Vatican clarifies pope’s reference to ‘male prostitute’ in condoms comment

VATICAN CITY — When Pope Benedict commented in a new book that using condoms to reduce the risk of disease could, in some circumstances, be a step toward moral responsibility, he used the example of a male prostitute.

That raised the question: Was the pope deliberately limiting his observations to this particular group?

The answer is no, according to Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, who presented the pope’s book today at the Vatican press office.

Father Lombardi acknowledged confusion over the gender question. He said the Italian version of the book, which translated the pope’s example as “prostitute” using the feminine gender, was an error. The original German used the masculine noun for prostitute, but there was debate over whether the word was being used generically or specifically.

So Father Lombardi took the question to the pope.

“I asked the pope personally if there was a serious or important problem in the choice of the masculine gender rather than the feminine, and he said no, that is, the main point — and this is why I didn’t refer to masculine or feminine in (my earlier) communiqué — is the first step of responsibility in taking into account the risk to the life of another person with whom one has relations,” Father Lombardi said.

“Whether a man or a woman or a transsexual does this, we’re at the same point. The point is the first step toward responsibility, to avoid posing a grave risk to another person,” Father Lombardi said.

For his part, Peter Seewald, the German journalist who posed the questions in the book, said at the press conference today that “there is no difference between male prostitute and female prostitute” in the pope’s remarks, despite all the controversy over the translations. He added: “The pope indicates that, in addition to the case he cited, there may be other cases in which one may imagine that use of a condom could be a step toward responsible sexuality in this area, and to prevent further infection.”

Here once again is the key passage on the subject in the book, “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times,” when Seewald asks the pope whether it was “madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms.”

Pope Benedict: 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.

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 discovering 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.

Seewald: Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

Pope Benedict: 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 toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.

Oprah features Michigan religious order once again

The first time was a charm so Oprah thought she’d do it again.

The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist of Ann Arbor, Mich., will be featured on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” Nov. 23.

The show will feature a sister entering religious life and explore what it means to live a religious profession being “married” to Jesus. Several sisters, including Mother Assumpta Long, major superior, were interviewed. The program’s producers also filmed Masses at which several sisters made their first and final professions and the entry of 22 aspirants into the order. 

Life in the order was portrayed during Oprah’s Feb. 9 program. That segment received so many positive responses that the TV talk show host thought it would be a good idea to visit again.

In a statement, the order said it hopes to reach viewers who otherwise would have no exposure or understanding of vowed religious life.

Founded in 1997, the rapidly growing order (now more than 100 members) made headlines recently when it became public that it had signed a purchase agreement with the Archdiocese of Detroit to buy the 100,000-square-foot center Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington and use it as a house of study for its members.

Check local listings for broadcast times.

Translation of Vatican spokesman’s statement on pope and condoms

UPDATE: Full story: Pope’s remarks in book open new chapter in condom debate

VATICAN CITY — Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, issued a statement today regarding Pope Benedict’s comments on condoms in an upcoming book (see below). He called the pope’s remarks couragous and new, but not revolutionary. He said they upheld the church’s teaching on sexuality, but also recognized that in some cases a decision to use condoms may reflect concern for causing harm to others.

Here is a CNS translation of Father Lombardi’s statement:

At the end of Chapter 10 (Chapter 11 in the English edition) in the book, “Light of the World,” the pope responds to two questions about the struggle against AIDS and the use of the condom, questions that refer back to the discussion that followed the pope’s comments on this topic during his trip to Africa in 2009.

The pope underlines clearly that, at that time, he did not want to express a position on the problem of condoms in general, but he wanted to affirm strongly that the problem of AIDS cannot be resolved solely with the distribution of condoms, because much more must be done: prevention, education, assistance, counsel, being close to people, both so that they do not become sick, and also in cases where they are sick.

The pope observes that even in non-church circles a comparable awareness has developed, as is seen in the so-called ABC theory (Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condoms), in which the first two elements (abstinence and fidelity) are much more decisive and fundamental in the struggle against AIDS, while the condom appears as a last resort when the other two are lacking.

It should therefore be clear that the condom is not the solution to the problem.

The pope then takes a wider view and insists on the fact that concentrating only on the condom signifies the “banalization” of sexuality, which loses its meaning as the expression of love between persons and becomes like a “drug.” To fight against the banalization of sexuality is “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.”

In the light of this ample and profound vision of human sexuality and its modern challenges, the pope reaffirms that the church “of course does not regard (condoms) as a real or moral solution” to the problem of AIDS.

In saying this, the pope is not reforming or changing the teaching of the church, but reaffirming it by putting it in the context of the value and dignity of human sexuality as an expression of love and responsibility.

At the same time, the pope takes into consideration an exceptional situation in which the exercise of sexuality may represent a real risk to the life of another person. In such a case, the pope does not morally justify the disordered exercise of sexuality, but maintains that the use of the condom to diminish the danger of infection may be “a first assumption of responsibility”, “a first step in a movement toward a … more human sexuality”, as opposed to not using the condom and exposing the other person to a fatal risk.

In this statement, the pope’s reasoning certainly cannot be defined as a revolutionary shift.

Numerous moral theologians and authoritative ecclesiastical figures have maintained and still maintain similar positions; however, it is true that until now we had not heard them expressed with such clarity from the mouth of a pope, even if it is in a colloquial, and not magisterial, form.

Benedict XVI therefore courageously gives us an important contribution that clarifies and deepens a long-debated question. It is an original contribution, because on one hand it maintains fidelity to moral principles and demonstrates lucidity in refusing an illusory path like “faith in condoms”; on the other hand, however, it shows a sympathetic and far-sighted vision, attentive to discovering small steps — even if they are only initial and still confused — of a humanity that is often spiritually and culturally impoverished, toward a more human and responsible exercise of sexuality.

