Tuesday, November 23, 2010
"Pope Approves Condoms": Yeah, right...
So I'm coming back from the Atlanta SBL conference (Society of Biblical Literature) and I'm sitting in the airport, and I buy a (grossly overpriced) wireless internet pass so I can check my email (well, actually, so I could watch highlights of the ND-Army game, but I don't want to admit that). And as I am dutifully answering my urgent messages (i.e. watch Tommy Rees throw touchdown passes), I notice an new email pop up from a conservative news site with the headline "Pope Says Condoms OK in Some Cases." Normally I would have ignored a news article like that, but the source (Newsmax) is not a tabloid and is generally sympathetic to Catholicism. Reading the article, I found out that "the Pope says condoms are OK in some cases, like for male prostitutes...." My reaction was, "I'm just sure. Like the Pope is really going to reverse Catholic moral teaching so that male prostitution is OK as long as you use a condom."
I followed links to the actual document, and found out that what the Pope really said was that condoms were not an answer to the spread of AIDS, and that the only real answer was to rehumanize sexuality. The point of confusion arose over a further comment, in which he indicated that sometimes the use of a condom might be a step in the right direction morally: in other words, at least you care enough about the person you are having relations with, that you make *some* effort to avoid communicating to them a serious disease.
That's it. He did not say condom use was moral, or that relations outside of marriage were moral, but only that in some instances the use of a condom might indicate that a person has a modicum of concern for the one with whom they are sleeping, which is better than having no such concern.
Of course, explaining what the Pope really said doesn't make for a good headline, and doesn't get people to buy newspapers or click on links.
The way papal statements get mangled in the media make it very difficult for the Pope to say anything careful, precise, or nuanced in public. When he tries, people get it wrong and spread confusion. It's hard to lead the largest human organization in the world when you're working under such a limitation.