans. What will happen to them now?

    “This is not simply a matter of assurances that the Holy Father’s actual words are in accordance with Catholic teaching. It is about the consequences, in terms of death, suffering, and perdition, of the falsehood that has succeeded with such ease in slithering through the confusion.”

    Unless and until such readers come to realise that not only the media but the dissenters, followers of the SSPX and the sedecavantists, cannot be relied upon except to attack Christ’s Church. – they all construct error, and then make confusion worse confounded.

    There is no change in doctrine and thus no support for condom mania — in any marriage for any reason

    For example:
    http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/otn.cfm?id=735
    Phil Lawler:
    “Why didn’t he (the Pope) condemn the drive to accept recreational sex, and rely on condoms for safety? Why didn’t he say something like this:
    “This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves.”
    The above paragraph, of course, is exactly what Pope Benedict did say—in the paragraph directly preceding the one that’s caused all the fuss. Find it on page 119 of Light of the World.”

    “Evidently, then, the Pope’s words have been misinterpreted. So why doesn’t he issue a clarification. He could say, for example, that the Church ‘does not regard [condom use] as a real or moral solution.’ Why didn’t he?
    “Actually he did—in the paragraph directly following the one that’s caused all the fuss. Again it’s page 119.
    “Thus, both immediately before and immediately after the controversial paragraph, Pope Benedict gave clear indications as to how his words should be interpreted. If you’re looking for another clarification from the apostolic palace, look in the book itself; it’s already there.”

  26. Jason Keener says:

    robtbrown,

    Are you saying that Catholics should or should not pray for the conversion of the Jews and share the truths of the Catholic Faith with the Jews? Are you saying that it is or is not an urgent matter for Catholics to work for the immediate conversion of the Jewish People to the True Faith?

  27. robtbrown says:

    bJason Keener says:
    robtbrown,

    Are you saying that Catholics should or should not pray for the conversion of the Jews and share the truths of the Catholic Faith with the Jews? Are you saying that it is or is not an urgent matter for Catholics to work for the immediate conversion of the Jewish People to the True Faith?

    It’s obvious that I am not saying that–and neither the pope. NB: I said “the project for the conversion of the Jews”.

    Missions and missionaries have always referred to those places and peoples who have not heard the word of God, and that cannot be said of the Jews. In fact, when Scripture refers to the nations (euntes docete omnes gentes . . . ) gentes does not refer to Jews: It is a translation of the Greek ethnos, which in Scripture refers to non Jews.

    That does not mean that the Church should not try to convert Jews (or, for that matter, Protestants) but rather that they are a different case from what, say, Isaac Joques and his fellow SJ’s faced when the indigenous people of N America.

  28. Jason Keener says:

    robtbrown,

    Sounds good to me; however, from the Pope’s words and the words of others, it is not always obvious what they mean. There are some in the Church who have believed that the Old Covenant is still valid (as was even stated in an original draft of a USCCB Catechism and then dropped) and that it is therefore distasteful for Catholics to attempt to convert the Jews to the True Faith. It is almost like they believe that God Himself will manage this mass conversion of the Jews at the end of time without the help of the Church. That might end up being the case, but I don’t think we should assume that is how it is going to work and shirk our own duties. We should do all we can to share the True Faith with the Jewish People now, so that they may benefit from the riches of the New Covenant as soon as possible.

    Again, thank you for your clarification. I agree.

  29. robtbrown says:

    Jason Keener,

    The relation between the Old Law and the New is subtle. Without addressing your concern of validity, I’ll just say that they are qualitatively different. According to St Thomas any salvific power of the Old Law is due to its relation to the New. The Old Law is, as Christ Himself said, fulfilled, not destroyed, in the New.

    I realize that there is a lot of foolishness around, incl the Double Covenant Theory–One Covenant for the Jews, another for Christians. On the other hand, I am no fan of the Replacement Theory. IMHO, both approaches make the same mistake by considering the Old and New to be qualitatively the same.

  30. boko fittleworth says:

    robtbrown,

    Your multiple posts are rude, arrogant, and incorrect. You suggestthe pope is “open to the use of condoms.” He is not. You, like Magister, missed the pope’s point. And in so doing you proved my point, which is that the pope did not make his point very well.

  31. robtbrown says:

    robtbrown,

    Your multiple posts are rude, arrogant, and incorrect.

    You think that? What a coincidence!

    You suggest the pope is “open to the use of condoms.” He is not. You, like Magister, missed the pope’s point. And in so doing you proved my point, which is that the pope did not make his point very well.

    Interesting comments.

    1. When the story hit, twice on this blog I explained the principle involved. If memory serves, I referred once to protecting the sanctity of the marital act, and the second to protecting the integrity of the conjugal act. Then I used various examples. I added, at least indirectly, that the pope probably he would have been better off not broaching the subject (cf. Fr Z’s comments that the pope must realize that he is no longer a working theologian). I do not recall you or anyone else objecting to anything I wrote.

    2. In fact, a few years ago the matter of the use non-abortifacient contraceptives outside of marriage was the subject of email exchanges between yours truly and the pope’s theologian (now known as il teologo della casa pontificia), a friend of 15 years. (I have, BTW, multiple pontifical degrees in theology, which I have taught it in seminary.)

    3. I understand that there are people who don’t read this blog regularly and miss the explanations and consequent exchanges. I have very little patience, however, with those with very little understanding of the topic whose comments here are based on their false assumption that their own univocal understanding is adequate.

    4. Sandro Magister is a journalist who has formally studied theology and has a pretty good grasp of it–certainly far beyond other journalists. There is nothing wrong with his phrase “Le aperture del papa all’uso del profilattico” unless someone wants to oversimplify a very subtle problem and apply it to the conjugal act. Hard cases make bad law.

  32. Hidden One says:

    “When a layman sets himself up as an expert on morals he often goes astray: laymen can only be disciples.”

    - St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of OPUS DEI(!), The Way, point 61.