Ok, so if you are like me, you are so sick of hearing about the 'seismic' or 'cataclysmic' shift the Pope has magically taken on the use of condoms. 'Condoms are the moral solution to stop AIDS according to Pope!' cheerfully declares the press. The Pope's latest books Light of the World was released this week, and as you can see, the press has had a field day. With an article out every day since for nearly a week pretty much saying the Pope is changing the discourse on condom use, it's no wonder people are confused. I am.
Here is what I found out. First of all, the statement was made in regard to Pope Benedict's 2009 trip to Africa when he was lambasted by the press for the Church's "oppressive" stance on contraception. (Little does the world realize that contraception oppresses them, especially the women!) Anyway, the question was posed to Benedict by Peter Seewald as follows: 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, 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.
Benedict went on to discuss his frustration that the press did not highlight the rest of his statement, wherein he announced the Church's continuing to commitment to being one of the only institutions that treats AIDS victims with continued support and dignity...think Mother Theresa, for example. While Benedict does indeed state that perhaps condoms can help stop the spread of AIDS, the use of condoms does not ask or answer the right question about human sexuality. According to Peter Seewald, the right question that Benedict challenges us to ask is "Does sexuality have something to do with love?" It seems quite simple, but in today's world, this is no longer a simple question to ask.
Janet Smith offers a great commentary on the statement which you can find here. And I'll post an excerpt:
What is Pope Benedict saying?I am challenging myself to read this entire book and to get to know our beloved Pontiff better. He challenges us to be a light to the world and to ask those simple questions that have become so obscure in the vision of the world. Pray for him!
We must note that the example that Pope Benedict gives for the use of a condom is a male prostitute; thus, it is reasonable to assume that he is referring to a male prostitute engaged in homosexual acts. The Holy Father is simply observing that for some homosexual prostitutes the use of a condom may indicate an awakening of a moral sense; an awakening that sexual pleasure is not the highest value, but that we must take care that we harm no one with our choices. He is not speaking to the morality of the use of a condom, but to something that may be true about the psychological state of those who use them. If such individuals are using condoms to avoid harming another, they may eventually realize that sexual acts between members of the same sex are inherently harmful since they are not in accord with human nature. The Holy Father does not in any way think the use of condoms is a part of the solution to reducing the risk of AIDs. As he explicitly states, the true solution involves “humanizing sexuality.”
Anyone having sex that threatens to transmit HIV needs to grow in moral discernment. This is why Benedict focused on a “first step” in moral growth. The Church is always going to be focused on moving people away from immoral acts towards love of Jesus, virtue, and holiness. We can say that the Holy Father clearly did not want to make a point about condoms, but wants to talk about growth in a moral sense, which should be a growth towards Jesus.