AP at odds with reality over condoms.

Sometimes a facepalm is the best first reaction.

Sometimes a facepalm is the best first reaction.

They must get a kick out of their power.

Bertolt Brecht once said, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” News reporting is clearly an artform for some.

The writers and editors at AP took fifteen minutes, max, to find some quotes that at least obliquely fit into their story, then they throw in some others from respectable-enough sounding institutions, insinuate their own “reporting” of facts and missing facts and “no-comments” into the flow such that it seems to be a legitimate interpretation of the facts, then laugh into their sleeves as the institution they’ve targeted scrambles to undo the damage their “story” has caused.

There’s a special place in Purgatory for people like that.

This morning brings another breathless report from the AP which was given the headline, “Conservatives at odds with Vatican over condoms” !!!!!!  ! !. ….

Natch, that’s hardly the case. It’s like they’re shaking the ant farm just to watch the ants go nuts. Let’s try to untangle this piece of “reporting.”

Problem 1: They quote John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, saying, “It’s a mess…I’m not ready to say that the pope said what Lombardi said.”

Rev. Frederico Lombardi, papal spokesman, said something about what the pope actually said about condom usage in his new book, Light of the World, also applies to women and even transsexuals.

Analysis: Even if we accept that the pope said what Lombardi suggests, there’s no problem: no matter who the person is, if they work as a prostitute and decide to begin using a prophylactic out of a desire to reduce the risk of HIV infection, that represents on their part a movement toward a more human way of experiencing sexuality. It doesn’t represent a moral present, but a movement toward a moral future.

Problem 2: The story says:

The pope did not suggest using condoms as birth control, which is banned by the Roman Catholic Church, and said condoms were not a “real or moral solution” to the AIDS crisis.

Still, his remarks were a watershed in the long debate among theologians and church officials over the morality of using condoms for disease prevention.

Analysis: No, it wasn’t a watershed moment. He said nothing that changes anything. He said a person who is committing, if you will, two gravely immoral actions, but who chooses to reduce the risk of commiting one of them, is not thereby legitimized in the continuing immorality of that action, or of the unabated immorality of the other.

Problem 3: They report:

Jenn Giroux, executive director of Human Life International America, which promotes Catholic teaching on contraception, abortion and other moral issues, said more clarification from the Vatican was needed.

“I am watching very carefully, as everyone is right now, before making a final pronouncement,” said Giroux, a registered nurse and mother of nine. “We just got something from a spokesperson. As always, we look to church doctrine on statements like this.”

Analysis: That looks to me like her saying a whole lotta nothing. “We’re not saying anything.” “We’re waiting for the actual authorities to act.” “This was just something from a spokesperson, not the real McCoy.” And, importantly, “Church doctrine reigns.” But since the reality of what “Church doctrine” is doesn’t resonate with AP reporters, that last was undoubtedly seen by them as a retreat by an ignorant footsoldier who is waiting for orders, whatever they may be, rather than her taking the strongest position one can take vis-a-vis questions of Church teaching.

Problem 4: My personal favorite: “Catholic teaching has never totally barred condom use for protection against HIV and the Vatican has no official, authoritative policy on the issue.”

Analysis: The Vatican also “has never totally barred,” in the manner they mean those words, smashing your neighbor’s pumpkins at Halloween. Sure it’s generally covered under a one or more of those Commandments, but there’s no doctrinal statement on pumpkin smashing… so I guess it’s fair game then? Hardly.

Problem 5: They report:

In 1987, the U.S. bishops’ conference issued the statement, “The Many Face of AIDS,” that stressed limiting sex to marriage as the best protection against the virus, but said public education “could include accurate information about prophylactic devices” to prevent transmission. The document was criticized at the time by conservatives and some Vatican officials.

Analysis: First of all, the USCCB is not an authoritative body of the Church. They can certainly seem that way to outsiders, and they can certainly muddy the waters of teaching clearly when they are more Bernardin than Dolan.  But educating the public with accurate information is a fairly important task, provided it is accurate and complete information. And in this case, accurate and complete information about condom usage in the prevention of the spread of HIV would have been, basically, “it’s a false solution.” Which is what Benedict said in his remarks also.

Problem 6: They report: “Years ago, Vatican officials reportedly began studying the topic, with the goal of writing a document on the morality of condom use as protection against AIDS, but no statement was issued.”

Analysis: This is akin to problem 4, above. They insinuate a lacuna in Church teaching, combine it with the media-generated confusion, and voila! the suggestion that the impermissible is at least somewhat permissible has been born in the reader’s mind.

Problem 7: They then wrap up with some of the best stuff, but cast in a shroud of doubt and reaction:

The pope’s comments in a book interview do not amount to an official teaching, a point conservative Catholics made repeatedly and vociferously Tuesday. They argued that the pope was only noting that by using a condom, a person with HIV is displaying some moral sense about the consequences of his behavior.

