December 3, 2010

Be Our Guest / Dr. Hans Geisler

The pope, truth and the media

Always true to his responsibility—as Bishop of Rome and chief shepherd of the Roman Catholic faith—to teach the world the truth of the faith, as it has been handed down since the time of the Apostles, and to his responsibility, as a former professor, to provoke thought and discussion concerning that truth, Pope Benedict XVI has, once again, as he did several years ago in his remarks describing the conversation between a Byzantine emperor and an Islamic scholar, stirred up the secular media and critics of Catholic beliefs with his comments about the possible use of a condom by a male prostitute when engaged in a homosexual act (Light of the World, Peter Seewald, Chapter 11, “The Journeys of a Shepherd,” pages 117-119, Ignatius Press, 2010).

What Seewald quoted the pope as saying was, “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.”

Obviously, the pope was trying to imply that, in some cases, the very fact that the male prostitute was, in this instance, trying to prevent the spread of AIDS might be the beginning of a realization in that man’s mind that there was indeed a moral dimension to his act, an “awareness” that he may be engaging in something basically illicit.

In framing his statement, Pope Benedict was dealing with a question from Seewald regarding AIDS, a disease of epidemic proportions in many parts of Africa, and it is important that Seewald’s readers, believers and non-believers alike, realize that the pope went on to say, “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.”

In response to Seewald’s next question—“Are you then saying that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?”—the pope responded, “She, of course, does not regard it as a 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.”

Seen in context, the pope was trying to promote discussion concerning the Catholic teaching that to engage in a homosexual act is “intrinsically disordered and immoral” (United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, July 2006, p. 407), and that those that are engaged in such encounters should rethink their views on the matter.

Always the teacher, the Holy Father is attempting to use his answer to Peter Seewald’s question as a “teaching moment” for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

He wants the readers of Seewald’s book to understand that the sexual act, as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2390), is to be used as part of the sacrament of marriage, primarily to foster the procreation of the human race and, secondarily, but importantly, to provide an instrument by which a couple can express their love for one another in a satisfying, physical manner.

The pope is merely emphasizing an ancient Catholic doctrine that the sexual act should never be viewed as an instrument merely to provide a momentary physical “high.”

Viewed from this perspective, it appears that the Holy Father has again accomplished his sworn duty of being both the shepherd and teacher-in-chief of our Catholic faith.

(Dr. Hans Geisler is a retired gynecologist-oncologist and member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. He is certified in health care ethics by the National Catholic Bioethics Center.)

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