Pope in red 311 AP.
(photo credit: AP)
In a show of sensitivity to real-life dilemmas, Pope Benedict XVI has condoned
the use of condoms as a means of fighting AIDS/HIV epidemics, partially
backtracking on his previously held stand that condoms would only “aggravate the
In sub-Saharan Africa, about 30 million people are infected by
AIDS/HIV and three-quarters of worldwide deaths from it occur
However, the pope’s comments, which appear in a new book entitled
Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times
, and which
were reported in the Vatican’s newspaper this weekend, were heavily
qualified. The only concrete example given by Benedict of justified
condom use is for a male prostitute. It would seem that condom use is
permissible only in cases where there is no chance of fertilization.
the 1960s, the Vatican had condoned giving contraceptive pills to nuns at risk
of rape by fighters in the Congo to prevent pregnancy, arguing that the
contraception was a lesser evil than pregnancy in such cases, a cogent moral
argument. It’s hard to see why a similar argument does not prevail in the matter
of condoms and the epidemic-proportion deaths caused by AIDS in sub- Saharan
Benedict XVI may be motivated by good intentions, including in
the desire to relieve suffering in Africa, but he seems to suffer from a chronic
inability to follow through on these intentions.
JUST LAST month, for
instance, in an apparently sincere effort to address the plight of the dwindling
Christian community in the Middle East, Benedict convened a special Vatican
synod of Middle East bishops. Yet the pope allowed the synod to be hijacked by
Arab bishops who chose in their concluding “message” to bash Israel, the only
country where the Christian community is actually growing, while practically
ignoring widespread violence perpetrated by Muslim extremists.
of the statement, drafted under the direction of Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros,
head of the Greek Melkite Church in America, even contradict the Nostra Aetate
a groundbreaking interfaith document drafted in October 1965 during the Second
Vatican Council that radically revamped the Church’s previous negative views of
the Jewish people.
Sadly, just days after the synod issued its statement,
a ghastly incident served as proof of Christians’ true persecutors. An
al-Qaida terror cell stormed a Baghdad church, held dozens of worshipers
hostage, and ended up slaughtering 44 Christians, two priests and seven security
personnel in an ensuing shoot-out with Iraqi police. Nearly a month after the
synod’s distorted, anti-Israel diatribe was released, the pope has yet to speak
out on the matter.
The case of Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard
Williamson is another example of Benedict’s good intentions but ultimate
vacillation. In January 2009, immediately after the Vatican revoked the
excommunication of Williamson, 70, and three other ultra-traditionalist bishops,
the British-born clergyman said on Swedish television that no more than 300,000
Jews perished in the Holocaust and that there were no gas chambers.
Light of the World
, Benedict notes that he would not have lifted the 22-year
excommunication ban on Williamson if he had known of the bishop’s views on the
Holocaust. Yet, inexplicably, the pope stops short of suggesting that he will
consequently take steps to reinstate Williamson’s excommunication. In recent
days Williamson has employed a neo-Nazi lawyer to defend him in a German court
against charges of Holocaust denial, a criminal offense in Germany.
IN one case does the pope seem to be intent on following through where caution
is the more advisable route. The pontiff appears stubbornly insistent on
granting sainthood to Pius XII, who was pope during the
Holocaust. Historians have asked the Vatican to put Pius’ sainthood
process on hold until the Holy See opens up its archives from his papacy. But
Benedict claims in Light of the World
that an internal “inspection” of those
unpublished documents has failed to support “negative” allegations against
If the church’s integrity is to be taken seriously, the pope will
have to judge more effectively when to take a courageous stand and when
preceding with caution is the truly moral act. Sadly, Benedict XVI seems to have
difficulty making these distinctions, causing further damage to an already
embattled religious institution struggling for legitimacy in a era of skepticism
Vacillation has moral ramifications no less real than resolve.