Monday, November 22, 2010

The Pope and Condoms: It Made a Good Story

In case you've been off the planet for the last few days, the Pope said that condoms were okay.

'Everybody' seems to know this.

Except for the Pope, Vatican Radio, and quite a few other folks who bothered to find out what the fuss was about before writing about it.

Exciting Headlines, Boring Facts, and Getting a Grip

I picked a few headlines from today's news and views - some of which are 'tomorrow's,' thanks to the International Dateline:It's 'obvious' that the Pope is finally getting "enlightened" and realizes that people can't be expected to keep their zippers up. For folks who only read some of the headlines, anyway.

I can't get inside the heads of the folks who write that stuff - but I think it's okay to speculate that there's some degree of wishful thinking going on.

I remember when condoms, contraceptives, and the right to force your sex machine to get an abortion liberated men from the tedious responsibilities of supporting the children they father. At times, it must have seemed that one of the very few remaining obstacles to making the world one big Playboy Mansion were the old fuddy-duddies in the Vatican. All that talk about human dignity, women and babies being important: why, you'd think they didn't want anybody to have any fun.

Which is another topic.

Several, actually.

Since this 'condom' story doesn't seem to be going away, I thought it might be a good idea to collect a few statements.

I'll grant that I deliberately picked sources that are either in the Vatican, or which drew their information from the Holy See. This may seem 'biased,' but I think it makes sense: I expect Vatican officials to know what the Catholic view is on topics.

But then, I'm 'one of those Catholics.' And 'everybody knows' what a credulous lot we are - almost another topic.

Since online resources have a way of disappearing after website reorganizations, I've taken the liberty of lifting some very large blocks of text. I'll be back after the excerpts with part of my take on old-school news media.

I strongly recommend following the links to the sources of these extended quotes: to check up on me, if nothing else. If the source decides to 'improve' their website? At least we'll still have these copies:
"Clarification on remarks on AIDS and condoms"
Vatican Radio (November 21, 2010)

"The head of the Holy See Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, has issued a statement clarifying passages of the book Light of the World, in which Pope Benedict discusses AIDS and condom use.

"The statement says Pope Benedict states that AIDs cannot be solved only by the distribution of condoms, and, in fact, concentrating on condoms just trivializes sexuality, which loses its meaning as an expression of love and becomes like a drug.

"At the same time, the Pope considered an exceptional situation in which the exercise of sexuality represents a real risk to the lives of others. In this case, the Pope does not morally justify the exercise of disordered sexuality, but believes that the use of condoms to reduce the risk of infection is a 'first step on the road to a more human sexuality', rather than not to use it and risking the lives of others.

"Father Lombardi's statement clarifies Pope Benedict XVI has not reformed or changed the Church's teaching, but by putting it in perspective reaffirms the value and dignity of human sexuality as an expression of love and responsibility."
"The Pope and Condoms: a note from the editor"
Phil Lawler Editor, CWNews, via (November 22, 2010)

"Thousands of secular media outlets-- and more than a few Catholic news services-- are leading their coverage today with headlines about Pope Benedict's statement on the use of condoms. CWN is not linking to those stories because, with rare exceptions, they are inaccurate.

"Our news service exists to give Catholics (and others who are interested in the Church) an accurate guide to coverage of stories that affect the Church. Often we feel obligated to link to stories that contain some inaccuracies, because informed readers should be aware of what is being reported. But we never intentionally carry, or link to, stories that are entirely misleading. Most headline stories about the Pope's remarks fall into that category.

"Pope Benedict did not alter, amend, or call into question the Church's teaching on contraceptive use.

"Pope Benedict did not say that condom use is sometime morally acceptable.

"Pope Benedict did not back away from his earlier statements, in which he had argued that condom distribution is an ineffective way to fight AIDS. On the contrary, he made his latest controversial remarks in the context of a conversation in which he was defending that argument.

"Ordinarily CWN links to secular news stories because our readers can increase their understanding by perusing those stories. Today, a reader who wants an accurate understanding of what the Pope actually said would be better served by ignoring the secular media coverage.

