TORONTO, November 24, 2010 – As with most news involving papal comments, some reflections by Pope Benedict touching on the AIDS crisis and condom use have provoked the usual rush of anti-Catholic invective to the message boards and talk radio. However, most of the media coverage has been, if not fully accurate, at least fair, apart from a few perhaps hastily-composed headlines (‘Vatican says everyone can use condoms’, to quote AP’s contribution Nov. 23).
Upon closer reading, the passages in question do not, all headlines aside, represent a departure from traditional Catholic teaching on sexuality or contraception. They were made not in the setting of an official statement, but in passages from a book of interviews composed in a conversational style. Unfortunately, the media representatives who really “got it wrong” are those employed by the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, who selected and chose to print the excerpts prior to the book’s release. It would not take advanced studies in media relations to know which passages the international press would be likeliest to notice. It is true that the statements would have been attacked no matter how they were issued, but a modicum of timing and planning would likely have allowed more opportunity for explanation of what the statements meant.
The principle of double effect, or lesser evil, is a longstanding part of Catholic theology. To the extent that Pope Benedict’s conversation with a writer recognized that there is a situation where the use of a condom might represent the beginning of a journey toward moral sense, that would likely be part of the double effect principle.
The League does not employ moral theologians, but we do know media balance and professionalism, and – again, apart from those wide-open mikes and message boards – this story was generally covered as well as could be expected. In keeping with the League’s mandate, we have asked some of the message boards to follow their own policies and remove defamatory and hateful comments, and we have provided our members with the best analysis we could find of the issue. Some of the best analytical articles are linked below. The book itself, Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times, by Peter Seewald, was released Nov. 23.
                                                                                  – Joanne McGarry, League Executive Director
The Vatican Newspaper has betrayed the pope, Catholic culture, Nov. 23
The Pope and the condom: His challenge to secular orthodoxy, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 23
Pope’s condom comment sparks new debate on Church and sex, National Post, Nov. 22
– Pope Benedict XVI discusses condoms and the spread of AIDS
, Catholic World Report, Nov. 21, with analysis by Dr. Janet Smith.