“I maintain that nothing new has happened, that the church’s teaching hasn’t changed,” said the Rev. Joseph Fessio of Ignatius Press, the English publisher of the book, in a phone interview from Rome.

Yet, the pope’s remarks are still seen as significant and must be analyzed and explained by church leaders.

Analysis: It looks like they took a statement from Father Fessio that came later in the interview, after he had made the compelling arguments, explained everything clearly, and was fielding questions, and, with all the context of the teaching of the Church preceding his statement, he said, “I maintain…”…   of course, without the context, it looks like he’s just voicing his personal opinion and not offering any context or background or reason, and thus his “I” makes his position a bit weak.

Ending: They close with a good wrap-up by Russell Shaw:

“We’re in for a long period of confusion,” said Russell Shaw, a writer for the Catholic publication Our Sunday Visitor and former spokesman for the U.S. bishops’ conference. “The bishops — and clergy especially — will have to go home now to their own dioceses and whether they like it or not start speaking very clearly about what just happened.”

Hear, hear.

We get a season of confusion, the AP gets another laugh at our expense, watching us dance and scramble about, while they completely ignore the parts of the explanation that show their “reporting” to be more an attempt to craft reality than to report it.



  • marv!!!

    Bruce, I got my information from press releases. If those releases were inaccurate then I am inaccurate.

    • Bruce

      Do you believe those press releases are inaccurate?

      • marv!!!

        No. Why do you ask?

        • Bruce

          You had stated that you (1) “Got your information from press releases” and stated that (2) “The Pope stated that condom use was acceptable to reduce the spread of the HIV virus…a wonderful and hopefully a sign that changes are coming.” But now you do not believe those press releases were accurate, which would mean that you do NOT “believe the Pope stated that condom use was acceptable to reduce the spread of the HIV virus (sic – redundancy)” and you do NOT think that it was “a wonderful and hopefully a sign that changes are coming.” So, now you are in full agreement with the Pope, the Vatican, and everyone on this blog in saying that the Pope did not state that condoms are acceptable. Well done.

          • marv!!!

            Bruce, my previous response to your question “Do you believe those press releases are inaccurate?” was “no” not yes.

          • Bruce

            Ah, very good then. So, (1) tell us where the Pope said condom use was now acceptable, since you believe the press reports were accurate. I eagerly await your response!


    Other than the Secnond Amenment to the US Constitution, never have so many words been written interpeting a passage so brief “He meant what he said and said what he meant and Pope is faithful one hundred percent.”

  • Paul D

    I think there’s a beauty in this commotion.

    It seems that, in its own, strange way, the Media desperately hungers for the approval of the Pope. The Holy Father has an inherent fatherly authority, just as any priest does. Even as anti-Catholics attack the Pope for his reiteration of Church teaching, they look to him to validate their beliefs and behavior.

    No one seems to ask the Ayatollah Khamenei or the Greek Orthodox Patriarch (who both teach against contraception) for possible statements that could be misconstrued as supporting contraception. No one turns to Reverend Al Sharpton or the Anglican Church for validation of contraception. They know there’s no inherent authority in these sources.

    Yet, in all this (incorrect) reporting, there’s a palpable sense of relief that “finally, the Pope has come around to our way of thinking! Phew!”

    I see a real light in the transparent and intentional misinterpretation of the Pope’s statements on condoms. The world still sees the Holy Father as their Spiritual Father.

  • Vdermont Crank

    “You also fail the reading comprehension test.You are committing the exact same mistake as every one of these reporters and are exacerbating the issue.”

    If that is what you understand to be the nature of my comments than it is you who has the reading comprehension problem; not me.

    I understand what the Pope said. I am commenting upon whether or not he should have said it – his first statement about the issue of AIDS was much clearer – and I am writing that what he said was, in essence, feeding our enemy.

    It is without question the plain and simple truth that what Our Holy Father said has caused a firestorm of controversy – and not in a good way – and your attempt to tell faithful Christian Catholics they are part of the problem if they do not support the Pope succors the false accusation that we Catholics are unthinking robots who will reflexively support The Pope no matter what he does.

    Of course what the Pope said was controversial. If what he said was not controversial then why has this site been at such pains to strive to explain what the Pope really meant?

    And why have Bishops been calling John Hass for advice?

    There are many many Catholics who have been confused about what the Pope said and wonder why he even said it and for you lump them in with the enemy – The world/media – and claim that they are, collectively, part of the problem is a recent modern problem in itself (papolatry) and I guarantee you that is not what this great man, Our Holy Father, would think about our reactions to what he said.

    I’ll close by quoting someone who can not be said to be part of the problem:

    “This is really shaking things up big time,” said John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, who serves on the governing council of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life.

    Haas, a moral theologian, said he had seen an embargoed copy of the new book in which the pope conceded there might be extreme cases in which there were grounds for the use of condoms.

