There’s been a bit of a tempest about the comments made by Pope Benedict XVI to the press pool on Shepherd One (the Pope Plane) while en route to Cameroon. Apparently, he used the C-word (ahem … “condom”).
That’s a first for a pope. Despite plenty of rulings eschewing birth control and promoting the sanctity of the family, it appears no pope has actually ever said the word publicly before. Wow? What next?
It also appears that the Pope’s comment about “French letters” (so quaint!), was then cleaned up by the papal translators. All this has caused a storm–and rightly so. With the devastating prevalence of AIDS in Africa, religious leaders–especially one as prominent as the Pope–absolutely need to be part of the solution.
The Pope has legitimate moral and theological issues with anything that he thinks is an attack on human dignity and on the culture of the family and the culture of life. I don’t agree with all of them, but they are reasoned. At the same time, he needs to be very careful about overemphasizing ideals that are not possible in the present situation–especially when lives are at stake.
So … what did the Pope actually say? Here’s the original quote–before the papal fixers got a hold of it. The question’s premise was “The Catholic Church’s position on the way to fight against AIDS is often considered unrealistic and ineffective,” and the pope responded:
“I would say the opposite. I think that the reality that is most effective, the most present and the strongest in the fight against AIDS, is precisely that of the Catholic Church, with its programs and its diversity. I think of the Sant’Egidio Community, which does so much visibly and invisibly in the fight against AIDS … and of all the sisters at the service of the sick.
“I would say that one cannot overcome this problem of AIDS only with money — which is important, but if there is no soul, no people who know how to use it, (money) doesn’t help.
“One cannot overcome the problem with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, they increase the problem.
“The solution can only be a double one: first, a humanization of sexuality, that is, a spiritual human renewal that brings with it a new way of behaving with one another; second, a true friendship even and especially with those who suffer, and a willingness to make personal sacrifices and to be with the suffering. And these are factors that help and that result in real and visible progress.
“Therefore I would say this is our double strength — to renew the human being from the inside, to give him spiritual human strength for proper behavior regarding one’s own body and toward the other person, and the capacity to suffer with the suffering. … I think this is the proper response and the church is doing this, and so it offers a great and important contribution. I thank all those who are doing this.”