COLUMN: What Pope Benedict really said on the use of condoms

Father Andrew Dickinson

Father Andrew DickinsonColumnist

As a Catholic priest, I’m always delighted when people are talking about the Church. At the same time, I’m also frustrated when people are talking about the Church inaccurately. What did Pope Benedict really say about condoms in his recent book length interview with German journalist Peter Seewald, “Light of the World?”

According to some headlines, Pope Benedict “approves,” “justifies,” or “oks” condom use. Yet that isn’t what he said. From the actual book:

“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.”

Right away, Seewald8212;a good journalist8212;wonders if something new has been said, so he follows up: “Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms??” The clarification and reemphasis from Pope Benedict follows: “[The Catholic Church] 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.”

The point being made is that some condom use might show the beginnings of humanization or growth in moral awareness8212;which is a good thing, even though sex outside of marriage is always bad. One Catholic author says the Pope’s phrase can be understood as: “if a mugger started using a padded bat to cause less damage to his victims, it certainly is a step in the right direction.” So while the Church has not, does not, and will not approve of any sex outside of natural marriage, it would be a good step in someone’s moral awakening to act in such a manner. This is far from a justification of condoms.

So nothing has changed in official Catholic teaching. If that is the case, where does blame belong? Is it the media for misreporting? No, blame belongs with the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, who released the quote. Why choose this small passage from the over 250 pages of answers? Why confuse the public? In this regard, the Vatican is a mystery to this priest.

What doesn’t have to be a mystery is what sort of man is Pope Benedict. Pope Benedict believes in God, believes in Jesus as the only Son of God, and believes that we can know Jesus and know him best through the Catholic faith. Don’t take my word for it, read the book, read the section on condoms and then get to the good stuff.

Father Andrew Dickinson can be contacted at [email protected].