Sunday, November 21, 2010

Damien Thompson Thinks Catholics are Mad at Pope, Not False News

Source: Conservative Catholics blame media for condoms story – but are they secretly cross with the Pope? – Telegraph Blogs

Damien Thompson was one of the Telegraph columnists who falsely reported that the Pope was changing the Church teaching on condoms and AIDS.  In this column, he admits "So perhaps I was wrong to report yesterday that the Pope had 'modified the Church’s absolute ban on the use of condoms.'"  However he still seems to be under the misunderstanding that the Pope is looking at condoms used by people suffering from AIDS as something which is morally acceptable.

Anyone who has read the full text in context would recognize that the statements made by the Pope do not permit the view that the Pope sees the use of condoms as moral.  Merely that the person infected with AIDS who uses a condom may be beginning to think of things in terms of moral obligations, but that a truly humane sexuality goes beyond this.  He points out:

As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work. This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. 

This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.

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. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.

It is only in the context of the above that the taken out of context text can be evaluated when it says:

Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

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.

A telling point.  The Pope looks at the view of "using a condom" as a last resort is not a humane sexuality, but a self-centered need for sex.  The Pope's view recognizes the selfishness of the AIDS carrier who risks his spouse to satisfy sexual desires.  Use of a condom may be "less selfish" but not a good means in itself as has been misrepresented.

However, contrary to the words of the text, Thompson tells us:

Like it or not, the Holy Father made it clear that the use of condoms is sometimes permissible to stop the spread of the virus, even if – speaking in German – he didn’t use the words “permissable” or “justified”. What he didn’t say was “let’s go ahead and use condoms to fight against Aids,” which is what the third headline implies. 

There’s clearly a debate to be had about (a) the circumstances in which the Pope feels it’s permissable to use a condom and (b) the moral status of the act of using that condom. I don’t think the Holy Father’s comments settle these questions. But the plain, common sense reading of them is that he regards the use of a condom as a lesser evil than the transmission of the virus. Also, it doesn’t seem reasonable to extrapolate from the (apparent) reference to a male prostitute that this lesser-of-two-evils judgment doesn’t apply to sex between infected men and women.

The problem is, the Pope said absolutely nothing of the sort.

Indeed, Papal aide, Father Federico Lombardi. pointed out some clarifications which deny Thompson's interpretation, as reported in Zenit news:

At the same time the Pope considers an exceptional circumstance in which the exercise of sexuality represents a real threat for the life of another. In that case, the Pope does not morally justify the disordered exercise of sexuality but maintains that the use of a condom to reduce the danger of infection may be "a first act of responsibility," "a first step on the road toward a more human sexuality," rather than not using it and exposing the other to risking his life.

A first step, not a moral act.  Because the Pope pointed out that "This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves," shows that the "condoms are ok to stop AIDS" claim is in no way a Church teaching, nor what Benedict XVI intended to get across.

Unfortunately, Thompson goes on to not only claim that the Pope is advocating the use of condoms when one person has AIDS, but to claim that those who have objected to the misrepresentation of the Pope are really mad at the Pope for making a change in teaching:

[A quoted blogger's] post certainly makes a good deal more sense than those of his fellow conservatives who claim that the Pope didn’t say what he obviously did say… and then emphasise that he was only speaking in an interview AND how dare L’Osservatore Romano release these quotes out of context. Hmm. There is a strong whiff of cognitive dissonance in the air. I hate to pick a fight with bloggers I admire, and I won’t mention any names, but I get the strong impression that certain conservatives are tying themselves in knots trying not to say what they really think.

Which is that they disagree with the Pope.

Thompson's comment is an ad hominem fallacy, attacking those who take him to task, implying they are holding contradictory views, without considering that the "interview isn't formal teaching" comments and the "L'Osservatore Romano took quotes out of context" comments are in fact addressing two separate issues which were falsely alleged (in the first case, that the Pope was making a new teaching in a third party book, in the second case, that because it came from L'Osservatore Romano, it must be a teaching.

When all is said and done, Thompson is making a false accusation.  Catholics who have come to clarify Church teaching are not angry at the Pope, for we do not believe he is saying what Thompson claims in the first place.  Rather we object to the distortion of words taken out of context to imply sexual acts with condoms for the prevention of AIDS is a morally acceptable act, when it is clear the Pope had no such intention to claim such a thing.

To be honest, the assumption that such a book could be cited to claim a justification for a position is ludicrous and demonstrates ignorance of how the Church releases teachings.  Ignorance… or willful misrepresentation.

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