November 22, 2010
The Pope, Condoms, and Confusion: Media Mendacity
The media is reporting that the Pope has justified the use of condoms. This is of course untrue. Not that anyone can figure that out from the headlines. Here's the real story.
The following quote is from a new book based on interviews with the Pope.
There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants.
Notice that the Pope does not say that using a condom is good or acceptable much less that using a condom is justified. All he is saying is that if a person decides to use a condom it might indicate that they are beginning their journey toward truth.
Similarly I might say that if someone were very promiscuous and then started faithfully living with someone it might be the first step along the path to a truly moral understanding of sexuality for that person. But that doesn't mean I believe that living together outside of marriage is either justified or morally licit.
Let's look at a similar analogy that doesn't involve sex to remove any biases we might have either for or against condoms. Imagine an Iranian interrogator who routinely tortures prisoners-real torture, knives, acid, etc not waterboarding. One day he wakes up and decides that he should sterilize his knives so any of his victims who manages to survive won't die later due to an infection. Clearly his decision is a step toward a morally valid worldview. Yet no one would argue that torturing someone with a clean knife is morally acceptable much less justified.
What the Pope said was that in some cases the use of a condom might indicate that the person was beginning a journey to a morally valid destination. That doesn't mean that condom use is justified.
But the media has its memes and is always eager to distort the words of anyone to support the liberal media worldview. It's unclear how the quote above can be converted into headlines that say " In rare cases, Pope Justifies Use of Condoms" from NYTimes.com.
Perhaps if the media had bothered to explore the next question in the book which is:
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.
The Pope clearly says that condom use, even in the extreme case, is not moral and not justified. He's saying that people who use condoms might be showing some clouded understanding of what is morally right which is better than having no understanding of what is morally right. Yet major news outlets are running stories saying that the Pope has justified the use of condoms. No wonder trust in the media is heading toward zero.
The key lesson of this episode, no matter what your personal belief is about condoms, is that mainstream media coverage of the Roman Catholic Church is untrustworthy. To get to the real truth you should read sources like Jimmy Akins blog at the National Catholic Register, the source for the book quotes.