I am grateful to a friend for emailing a link to the National Catholic Register that provides a useful analysis of what the Pope says in its full context, rather than the partial quotes by the BBC and L'Osservatore Romano.
The Pope's comments are made in a book entitled 'Light of the World' which will be published on Wednesday November 24th.
A few thoughts based on the NCR article. It is said that Pope Benedict writes:
It goes without saying that the Pope can have private opinions that are wrong.I love our Holy Father dearly. I don't mind hearing his private opinions on economics, war, music..., but when he speaks on matters of faith and morals, particularly on such sensitive issues as the use of condoms, I'd rather not hear his private opinions that have the possibility of being wrong. He is always "Peter". I fear that these comments will leave the faithful confused - they have certainly led to confusion in the public media. Next week's Tablet will for sure hail the Pope as progressive and reasonable, and say that he is softening the Church's line on contraception, which is manifestly NOT the case.
Here is the full text of Pope Benedict's remarks, provided at Catholic World Report: I have inserted my respectful questionings of our beloved Holy Father's private opinion.
On the occasion of your trip to Africa in March 2009, the Vatican’s policy on AIDs once again became the target of media criticism.Twenty-five percent of all AIDs victims around the world today are treated in Catholic facilities. In some countries, such as Lesotho, for example, [I happen to know a couple of priests from Lesotho who told me that for a male to live beyond 35 is a miracle. The men go to South Africa to work in the mines, are unfaithful while away, and return home infected. These priests who minister to the bereaved families blame the widespread distribution of condoms for the spread of the AIDS virus as they encourage the men to take risks rather than being faithful to their wives.] the statistic is 40 percent. In Africa you stated that the Church’s traditional teaching has proven to be the only sure way to stop the spread of HIV. Critics, including critics from the Church’s own ranks, object that it is madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms.The Catholic blogs and orthodox media will try to defend Pope Benedict's comments. But I think we now have a major problem on our hands. Already, on the BBC World Service news, a spokesman for a US-based dissident group has said how reasonable Pope Benedict is and how his group welcomes the Pope's more moderate views on contraception. It needs to be stated loud and clear that Pope Benedict IS NOT TALKING ABOUT CONTRACEPTION.
The media coverage completely ignored the rest of the trip to Africa on account of a single statement. Someone had asked me why the Catholic Church adopts an unrealistic and ineffective position on AIDs. At that point, I really felt that I was being provoked, because the Church does more than anyone else. And I stand by that claim. Because she is the only institution that assists people up close and concretely, with prevention, education, help, counsel, and accompaniment. And because she is second to none in treating so many AIDs victims, especially children with AIDs.
I had the chance to visit one of these wards and to speak with the patients. That was the real answer: The Church does more than anyone else, because she does not speak from the tribunal of the newspapers, but helps her brothers and sisters where they are actually suffering. In my remarks I was not making a general statement about the condom issue, but merely said, and this is what caused such great offense, that we cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms. Much more needs to be done. [More? In addition to distributing condoms? Or is the solution something quite different?] We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help them; and we must do this both before and after they contract the disease.
As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone [alone? So they can be admitted as part of the solution?] do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. [Again, more? In addition to condom use or instead of?] Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work. This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.
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. [Ok, rather big interjection here. The Holy Father refers to an example of male prostitutes, presumably homosexual. The homosexual act is itself disordered. There is no discharge of semen into the vagina of a woman. There is no potential for conception. There is no prevention of conception. THIS IS NOT CONTRACEPTION. THERE IS NO 'SOFTENING' OF THE CHURCH'S TEACHING ON CONTRACEPTION. The use of a condom here is simply irrelevant from the sexual-moral point of view. If it prevents the transmission of the AIDS virus, so be it. But there is NO MODIFICATION OF THE (DISORDERED) END OF THIS "SEXUAL" ACT. I simply cannot make the link that Pope Benedict appears to make between condom use in this instance and 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 doe whatever one wants. Those involved continue to do that which is not allowed and whatever they want. The use of the condom can hardly be considered a virtuous act, thinking of the partner rather than of oneself. The male prostitute will be thinking primarily of his own health. It will therefore be selfishly motivated. The homosexual act remains intrinsically evil, although the evil effects are possibly mitigated. And possibly is a very important word here. Condoms have to be used properly and they have to be faultless. And the increasing frequency of sexual encounters that will result with the false sense of security that condom use provides increases the risk of infection and reinforces the bad habit or vice of disordered sexual acts. Condom use will provide little if any incentive to modify behaviour.] That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality. [And what does this mean? This must be spelt out. Namely: sex is intrinsically ordered towards the procreation of human life in the stable loving (ideally) relationship we call marriage between a man and a woman. Any other way or context of performing the sexual act is intrinsically unhuman.]
Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?
She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, [agreed, it is not a 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. [Holy Father, since you allow me the freedom to do so, I respectfully disagree. I cannot see how the introduction of a condom into sodomic relations is in any way a first step in a movement toward a more human way of living sexuality. Such relations are absolutely not a human way of living sexuality. All condom use does is aim to prevent one of the evil consequences of such relations.]
However, his comments will naturally lead to questions concerning the case of a married couple in which one of the spouses is infected with the AIDS virus. What then? What is the human expression of sexuality? Is it to use a condom? This is a very different case. The truly human expression of sexuality in this case is to abstain. This will need to be addressed.
And what about female prostitutes? Is there any trace of humanization in their sexual encounters? Is the use of condoms in their case 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?
You can read an alternative analysis by the esteemed Janet E. Smith (who holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit and is serving a third term as a consultor to the Pontifical Council on the Family): What does the Holy Father really say about condoms in the new book? I acknowledge that Professor Smith is far more competent than I am to comment on this matter, but I find her argument unconvincing.
I take this opportunity of renewing my profound love for Pope Benedict. Long may he reign and be protected from his enemies.