From Mark Brumley's op-ed, "The Pope's 'switch' on condoms", in yesterday's edition of The Napa Valley Register:
Judging by the media hype, you’d think the pope just published a book about condoms. His new book, “Light of the World,” actually covers a wide range of issues raised by veteran journalist Peter Seewald: the clergy sexual abuse scandal, climate change, moral relativism, spreading the Gospel, relations among religions, the search for Christian unity, dialogue with Islam, religion in public life, the roles of faith and reason, reforms in the Church, and the second coming of Christ, to name only a few subjects.
The questions are direct, often challenging; the answers, equally direct and often perhaps surprising.
Yes, the pope talks a bit about condoms. But contrary to what has been widely reported, he doesn’t endorse their use, even in “rare cases.”
“There may be a basis in the case of some individuals,” says the pope, “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.”
So using a condom “can be a first step in the direction of moralization,” not that it is moral.
What does “a basis in the case of some individuals” mean? That condoms are morally justified?
There is, it seems, something for everyone in this exhaustive interview — something to annoy everyone on every side of these issues, that is as recent events clearly showed. The truth is, though, that for anyone who has been following Benedict and read any of his numerous works over many years, none of this is shocking or a surprise, and it's all quite consistent.
It only puzzles us when we insist on filtering the pope's words through our own expectations and ideologies, our own understanding of what religion and rationality and morality must be all about. We're not starting from the same page, which might explain much of the invective directed at the pope by a curious, but often oblivious, press.
The thing is, he really believes the stuff. Really. He believes that God exists and we exist because God loves us. We're free to love him back, or not. So the basic job of the church is to be Christ in the world, inviting human beings to find love and truth. To find themselves. As Benedict puts it in Light of the World, the church "communicates the light of Christ."
The pope you don't hear about
Now what confuses and even angers some Catholics is that along with this high sense of church is the acceptance of the reality — very clear throughout this interview — that human beings interact with the church at different levels of commitment. Some go to Mass every day, and others once a year. Some are saints, while others are barely hanging on. There certainly have been through history various ways to articulate God's call to humanity, some more forceful and dire, but that is not Pope Benedict's language. The way he has always expressed it is that it's not the church's role to force an individual to come closer, but rather to constantly invite. Not to impose, but to "propose" — one of Pope Benedict's favorite turns of phrase.
So in essence, he's saying some will agree, some won't. But what of "everyone else?" Contrary to popular impressions and maybe even the hopes of some Catholics, Pope Benedict doesn't see it as his job to issue blanket condemnations of that "everyone else." "We are sinners," he says. "We should try to do as much good as we can and to support and put up with each other."
That doesn't sound like "God's Rottweiler," a nickname Benedict earned as a cardinal. Nor does it sound like the words of a man too often condemned as intolerant, rigid and stuck in past centuries. In short, Pope Benedict is saying: It's not my job to either change the teaching or declare you eternally condemned for your failures in living it. That's God's job. And I'm not God.
• Order the hardcover book at www.ignatius.com
• Light Of The World - Downloadable Audio File
• Light Of The World - Electronic Book Download
• Light Of The World - Audio Book on CD
• Luz Del Mundo - Spanish Edition (Paperback)
• The book's Facebook page
• The book's site, www.LightOfTheWorldBook.com
• The book's blog, "Light of the World" Official Blog