Theology by soundbite: Pope Benedict’s condom statement

By Jenn Giroux Speaking the truth is not always easy. But for some, hearing the truth is even harder. This … Continued

By Jenn Giroux

Speaking the truth is not always easy.

But for some, hearing the truth is even harder.

This is indeed the case with what Pope Benedict XVI said during his interview with German journalist Peter Seewald about the use of condoms. The release of certain excerpts from this interview has led to a firestorm of confusion and misleading headlines around the world.

Does this signal the long hoped for change in Church teaching that contracepting Catholics and non- Catholics have awaited? Is the Church now giving the green light to use condoms in some cases for contraception?

No. Not even close.

In every generation, the world eagerly awaits some signal that the Church will sanction serious sin. It is perpetually disappointed. In the matter of contraception, this frustration peaked in 1968 when Pope Paul VI issued the controversial papal encyclical “Humanae Vitae .” In it, the Pope not only reiterated long standing Church teaching on the “intrinsic evil” of contraception but also predicted dire consequences that would result if people ignored the truth. This position was called “out of touch” and “unreasonable,” and the false expectations leading up to the encyclical caused a de-facto schism in the Church which continues to this day.

Incidentally, Pope Paul VI’s warnings and admonitions have proven prophetic as we look at the ill effects the Pill has brought to women’s health and state of the family 50 years after its inception.

The Pope has clearly and consistently reaffirmed the teaching that condoms are not a solution to the HIV/AIDS problem, and has even gone so far as to stress that they can “increase the problem,” as he said on his way to Africa last year. And clearly the Church would never condone homosexual sexual acts or sex outside of marriage.

What is this all about, then?

It is important to note that the Pope was not speaking on the morality of the use of condoms in his recent interview with Seewald. The Church’s position on condoms as it relates to the possible interruption of the transmission of life remains unchanged. This was a casual interview, not a Church pronouncement. These deep theological distinctions cannot be grasped or understood by one sound bite. That is why the most disturbing side effect of Pope Benedict’s statements is the confusion among the faithful right now.

In the midst of difficulty, society has always looked to the Catholic Church to speak truth which will guide us to happier lives in this world and everlasting happiness in the next. Indeed, this is precisely why the Church is hated – and why her wisdom is almost always distorted by her enemies.

Now is a time to watch and listen. Official Church teaching does not come from a casual interview or a Vatican spokesperson. As Catholics we must trust and wait for the official and fully explained pronouncement of the Church which is always a great source of truth and light.

Speaking the truth is not always easy. Understanding it can also at times be a challenge.

Unfortunately, for those who disagree, hearing the truth is sometimes impossible.

Jenn Giroux, registered nurse and Executive Director of HLI America, will host the national conference “50 Years of The Pill in America” at the Hyatt Regency Washington on December 3, 2010.


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