    “I told the publisher, ‘Don’t publish this; it’s going to create such a mess,’ ” he added.

    • Tom Crowe

      And my response to you all along has been that the media, not the pope, has muddied the waters. The firestorm is of the media’s making, not the pope’s. You and others keep insisting that the media’s portrayal of what the pope said was, in fact, what the pope said, which is not the case. The pains to which I and other have gone are on account of the media-generated controversy based on their misrepresentation of what the pope said. The pope didn’t muddy the waters, and any attempt to say he did is an injustice to him. Now, that said, I had not seen the last thing you quote from John Haas. If that is true, I will withhold comment upon what else the pope may have said until I see it, but I think I can already anticipate it, but don’t want to feed the fire by summarizing what I think the “extreme case” may be. If I am correct, it also has a simple explanation which anyone who thinks clearly and can abandon their pre-judgments will be able to understand.

      • Vermont Crank

        Dear Mr. Crowe. You keep insisting that I agree with the media’s take on what the Pope said and that is simply not the case and you can not pick one word from what I have written to support your assertion.

        That aside, more and more obviously orthodox Christian Catholics are publicly beginning to question the wisdom of the Pope’s approach to this issue.

        I do not think that those who love this Pope are doing themselves any favors by repeatedly insisting that The Pope shares no culpability in this badly mishandled matter.

        After this last post on this matter, I will write no more because it is a bit nettlesome to be repeatedly told I agree with the media’s take when I clearly do not.

        Here is Jimmy Akin’s take.


  • marv!!!

    I guess we really need to wait for clarification regarding what the Pope said or didn’t say. What bothers me is that millions of lives could be saved and yet it seems so many people ae hoping the Pope didn’t actually say what has been reported.

    • Bruce

      You stated: “The Pope stated that condom use was acceptable to reduce the spread of the HIV virus.” But now you have stated: “We really need to wait for clarification regarding what the Pope said or didn’t say.” So I shall ask you again: (1) Can you please tell us where the Pope said condom use was acceptable?

      • Scott W.

        Wait a minute. I thought the Church was irrelevant. How does the Church saying anything one way or the other save millions of lives? To wit: If you are an obedient Catholic, you will never get HIV, if you are not, you aren’t listening to the Church in any case. Ohh I get it, millions of lives will be saved if the Church tells everyone what they want to hear. /faceplam.

        • Bruce

          It is the “gotcha” culture that the West has substituted for actual discussion. The constant desire to catch an enemy in an apparent contradiction in all things political or even merely conversational, has brought us to this point. The media and critics of the Church wanted to pose a “gotcha” question, similar to the following scenario. The U.S. government outlaws murder. If you kill someone, you are punished for murder. If you kill more than one person, you are punished for additional murders as well, thus adding to the original crime and making for a harsher sentence. Does that mean that if a person kills only one victim, but chooses not to kill anyone else, it justifies his act of homicide since he limited his murders to just one person? Of course not, for that is an unreasonable conclusion. Murder is always evil, but reason (which the Church is one of the last promoters of) would suggest that it is better to limit evil when it occurs than to do nothing to restrain the scale of its destruction. That is called being pastoral to a sinner in a evil situation. Good counsel would advise an active sinner to stop sinning and thus limit the amount of destruction to that which he has already committed. The Church knows that we will be responsible for every sin we commit here when we face judgment, and has a duty to correct our mistakes when we make them, and if She cannot fix the problems, at least help us to limit them and hope for the mercy of Christ. Such pastoral concern has been a hallmark of Church since its inception. There is no change in teaching here.

          In a case where a man commits suicide by intentionally blowing himself up in a movie theater, thus taking along with him 57 innocent bystanders nearby, the Church would condemn both the act of suicide as well as the murder of the bystanders. There is nothing moral about the entire situation. However, the Church would not simply condemn the act of suicide alone and consider the deaths of the others as being irrelevant. It would go against reason to ignore their deaths as not being an additional evil act along with the original evil act. Their deaths were the act of an additional mortal sin. In the case where the unavoidable act of suicide would NOT have taken the lives of the others, the Church would say that was it was a terribly sinful and immoral act, but a better situation than the first, while NEVER condoning the act of suicide in the first place. To say that the Church therefore approves of suicide so long as it does not kill anyone else is simply an illogical conclusion. It would be illogical for the Church to condemn suicide alone, but not the additional murder of innocent bystanders. Similarly, it would be illogical for the Church to condemn contraception alone, without acknowledging the sinfulness of willfully giving someone a deadly disease as well. The Church would logically condemn both actions, and would not approve of either action, even if the presence of one instead of the other would make for one less sinful act. Whether one fornicates with a condom or without does not matter in terms of going to Hell if that person is unrepentant. If they add additional sins to it, such as intentionally giving someone a deadly disease, they will have to answer for additional sinful repercussions of their first sin. If they choose not to commit additional sins, it still does not excuse the first sin. Our laws already reflect this.



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