Sunday, 21 November 2010

What did the Pope really say?

If you want to see what the Osservatore Romano actually published from Pope Benedict's forthcoming book interview, you can find it here. I quote below just the part that the media seem to have latched on to, with my own translation:
Vi possono essere singoli casi giustificati, ad esempio quando una prostituta utilizza un profilattico, e questo può essere il primo passo verso una moralizzazione, un primo atto di responsabilità per sviluppare di nuovo la consapevolezza del fatto che non tutto è permesso e che non si può far tutto ciò che si vuole. Tuttavia, questo non è il modo vero e proprio per vincere l'infezione dell'Hiv. È veramente necessaria una umanizzazione della sessualità.

There may be individual justifiable cases, when for example a prostitute uses a condom, and this might be the first step towards a moral action, a first step of responsibility for developing anew the awareness of the fact that not everything is permitted and that it is not allowed to do everything that one wants. Nevertheless, this is not the true and proper way to overcome infection by HIV. A humanization of sexuality is truly necessary.
There is a delicate nuance hidden in the Italian potere, a nuance between a suggestion of possibility and one of certainty. In English, it is the difference between "there may be" (as I have chosen to translate it) and "there can be". Given the simultaneous publication of the Pope's book in different languages, it will be interesting to see how this sentence is translated in the different languages. The English translation of the relevant passage - in full - can be found here, at the site of Catholic World Report. Do read this so that you can see the full context in which Pope Benedict made his remarks.

post on the website of the American National Catholic Reporter offers a fuller analysis of what has happened here, and of the sense of Pope Benedict's words. This post offers a similar translation to mine above, a fuller explanation of the context of the Osservatore Romano's breach of an embargo and the unfortunate partiality in the selection of the extracts published. It also points out that, in being interviewed for a book, the Holy Father was not in any way undertaking an act of Church teaching. Let me offer one extract from this post, with my emphasis added:
Seewald: Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

Benedict: 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.

So, actually, Pope Benedict says that, even in the situation in which he has speculated about a positive evaluation of condom use, "it is not a moral solution". The exact opposite of what the media are making of it all!

So, headlines like "Pope relaxes Vatican ban on condoms" and opening paragraphs like "The Pope has reversed decades of Roman Catholic teaching by saying that it is acceptable for some people to use condoms" [Ruth Gledhill on the front page of today's Sunday Times, though it could by any one of a number of other commentators] are less than fully consonant with the actualite of what Pope Benedict said.

And the delight of liberal Catholic commentators and pro-condom AIDS/HIV activists is going to look rather silly when the truth is out. I wonder whether they will admit that they got it wrong on what the Pope was actually saying?

H/T to Young Fogeys.

UPDATE: the full text of the clarification issued by the Vatican has been posted at Protect the Pope. It is a very careful exposition of the what the Pope has said. It has been quite amusing having BBC Radio on during the afternoon, and seeing, in successive news bulletins, a gradual shift away from the earlier reporting which suggested a major change in Catholic teaching towards a more qualified and nuanced comment.

PS: There is another discussion to be had around Pope Benedict's words quoted by Osservatore Romano under the heading "L'Humanae Vitae", though I am aware that the Osservatore Romano quotation might not give the full context. In the quoted passage, Pope Benedict observes first that the perspectives of Humanae Vitae remain valid, but that there is another question which is that of how to find a way of following that teaching in the human situation. The Holy Father suggests that those who follow this teaching provide an example that others can follow, and then says (sorry, my translation here is a bit shaky):
Siamo peccatori. Ma non dovremmo assumere questo fatto come istanza contro la verità, quando cioè quella morale alta non viene vissuta.

We are sinners. But we must not assume this fact as an argument against the truth, so that the high morality is not lived out.
Which is, of course, a very important qualification on the part of the Holy Father of any argument of "gradualism" in living the moral life that might be read in to his remarks.

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