24Nov The Pope Speaks on Condoms and Environment Fr.Seán McDonagh, SSC

Two statements in recent weeks by Pope  Benedict XVI, one on condoms and the other on farming and the environment, illustrate the co-dependent and often dysfunctional relationship between the media and Church leaders.  Whenever the pope or other senior Church leaders speak about anything to do with sexuality – divorce, contraception, abortion or same sex relations – the media gives massive coverage to their statements.  When they speak on social justice or the current ecological crisis, they seldom get any coverage.

The following is a good example of this. On Sunday, November 21st 2010, almost every newspaper, radio and TV station carried the news items that it was acceptable to use condoms in certain situations. It appears that, in a book entitled  Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times,” a German journalist, Peter Seewald, asked the Pope whether the Catholic Church is “fundamentally against the use of condoms.”  In reply, Pope Benedict stated that in certain circumstances it was acceptable to use a condom when the intention was to reduce the risk of infecting a partner with the HIV virus. [1] The media is presenting this as a reversal of Catholic teaching on condoms for the past 50 years.

Writing in the Sunday Times, David Leppard points out that, “the Pope received widespread criticism in March 2009, when he said during a trip to AIDs  ravaged Africa that condoms would increase the Aids problem rather than reduce it. While allowing for these exceptional cases, the Pope goes on to repeat that, abstinence and marital fidelity are still the only sure ways to prevent the spread of the disease.”

The New York Times points out that, “The pope’s (recent) statement on condoms was extremely limited: he did not approve their use or suggest that the Roman Catholic Church was beginning to back away from its prohibition of birth control.” [2] Nevertheless, the paper speculated whether his recent remarks are in response to calls from bishops in Africa and elsewhere to the Vatican to allow condoms to be used to fight the spread of H.I.V. AIDS. At a news conference at the Vatican last year Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana suggested, for instance, that condom use was worth considering for married couples in which one partner is H.I.V positive.

Rev. Joseph Fessio, the editor of Ignatius Press, which is publishing the English-language edition of the book, said the Pope’s new remarks on condoms were among the most surprising in the volume. But he also stressed that they were “very carefully qualified.”

“It would be wrong to say, ‘Pope Approves Condoms,” Father Fessio said. “He’s saying it’s immoral but in an individual case, the use of a condom could be an awakening to someone that he’s got to be more conscious of his actions.” [3]

On November 14th 2010, during the Angelus prayer, Pope Benedict reflected on the importance of agriculture on Italy’s Thanksgiving Day. The pope pointed to the failures of modern, industrial agriculture and the current global development model. According to the Pope, these have contributed to the continuing economic crisis, a persistent imbalance between wealth and poverty, the “scandal” of hunger, the “ecological emergency” and unemployment. He argued that, “ it is necessary to carry out a strategic relaunching of agriculture,” In an age when the agricultural sector has lost importance, he said, “it seems to me (to be) the moment for a call to re-evaluate agriculture not in the nostalgic sense, but as an indispensable resource for the future.” [4].

The Pope said that, “what is needed is a “truly concerted” effort to create “a new equilibrium between agriculture, industry and services, so that development may be sustainable, no one (will be) without bread and work, and the air, water and other primary resources may be preserved as universal goods.”[5] Pope Benedict XVI prayed that his words might stimulate the international community to rediscover the importance of agriculture. Did the international media highlight these  crucially important ideas of Pope Benedict on agriculture and the “ecological emergency”?  Though the message is both important and relevant, it got very little media coverage, in comparison to the coverage given to comments on sexuality.  Church leaders need to be aware of this media frenzy and set about changing it.  After all, the gospel of Jesus covers every aspect of life, not just sexuality.


[1] David Leppard, “Pope: A condom can be justified,” The Sunday Times, November 21, 2010, page 1.

[2] Rachel Donadio, and Laurie Goodstein,   In Rare Cases, Pope Justifies Use of Condoms,” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/21/world/europe/21pope.html?_r=1&hp=&pagewanted=print

[3] ibid

[4] Vatican City, Nov 14, 2010 / 04:01 pm

http://www.ewtnnews.com/catholic-news/new.php?id=2138

[5] ibid

One Response

  1. Joseph O'Leary

    Papal monologues about the environment are hardly newsworthy — this is a matter for concerted action. The shrinking of Catholic media presence to the words and gestures of a single man is the problem, and it has not been caused by the media.

    As to the condom statement, its newsworthiness is not primarily a matter of sexual ethics, but of the preventable deaths of millions from Aids. One Ghana Cardinal may have made some vaguely reasonable remark, but other African bishops have loudly said “We say No to Condoms” (at the time of Benedict’s visit to Africa) and the Philippines has seen condom-burning ceremonies. The former speechwriter of John Paul II, now Cardinal Archbishop of Bologna, proclaimed that wives with infected husbands should neither refuse their “marital duty” nor use condoms for protection, but should simply trust in providence. Such utterances invite media, and liberal Catholic, attention not only because of their bizarre sexual obsessiveness but because of their hugely deleterious concrete consequences, as those most closely involved in fighting Aids have registered: http://clericalwhispers.blogspot.com/2010/11/africa-welcomes-popes-comments-on.html


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