Pope’s comments on condoms spark headlines

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict’s latest comments on condoms, made in a book to be released Tuesday, are already sparking headlines.

The short version is that the pope indicated that in some situations, use of condoms in AIDS prevention might be a morally justifiable act. At the same time, he repeated what he said in Africa last year, that condoms are not the answer to the worldwide AIDS pandemic.

In the question-and-answer book, “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times,” the pope repeated his argument that focusing exclusively on condoms damages human sexuality, making it “banal” and turning it into a kind of “drug.” But he went on to say that in specific single cases — he mentioned prostitutes — condom use may be justified as a first step toward taking moral responsibility for one’s actions.

Asked whether this means the church is not opposed in principle to the use of condoms, the pope replied that while condoms are not a “real or moral” solution to AIDS, their use can reveal an intention of reducing the risk of infection and of living sexuality in a more “human” way.

These are nuanced comments, and one should read the passage in full to gauge the pope’s position. The pope’s answer seems to invite follow-up questions. Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that the Vatican has never proclaimed a “ban” on condom use in AIDS prevention; on the contrary, some Vatican theologians and officials have argued that for married couples in which one partner is HIV-infected, use of condoms would be a moral responsibility.

Where Vatican officials appear to agree is that promotion of condoms as the only or best answer to AIDS carries grave risks, mainly by promoting the idea that condoms guarantee “safe sex.” In that sense, the pope said on his flight to Cameroon in 2009 that rather than solve the issue of HIV/AIDS, condoms “increase the problem.” He encouraged campaigns to promote responsible sexuality instead.

Despite journalistic hyperventilation, the pope’s latest comments do not signal a major new shift in Vatican thinking. Under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict — the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation began studying many years ago whether using condoms to prevent AIDS was morally licit in some specific cases, and sources said there were strong arguments in favor of condom use. A few years ago, a document on the subject was considered, but has been back-burnered indefinitely, according to sources.

What the pope has done is to raise the issue publicly, making clear that the church’s teaching against condoms as a form of birth control is different from its position on condom use in disease prevention.

Pope to go to Germany in 2011

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican confirmed today that Pope Benedict XVI will be going to his native Germany in 2011.

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin was lit up for celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 2009. (CNS/Reuters)

The German Catholic Bishops’ Conference announced this morning that the pope will visit Berlin, Freiburg and Erfurt, probably sometime in September.

This will be his third trip to Germany since he was elected in 2005. His first papal trip abroad was to Cologne for World Youth Day in 2005 and then in 2006 he went to Munich, Altotting, and Regensburg.

This is his third scheduled trip for 2011 as he is also set to go to Croatia and later Madrid for World Youth Day in August.

There be audiences?

The promotion team for the upcoming feature film “There Be Dragons” has its work cut out. This is the same group that laid the groundwork for “The Passion of the Christ,” which sparked controversy well before the film’s debut in theaters.

A screening of “The Passion of the Christ” following the U.S. bishops’ 2002 fall general meeting in Washington attracted a packed house of close to 100 at the Motion Picture Association of America’s screening room downtown.

St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, founder of Oppus Dei. (CNS photo from Opus Dei)

But a screening Nov. 16 of “There Be Dragons” — which features many incidents in the early life of St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei — drew just nine people to a Baltimore multiplex across the street from the hotel where the bishops were conducting this year’s fall general meeting. Of the dozen bishops who RSVP’d in the affirmative, only one attended: Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron of Agana, Guam.

Most of the rest of the audience consisted of journalists covering the bishops’ meeting. While willing to give the film a chance, they issued pointed criticisms — from the makeup job given a character who ages throughout the movie to the film’s title. But the title is a play on the phrase “here there be dragons,” from the Latin “hic sunt dracones,” used in ancient maps to indicate a dangerous or unknown place, or a place to be explored. The movie’s makers say the theme running through the film explores “unknown territories” of hatred, guilt and forgiveness.

What was screened was not quite a rough cut, but writer-director and co-producer Roland Joffe (“The Mission”) intends to make more edits before the film. Promoters hope to have a distributor willing to roll out “There Be Dragons” on a thousand screens in the United States April 15, the Friday before Palm Sunday. The movie is already generating buzz in Spain, the birthplace of St. Josemaria and the setting of the film, much of which takes place during the Spanish Civil War.

In a 2009 teleconference with reporters, Joffe said the film is about human love, divine love, betrayal and mistakes and “about people trying to find meaning” in their lives.

Major differences between “The Passion” and “Dragons”? One is that Mel Gibson, who directed “The Passion,” was at the top of his game as a director and a promoter. Another is that lots of people of all faiths can understand the point behind a film about Jesus, while perhaps a much smaller audience would be compelled to see a film about a Spanish saint.

Backers of  “There Be Dragons” have less than five months to not only polish the film, but also to tailor the push to get a critical mass of moviegoers to see it.

Bishops, voting and electronic ballots

The change in the U.S. bishops’ leadership, which resulted in the election of Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York to be their president Nov. 16, took a matter of minutes, thanks to electronic voting.

But the election nearly had to be conducted the old-fashioned way — with paper  ballots.  A glitch in the system had kept the results of a test vote from appearing on an overhead projector screen in the front of the bishops’ meeting room. Without the results being visible to all, paper balloting would have ensued, with newly ordained bishops acting as tellers and counting each ballot submitted. However, after a technical fix, the test ballot finally went through without a hitch.

So did a second test ballot, on whether the bishops would play a round of golf sometime between now and the end of the year.  The results: 25 yes, 207 no. To laughter from the assembly, Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, the outgoing president of the bishops, noted dryly, “That vote signals the end of the clerical culture.”

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