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Less Deep In Hell, Maybe

Eternal Hellfire.

1) Introduction

On 2010-Nov-20, the Osservatore Romano published some excerpts of Licht der Welt ("Light of the World"), a book written by Peter Seewald describing six one-hour interviews he had with Pope Benedict XVI. One of these excerpts mentions condoms, and that set off a global media brush fire which burned for several days. On one hand, many major newspapers claim the Pope has now permitted the use of condoms in some circumstances, and on the other hand, many orthodox Catholic bloggers (and the Vatican itself, about a month later) claim the Pope has been misinterpreted.

I claim the Pope is not entirely free from blame for this whole affair. (Normally, I abstain from publicly criticizing the Pope, but in this case Benedict XVI just published a book with his private opinions, not an official Church position.) I will now attempt to justify my claim.

2) The official patch for the busted condom

Bad software companies have made us familiar with "patches", i.e. attempts to fix bugs after a product has shipped. Maybe the Vatican is joining that fad? Let's read the very recent Note On the trivilization of sexuality regarding certain interpretations of "Light of the World", analysed using the usual method.

[Green] 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

OK, so the official explanation is that "the Pope was misinterpreted".

[Green] a meaning [Red] which is evident [End Red] to anyone who reads the entire chapters in which human sexuality is treated.

I disagree with the word "evident", but let it roll some more.

[Green] 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.

Here, as elsewhere I've criticized Benedict XVI, I have no doubts about his good intentions.

[Green] 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.

[Green] 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.

Well, I certainly hope so, otherwise I'm changing Churches!
Seriously, the simple fact that this book is non-magisterial suffices to prove it is not "a change in Catholic moral teaching or in the pastoral practice of the Church". The Pope was just speaking privately, as a personal theologian. Even if the Pope's book had said that everybody should use condoms all the time, and that prostitution was the best way to get to Heaven, that would not have been a change in the official teachings of the Church. The Pope cannot speak officially in the name of the Catholic Church, if he is just stating his personal opinions.

[Green] [Red] As is clear [End Red] 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."

OK, so here they just repeat the official teachings of the Church (with once again the claim that it's supposedly obvious from the text).

[Green] 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.

Hum, maybe Benedict XVI should grab his smartphone and text the famous Fr. Martin Rhonheimer, an Opus Dei priest who teaches at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. Rhonheimer has some strange ideas about condoms, and he claims his ideas are supported by "Light of the World":

Pope Benedict, after what I assume careful consideration, has made a public statement that has changed the discourse on these issues, both inside and outside the Church. For the first time it has been said by the Pope himself, [...] that the Church does not unconditionally 'prohibit' prophylactic use of condoms.


I consider that a man who at least cares that his occasional female sexual partner not become pregnant acts more responsibly - or less irresponsibly - than a man who does not care about possibly destroying a girl's entire life [...] To apply the Church's teaching on contraception [...] to such cases, in my view leads to counterintuitive conclusions.
[A response to Father Rhonheimer on condoms, by Janet Smith, 2010-Dec-19]

Remember, this is an Opus Dei priest who teaches in Rome, and who brags about his positions being approved by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and who, at least for a few days after this crisis, was very present in the Media. And Rhonheimer is but the very tip of the iceberg...

[Green] 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.

[Green] 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.

[Green] 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.

I would have stopped here. This Note, if it had stopped here, would have clarified many things. The damage caused by the Pope's strange book would have been partially repaired.

But if this Note had stopped here, it would have made Benedict XVI look bad... So, will they choose to repair the damage caused to souls by this public scandal, or will they choose to protect the image of the private opinions of a famous theologian?

[Yellow] 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.

Well, there are different ways of interpreting that statement. What if the sodomite using the condom is just applying the principle of: "He who would travel far, spares his mount?" Imagine a rapist or a robber who is gentle with his victim, so he can rape or rob his victim over and over again. Does he really intend to "reduce the evil" connected with his immoral activity? Is he really being "gentle" out of love for his victim, or out of an even more satanic selfishness?

[Yellow] 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."

There are different ways of interpreting that statement. I'll examine them here below in the next Section.

[Green] This affirmation is [Red] clearly [End Red] compatible with the Holy Father's previous statement that this is "not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection."

[Green] 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.

[Yellow] 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

There are different ways of interpreting that statement. I'll examine them here below in the next Section.

[Green] even if the evil of prostitution remains in all its gravity.

[Yellow] This understanding is in full conformity with the moral theological tradition of the Church.

Well, that is putting it diplomatically. I would claim such a bizarre position can be interpreted (with a lot of hair-splitting) so as to be "in full conformity with the moral theological tradition of the Church".

[Green] 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).

OK, a few sirupy statements to conclude. (Can you imagine Jesus saying: "Sexuality must be treated as a positive value so it can have a positive effect on the whole of man's being"? I can't.)

Splitting hairs.
Splitting hairs. (Source)

3) Does the Church really teach how to commit mortal sins?

Let's examine that quote again:

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."

