Pope's Condom Comments Were Misinterpreted

Monday, 06 Dec 2010 10:14 AM

By Edward Pentin

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Now that the controversy over Pope Benedict XVI’s comments on use of condoms and the spread of HIV has lessened slightly, some in the Catholic Church are wondering what could be done to ensure the Pope’s comments are not liable to such misrepresentation in the future.

The general consensus among moral theologians and many Catholics is that the Pope’s comments did not alter the church’s teaching (as many news reports implied).

Instead they say the Pope did not allow condoms to be used for contraception, say they are sometimes morally acceptable, or back away from his earlier statements on the ineffectiveness of condoms in fighting AIDS.

The problem, they argue, was rather the way the Vatican handled the public release of the Pope’s words, which appeared in a new book-length interview with the Pope called “Light of the World”.

In an interview with Newsmax, Vatican consultant Christine de Vollmer blamed the furor on essentially two aspects: a poor translation of the Pope’s words from the original German, and certain Vatican personnel within the Holy See Press Office and the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, who she claimed wanted to give a false interpretation of the Pope’s words.

“Of course the Pope made no mistake in making his very nuanced and profound teaching on this moral question,” said de Vollmer, an influential member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life.

“The scandalous matter is the extremely bad translation that has been allowed to be made in several languages. An analysis of the two very different ‘official’ translations into Spanish of the entire paragraph show wide divergences from the original German and are extremely misleading. The English translation is better, but still not exact,” de Vollmer said.

De Vollmer dismissed the idea that the Pope wanted to “start a debate” on the issue, instead placing blame squarely at the door of the Vatican.

“I believe [it is] the staff of L’Osservatore Romano and the Sala Stampa [Holy See Press Office], together with the translators, who wish to give a different and more liberal teaching than our Holy Father,” she said. “It is they who wish to give the impression that there could be a ‘debate’ on the issue of condoms and contraception in general.”

L’Osservatore Romano is blamed for breaking an embargo on the book and publishing the Pope’s comments out of context and with no explanation, despite the academic complexities of the Pope’s words.

Others say that the Vatican’s Secretariat of State (executive branch) or the Vatican Publishing House are at fault for ordering the extracts to be prematurely published.

Last year, de Vollmer and several other members of the Pontifical Academy were involved in a very public and heated dispute with Archbishop Rino Fisichella, a former president of the Academy.

They were angered by an article Fisichella had written in L’Osservatore Romano which appeared to make Catholics believe that abortion could be excused in certain cases.

De Vollmer believes this to be “a repetition” of that case and noted that Fisichella led the press launch of “Light of the World” at the Vatican on Nov. 24.

Asked if she would like to see a statement to help clear up the condom debacle, she replied: “I certainly do think that a formal clarification is urgently needed for the good of the faithful who are being misled by the confusion generated, not by the Holy Father, but by those who are misquoting and misinterpreting him.”

She also believes it is necessary that the Vatican “reorganize” L’Osservatore Romano and the Holy See Press Office, “installing a responsible and faithful mechanism for publication and diffusion of the Pope’s messages, as in the days of John Paul II and [Joaquin] Navarro Valls [John Paul II’s press secretary].”

She added that she hoped “the beauty and importance of true and committed love” would then be communicated effectively, and that “the press and the dissidents” would not be able to succeed in “continuing to bring up matters of aberrant sex, clouding and obscuring the real message” of the church.

Poor communications, both within the Vatican and with the world’s media, have been an Achilles heel of this pontificate.

Critics say there is too little consultation and coordination among officials, particularly within the secretariat of state, while others such as de Vollmer also claim certain Vatican personnel are actively working against the wishes of the current Pope.



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