Pope Benedict clarifies Church teaching on condoms and AIDS

In a wide-ranging book:  Light of the World, to be published on Tuesday, Pope Benedict clarifies the Catholic Church's teaching on condoms and AIDS. The  text of the first-ever formal sit-down interview with a reigning pontiff,  features a series of questions  with German journalist Peter Seewald.

In Light of the World, the Pope makes a passionate, urgent plea to the world to restore God to the project of modernity, and speaks with frankness about major issues confronting both Church and world.

During his March 2009 trip to Africa, Pope Benedict was quoted as saying that the Church’s traditional teaching has proven to be the only sure way to stop the spread of HIV.  Seewald points out: "Critics, including critics from the Church’s own ranks, object that it is madness to  forbid a high-risk population to use condoms."

Pope Benedict responds: "The media coverage completely ignored the rest of the  trip to Africa on account of a single statement." He said the Church cares for more AIDS patients "than anyone else" in the world. "Because she is the only institution that assists people up close and concretely, with prevention, education, help, counsel, and accompaniment. And because she is second to none in treating so many AIDS victims, especially children with AIDS."
The Pope said: "I had the chance to visit one of these wards and to speak with the patients. That was the real answer: The Church does more than anyone else, because she does  not speak from the tribunal of the newspapers, but helps her brothers and sisters where they are actually suffering.

"In my remarks I was not making a general statement about  the condom issue, but merely said, and this is what caused such great offense, that we cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms. Much more needs to be done. We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help them; and we must do this both before and after they contract the disease.

"As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen.

"Meanwhile, the secular realm  itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence- Be Faithful- Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points  fail to work. 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. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is  also a 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."

Pope Benedict said: "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. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality."

When Seewald asks: "Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?"  The Holy Father responds: "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."

Austen Ivereigh, from Catholic Voices, commented: "The Holy Father is only saying what moral theologians have said for years. The Church is not telling prostitutes: 'do not use condoms'."

Elsewhere in the interview, although the Pope describes the current age as a 'time of Advent' and believes Christianity is on the verge of a 'new dynamic';  he warns the Church faces intolerable pressures in modern western society from a 'new intolerance' seeking to coerce the Church into changing some of its fundamental teachings. Arguing that progress in science has led to power without a corresponding ethical dimension, he calls for a 'global examination of conscience'  to restore moral awareness.
As well as diagnosing the world’s ills, the Pope is forthright in his admission of the Church’s own.  

In two chapters dedicated to the clerical sex abuse crisis, Benedict XVI uses the dramatic language of natural disasters to describe the effects on him of the revelations. He gives detailed descriptions of his shock at the scale of the abuse which came to light in Europe earlier this year, expresses bewilderment at the 'double life' of priest abusers, and offers a detailed analysis of the causes of the crisis – citing both bishops’ failure to apply canon law and the intellectual and social climate of the 1960s-70s – before detailing the specific actions the Church still needs to take to correct the injustices and assist survivors.

He is adamant that liturgy 'doesn’t turn into an occasion to display ourselves' while reaffirming  the reformed liturgy of the Second Vatican Council as the 'valid form'. Nor does he object to receiving Communion in the hand.  

Pope Benedict offers a rare glimpse into the world of a pontiff – the immensity of the office, the importance of finding time for recollection, and the time he spends relaxing in front of DVDs with secretaries and religious sisters of the papal household. He reveals why he never wears a sweater, and how he prays.
The book, which is mostly taken up with a powerful, forthright analysis of the problems facing the Church and the world, deals with a vast range of controversial issues – relations with other faiths and Churches, homosexuality, contraception, liturgy, celibacy, priesthood, the Williamson affair – while making an urgent challenge to the world to reconsider its priorities.  It has been published in ten languages.

Dr David Albert Jones, director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, said: "Pope Benedict has never been one to shy away from the most controversial topics, and in this book he faces questions squarely and seeks to respond with a gentle honesty. It is not simply a restatement of well-established positions; the Pope is moving the theological or ethical debate forward —not so much by what is said, as by the way it is said, and by what is left unsaid. For the search for balance is an essential element of Christian virtue and by his tone Pope Benedict seeks afresh to find that balance. As the Pope inspired people on his visit to Britain as much by his tone as by his words, so it is the manner in which the Pope communicates makes this book both profoundly traditional and  something new."
John Haldane, Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews, and consultor to the Pontifical Council for Culture, said: "Beyond the particular issues it addresses, the deepest interest of  this book-length interview is its portrait of the mind of a man who is both scholar and intellectual, pastor and world-leader. What is revealed is a mind that is both rigorous and compassionate, and also open to dialogue, and what is said will certainly generate intense discussion."

In the foreword, George Weigel writes: "What the Pope sees, and what he discusses with frankness, clarity, and compassion in this stimulating conversation with Peter Seewald, is a world that has lost its story: a world in which the progress promised by the humanisms of the past three centuries is now gravely threatened by understandings of the human person that reduce our humanity to a congeries of cosmic chemical accidents: a humanity with no intentional origin, no noble destiny, and thus no path to take through history.  

The Pope of Light of the World emerges as a passionate, energetic missionary with an urgent message for a world heading in the wrong direction – and whose views on a whole range of questions will take many by surprise."

For more information see: www.cts-online.org.uk/ and www.ignatius.com/promotions/light-of-the-world/

Share this story