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The Deacon's Bench

Over at America magazine’s blog, Austin Iverleigh has some intriguing background and analysis about the pope/condom story:

The point argued by moral theologians was always this. The Church is opposed to artificial contraception, not condoms per se. Just as, in Humanae vitae, the Pill may be used for medical purposes (to prevent heavy bleeding, say), if the intention of using a condom is to prevent infection, not pregnancy, then it was not contraceptive in intention. The point is obvious that — not to put too fine a point on it– a condom used between two men can hardly be considered contraceptive in its purpose; and the same would be true if a husband who returns from the mines infected with HIV uses one to stop his wife getting infected…

…In 2008, while at a conference in Rome, I happened to meet a senior CDF official (I won’t give his name) and asked him what had happened to the commission [set up to explore the issue of condom use to prevent AIDS]. “Everyone knows that theologically there is a strong case for clarifying that teaching,” he told me, “but there’s just no way of doing it publicly without it being misunderstood.” Do you mean, I pressed him, that the Vatican feared the headlines that would result? “Exactly,” he said. “It would be confusing for the faithful.” There was “just no way”, he said, that the Vatican could make this clarification without seeing headlines like “Pope backs condoms” or “Church in reverse on contraception”.

His remarks depressed me — although I understood the communications difficulty.

In February this year, it came to light that the commission had been stood down, and that the report had “never got off the ground” in the word’s of the Health Council’s deputy, Bishop Redrado. I wrote an indignant piece here, entitled “The suppression of theological truth”. It frustrated me that, as a media commentator, I could not articulate what I knew the Vatican believed without being attacked by some Catholics for failing to uphold church teaching.

Now, it seems, Pope Benedict has decided to use the relatively informal, under-the-wire format of a book interview to signal what seems to the outside world as a historic shift but which is no more than expressing what is obvious. But it is a risky thing to do, and Pope Benedict’s courage is to be saluted.

For full context and even more background, read the rest.

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