The Deacon's Bench

That’s one reaction to the weekend’s headline-grabbing news. From the Christian Science Monitor:

Vatican officials are insisting that Pope Benedict’s new remarks on condoms are not a change in church teaching on contraception. But initial reaction in Europe and among Roman Catholics here is that the first papal acknowledgment of condom use is an important “evolution of theology” and a “liberation” from a church position that many of the Catholic faithful struggle to defend.

Secular Europe is a region that Pope Benedict views as critical to rebuilding Roman Catholicism. The pope’s notice of acceptable condom use in some cases, such as by male prostitutes, may be a technically narrow shift; the pope also stated that “fixating on condoms is a trivialization of sexuality.”

But given the Vatican’s more conservative direction under Benedict, this is being read as a shift from negative to positive language on matters related to sexual behavior – at a time when the public image of the church in Europe is badly damaged over priestly child abuse scandals in Ireland, Germany, and Belgium.

Catholic bishops in Europe noted Monday that the previous pontiff, John Paul II, had never spoken of condoms, and praised Benedict for his courage in doing so.

“It is an evolution, not a revolution,” argues Xavier Lacroix, a theologian at Catholic University in Lyon, France. “I observe a change of vocabulary … using words that belong to a positive realm, not only the typical ‘lesser evil.’ ”

Michel Sidibé, director of the United Nations’s AIDS program, described it as a “significant and positive step forward.”

Yet some grassroots Catholic reform groups say papal comment allowing a man to use a condom in certain odd cases does not address any core change.

“If the pope says you can now wear pink shoes instead of red shoes, the public will be ecstatic,” says Sigrid Grabmeier, spokeswoman for “We are Church,” which was formed in Germany and Austria in protest of severe priestly child abuse cases and which advocates equality for women in the church. “But this step, or idea of a step, is not a change in attitude or in the mind of the church.”

Read on.

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