"For a more extended treatment, see my In-Depth Analysis of this controversy and of how it arose."
"Vatican insists: Pope has not changed Catholic teaching on condoms"
CWNews, via (November 22, 2010)

"Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, has issued a statement on Pope Benedict's remarks on condoms in Light of the World, the book-length interview granted to journalist Peter Seewald.

" 'At the end of chapter 10 of the book "Light of the World," the Pope responds to two questions about the battle against AIDS and the use of condoms, questions that reconnect with the discussion that followed some statements that the Pope made on the theme during the course of his trip to Africa in 2009,' Father Lombardi said.

"He continued:
"The Pope again clearly stresses that at that time he had not intended to take a position on the problem of condoms in general, but wanted to affirm with force that the problem of AIDS cannot be solved simply by distributing condoms, because much more needs to be done: prevention, education, help, counsel, being with people both to keep them from getting sick and in the case that they do get sick.

"The Pope observes that even in the non-ecclesial context an analogous awareness has developed, as is apparent in the so-called ABC theory (Abstinence -- Be Faithful -- Condom), in which the first two elements (abstinence and fidelity) are more decisive and basic in the battle against AIDS, while condoms appear in the last place as a way out, when the other two are not there. It should thus be clear that condoms are not the solution to the problem.

"The Pope then broadens the perspective and insists on the fact that focusing only on condoms is equivalent to banalizing sexuality, which loses its meaning as an expression of love between persons and becomes a 'drug.' Fighting against banalization of sexuality is 'part of the great effort to help sexuality be valued positively and have a positive effect on man in his totality.'

"In the light of this broad and profound vision of human sexuality and the contemporary discussion of it, the Pope reaffirms that 'naturally the Church does not consider condoms as the authentic and moral solution' to the problem of AIDS.

"In this the Pope does not reform or change the Church's teaching, but reaffirms it, placing it in the perspective of the value and dignity of human sexuality as an expression of responsible love.

"At the same time the Pope considers an exceptional circumstance in which the exercise of sexuality represents a real threat for the life of another. In that case, the Pope does not morally justify the disordered exercise of sexuality but maintains that the use of a condom to reduce the danger of infection may be 'a first act of responsibility,' 'a first step on the road toward a more human sexuality,' rather than not using it and exposing the other to risking his life.

"In this, the reasoning of the Pope certainly cannot be defined as a revolutionary change. Numerous moral theologians and authoritative ecclesiastical figures have supported and support analogous positions; it is nevertheless true that we have not heard this with such clarity from the mouth of the Pope, even if it is in a informal and not magisterial form.

"With courage Benedict XVI thus offers us an important contribution of clarification and reflection on a question that has long been debated. It is an original contribution, because on one hand it maintains fidelity to moral principles and demonstrates lucidity in refuting an illusory path like that of the 'confidence is condoms'; on the other hand, however, it manifests a comprehensive and far-seeing vision, attentive to uncovering the small steps -- even if only initial and still confused -- of an often spiritually and culturally impoverished humanity, toward a more human and responsible exercise of sexuality."
There's a set of links at the end of the CWNews/ article:

'What I Want to Hear,' 'What was Really Said'

I do not think that mainstream media outlets deliberately distorted their coverage of the Pope.

I do think that old-school news services, in America at least, operate at a terrible disadvantage when it comes to covering news that involves the Catholic Church and Catholic beliefs.

I've made a comparison like this before, but I think it bears repeating. Let's say that a reporter who was top-rate at covering professional boxing was assigned to cover the Lace and Periwinkle Society's Butterfly Exhibition. The resulting story might not be quite as nuanced as one written by a person more familiar with lepidoptery.

And the expert on French flutes of the Baroque era sent by this doomed news agency, to cover the world heavyweight championship? Again - the story might miss some of the finer points.

Hearing What We Expect to Hear

It's all too easy, I think, to hear what we expect or want to hear, rather than what's actually said.

I prefer to assume that the clueless coverage I've gotten used to over the decades is a matter of reporters and editors not - with some exceptions - knowing enough about the Catholic faith to understand what's being said.

And, worse, not realizing that they don't know.

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.