Pope Benedict and those Sex Gadget things

I admire Joseph Ratzinger enormously. That isn't by the way, the blogging equivalent of 'with all due respect', a phrase which normally denotes the beginning of an insult. I do. I think that his subtle, nuanced dialogues with Jurgen Habermas are just an example of how two intelligent people should engage, and that his interviews with Peter Seewald grace my shelves. I swoon a bit at his obvious desire to recreate what some orders call The Great Church by finding some form of detente and then an entente with the Eastern churches, and I admire the daring of his command--sweeping up people from sundry heresies and pretensions and bringing them back to the Church.

I also like the way he acknowledges that an awful lot of Catholic social thinking is very close to democratic socialism without the state-worship--in fact, a sort of socialist anarchism with God replacing the ego as the point of it all.

If the left were collectivist anymore, which it isn't, it would realise this. Perhaps it does, through the fog of individualist Frankfurt school narcissism, student swearing, and state worship which constitutes its dark cultural stage. Maybe that's why it hates him so much. Not so long ago, the Barque of Peter could once have sailed alongside those dedicated to human advancement, more than with the Feudal capitalists who now run our lives, and perhaps have rescued the squalid from the waters of their life. Stamping one's foot and having a go at the Pope seems easier for them now though, since, well, thinking might upset people and seem elitist. They're yahoos pretending to be a sort of mix of Oscar Wilde and Hemingway, after all.

I'm also sorry for the Pope as a close member of his official family died this week, and his Christmas will be a little colder.

And I'm a bad Catholic in many ways, and understand that. I don't get to mass as regularly as I should and for a time in my life I was a bit of a bed hopper. These things happen. For a longer time, my life was marked by the acidulous effect of anger and passion. I know now that to cling to the cross in such moments, and to the reality of the resurrection, is to be saved, and that ego only feeds on ego, and passion on passion. I have come to Christ's sacrifice through the Church and I love my saviour for that.

So I have form, as it were. Catholicism tends to fit with my fatalism about human nature. If we have a failing, it isn't despair--despair is a sin after all--it is the idea that people are so flawed that sometimes the truth beyond the central reality of God and the faith is a matter of perspective. There's a certain Catholic Al-Taqiyya which is not permission to lie, as in the Koran, but an encouragement to overlook. If we're all flawed, all in trouble--and the Church has not survived for the better part of seventeen hundred years without knowing this--then a little civilised hypocrisy or oversight can sometimes creep in.

The Liberal media and a bunch of misguided Catholic commentators on the left are currently lauding Benedict XVI for 'embracing' the limited 'use' of condoms. It is very important not to fall for that untruth. The lie was shouted around the world and became orthodoxy long before the Church reacted. At the same time, people schooled by the largely Jansenist and only vaguely theological Celtic catholic teachers and church of our youth--never that much in touch with the big books, but knowing their names and the efficacy of discipline--feel rejected at what they see as the absolute ban on condoms. Some of the latter are friends of mine, and I feel for them.

But what did the Holy Father actually say? I've ordered the relevant book, but in its absence, we are largely left with quotes from the dialogue of the author with the Pope, and Vatican clarifications;
To the charge that it's "madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms," Benedict XVI replied: "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. 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 then asked the Pontiff, "Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?"

The Holy Father replied, "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 in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality."

I got that quote, incidentally, from this site. Subsequently, Fr Lombardi at the Vatican commented;

"The Pope again makes it clear that his intention was not to take up a position on the problem of condoms in general; his aim, rather was to reaffirm with force that the problem of AIDS cannot be solved simply by distributing condoms, because much more needs to be done: prevention, education, help, advice, accompaniment, both to prevent people from falling ill and to help them if they do.

"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 fundamental in the battle against AIDS, while condoms take last place, as a way out when the other two are absent. It should thus be clear that condoms are not the solution to the problem.

"The Pope then broadens his perspective and insists that focusing only on condoms is equivalent to trivialising sexuality, which thus loses its meaning as an expression of love between persons and becomes a 'drug'. This struggle against the trivialisation of sexuality is 'part of the great effort to ensure that sexuality is positively valued and is able to exercise a positive effect on man in his entirety'.

"In the light of this broad and profound vision of human sexuality and the problems it currently faces, the Pope reaffirms that 'the Church does not of course consider condoms to be the authentic and moral solution' to the problem of AIDS.

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

"At the same time the Pope considers an exceptional circumstance in which the exercise of sexuality represents a real threat to another person's life. In such a case, the Pope does not morally justify the disordered practice of sexuality but maintains that the use of a condom to reduce the danger of infection can 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 person to a mortal risk.

That comment comes from this site at the Vatican.

This is a world in which the media-political class and the forces of capital can only survive by reducing human persons to labels. These labels, whilst they may relate important aspects of a person's identity or behaviours, can never summarise a human being. Focussing on one aspect--race, sexual behaviour, or for that matter the rite in which a person worships--exclusively is silly.

Perhaps the Pope is too smart for the media. If he'd said, 'dropping bombs is wrong but deciding to drop one on an industrial area in the hope of killing fewer people might be a step back towards civilisation and morality', would people have understood? If he had prefaced his words with 'civilisation is repression and morality is not doing what you want' would people have listened?

Of course those determined to commit socialicide, lit by the dim energies of a depleted west, might still have shouted him down. But I just wish that people would calm down and look. Throwing condoms at people does not work. A person doing a thing which they are not doing in perfect circumstances and which can be considered wrong might still stir God within himself and move to save his soul if he at least concedes a little to the existence of another as more than an extension of himself. This is a worthy logic for a Church which once sent its priests to stand with and serve cholera victims, despite the risk, and which survived the European plagues.

That subtle blend of lesser evil, first steps and compassionate personalist theology, I think, is what the Pope meant and that is yet another reason why I admire him so. Why is he called Benedict? Is one reason the fact that Europe is dying and corrupt, and Benedict is its male patron saint? I wish the pope well. Making Europeans and Americans listen to what they do not wish to hear, in a subtle way, is a task of Hercules.

What draws us to that which we fear is the fear itself; and once there, we fear to be wrong and to step back. Being truthful in one's own mind about what is being done, and acknowledging the existence of another, is the first step towards breaking the tyranny of fear, from which other bad things flow. Be not afraid; Speak the truth as you see it, Holy Father, and see where it lands.


Great post Martin.....too bad most of the world's people do not recognize their own sinfulness.....it would a much better place if they did.....Pat

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