What exactly is meant by that? Let's have fun and replace some words!

The use of regular exercise "with the intention of reducing the risk of heart attacks, can be a first step in a movement towards a different way, a more human way, of using food."

If the Pope said this, would you blame a journalist for saying: "The Pope encourages regular exercise to reduce the risk of heart attacks"? Moreover, if the Pope said this, would you consider that sentence to be obviously compatible with: "But regular exercise is not really the way to deal with the evil of heart attacks"?

Let's try another approach. The Pope says: "can be a first step". Well, a first step in a positive direction is a very good thing! And the Pope says "can be", which seems to imply that there are many possible first steps in that positive direction. For example, a male prostitute could decide to convert to Catholicism and stop sticking his [you-know-what] in all kinds of strange places. That would be a good first step! But if you re-read the Pope's quote, another possible good first step would seem to be to wear a condom.

Now remember we are talking about a target audience that is totally against Catholicism, and who will scream and call the police and accuse you of disseminating "hate" or "homophobia", if you try to tell them to stop sticking their [you-know-whats] in all kinds of strange places.

So if there are two possible first steps in the right direction, but one of those first steps is unacceptable, what do you do? Obviously, you recommend that people try the other first step! So you distribute condoms! But the Note (fortunately) says: "condoms do not constitute the real or moral solution to the problem".

So, it's a "first step" in the right direction, but you should not take that first step? That is the strangest "first step in the right direction" I've ever seen!

Let's try another approach. Infecting somebody with a deadly disease is very bad. OK, check. Now, what is the worse disease? Mortal sin, of course! Killing somebody's body is bad, but killing their soul is much, much worse! [Mt 10:28] So dragging somebody into committing a mortal sin (like sodomy, or fornication, or adultery, etc.), is infinitely worse than transmitting a mortal disease to their body. OK, so far so good.

So doing something much worse than transmitting the AIDS virus, is a first step toward treating "sexuality so it will have a positive value so it can have a positive effect on the whole of man's being"? Huuuummmmmm... Something is wrong here!

4) Interviews with Popes: Comparaison between Benedict XVI and Elvis 1

Let's compare quotes from "Light of the World" of Benedict XVI, and quotes from Elvis 1.

The quotes from Benedict XVI come from a paper book, which is protected by a copyright, and sold for a profit in bookstores. When the controversy broke out, most journalists did not have access to the Pope's book, and there still isn't a free copy available on the Internet.

Pope Elvis 1, on the other hand, has a different style of papacy. He either shuts up, or publishes official Church documents for free on the Vatican web site. Moreover, even as a Priest, Elvis 1 was already too busy defending the Church to publish a vanity book about his personal opinions. But fortunately for this article, while Elvis 1 was still studying to become a Deacon, he organized a public debate at his university, so we do have an official record of his personal opinions.

4.1) Are there cases where condoms are justified?

Pope Benedict XVI

Journalist: "Your Holiness, are there cases where condoms are justified?"

Benedict XVI: "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.
[Light of the World, Ignatius Press, Nov. 2010, 256 pages.]

Pope Elvis 1

Journalist: "Are there cases where condoms are justified?"

Elvis 1: "No."

Journalist: [Taken aback] "But, but, what if, say, a married man has AIDS, and he doesn't want to infect his wife?"

Elvis 1: "Funny but leftist journalists never talk about the poor wife in that case. Why does this guy have AIDS in the first place? Doesn't he remember his wedding day, when he promised his wife he would be faithful? You don't get AIDS by sitting on toilet seats!"

Journalist: [Insisting] "Well, let's suppose he got AIDS from a blood transfusion."

Elvis 1: "Even if he had gotten AIDS after being hit by a gay meteorite from outer space, he still has a deadly disease. The only 100% guaranteed protection for his wife, is for the husband to now be totally abstinent."

Journalist: "But what about male prostitutes who want to avoid infecting their partners?"

Elvis 1: "Why not stop prostituting yourself? It's fantastic for the health of the body and the soul, and the greatest proof of true love toward your partners and toward yourself."

Journalist: "But what if he just can't help himself from sodomizing?"

Elvis 1: "That is impossible. Almighty God promises we will never be tempted above our strength."

Journalist: [Confused, ruffling through his papers] "Well, but, but, isn't he taking the first step toward moralization, by wearing a condom? What happens in that case?"

Elvis 1: "Less deep in Hell, maybe."

4.2) Should the Catholic Church ordain women?

Pope Benedict XVI

Journalist: "Your Holiness, should the Catholic Church ordain women?"

Benedict XVI: "The formulation of John Paul II is very important: "The Church does not have in any way the faculty to confer priestly ordination on women." It is not a matter of not wanting, but of not being able. The Lord has given a form to the Church with the Twelve and then with their succession, with the bishops and the presbyters (the priests). We were not the ones who created this form of the Church, but rather its essentiality comes from Him. Following it is an act of obedience, and in the contemporary situation perhaps one of the most burdensome acts of obedience."
[Light of the World, Ignatius Press, Nov. 2010, 256 pages.]

Pope Elvis 1

Journalist: "Should the Catholic Church ordain women?"

Elvis 1: "No."

Journalist: "Isn't the interdiction of ordaining women a nasty teaching of the Church, with which you are forced to obey? Isn't this interdiction a heavy burden to you?"

Elvis 1: "No. It's a good teaching I totally agree with. If I didn't fully agree with the teachings of the Church, I would have changed churches a long time ago!"

Journalist: [Checking his watch, looking disappointed that time isn't flying fast enough] "OK but, how, how can you agree with such a sexist teaching?"

Elvis 1: "Because it isn't sexist."

4.3) Should we pray for Jews to convert to Christianity?

Pope Benedict XVI

Journalist: "Your Holiness, should we pray for Jews to convert to Christianity?"

Benedict XVI: "A change also seemed necessary to me in the ancient liturgy. In fact, the formula was such as to truly wound the Jews, and it certainly did not express in a positive way the great, profound unity between Old and New Testament. For this reason, I thought that a modification was necessary in the ancient liturgy, in particular in reference to our relationship with our Jewish friends. I modified it in such a way that it contained our faith, that Christ is salvation for all. That there do not exist two ways of salvation, and that therefore Christ is also the savior of the Jews, and not only of the pagans. But also in such a way that one did not pray directly for the conversion of the Jews in a missionary sense, but that the Lord might hasten the historic hour in which we will all be united."
[Light of the World, Ignatius Press, Nov. 2010, 256 pages.]

Pope Elvis 1

Journalist: "Should we pray for Jews to convert to Christianity?"

Elvis 1: "Yes."

Journalist: "But, that is nasty! You are imposing your faith on someone else!"

Elvis 1: "Two questions: right now, at this very moment, am I praying for you to convert to Christianity, or am I praying that you have a heart attack so I can have peace and quiet?"

Journalist: [Hesitates. Smiles. Opens his mouth to say something, closes it again, then finally answers.] "OK, strictly speaking, I don't know, but since it's polite to assume people are nice unless proven otherwise, I'll guess you are not praying for me have a heart attack."

Elvis 1: "Excellent guess. Second and last question: do you personally agree with the Church's teaching on condoms?"

Journalist: "I don't see the connection with proselytism and Jews, but no, I don't agree."

Elvis 1: "Therefore the Church is constantly saying negative things about condoms, but you don't listen, and you couldn't care less?"

Journalist: "Correct."

Elvis 1: "So if you don't give a hoot about what the Church says about condoms, why give a hoot about what the Church says about anything else? So what if a bunch of Catholic priests pray for the conversion of Jews? Just ignore them! You certainly know how!"

Journalist: "But what about the Jews that are insulted by those prayers?"

Elvis 1: "There is nothing insulting about praying for somebody to go to Heaven! That kind of prayer is another beautiful proof of love!"

Journalist: "Yes, but those Jews, they are being discriminated upon by your prayers!"

Elvis 1: "No. I pray for the conversion of everybody: Jews, Muslims, Atheists, some "Catholic" Bishops in Quebec, and even journalists like you!

4.4) Should the burqa be banned?

Pope Benedict XVI

Journalist: "Your Holiness, should the burqa be banned?"

Benedict XVI: "As for the burqa, I do not see the reason for a generalized prohibition. It is said that some women do not wear it voluntarily, but that in reality it is a sort of violence imposed on them. It is clear that one cannot agree with this. But if they want to wear it voluntarily, I do not see why they should be prevented from doing so."
[Light of the World, Ignatius Press, Nov. 2010, 256 pages.]

Pope Elvis 1

Journalist: "Should the burqa be banned?"

Elvis 1: "Insofar as you mean clothing which also hides the face, the burqa is already banned (in countries not fully terrorized by jihadists). Democratic societies have laws forbidding citizens to mask their faces when entering banks or stores, for example. And I don't understand why we would check the identity cards of voters during an election, if we can't see their faces!"

Journalist: "But isn't this discrimination against Islam?"

Elvis 1: "No."

Journalist: "But Muslims women have a sacred duty to wear the burqa!"

Elvis 1: "Only according to leftist journalists! Unless she has committed a serious crime, a woman never has the "duty" to live in jail."

5) Conclusion: What is the role of collegiality in the Church?

As a conclusion, let's look at one last difference between Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Elvis 1.

Pope Benedict XVI

Journalist: "Your Holiness, what is the role of collegiality in the Church?"

Benedict XVI: "Vatican Council II taught us, rightly, that an essential part of Church structure is collegiality, or the fact that the pope is the first in sharing, and not an absolute monarch who makes decisions in solitude and does everything himself."
[Light of the World, Ignatius Press, Nov. 2010, 256 pages.]

Pope Elvis 1

Journalist: "What is the role of collegiality in the Church?"

Elvis 1: "A good first step in the direction of collegiality would be to avoid running off by yourself and publishing a book of scandalously ambiguous personal opinions while you're Pope."

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