When the pope’s comments on condoms ignited (yet another) controversy over the Church’s teaching on the subject one month ago, I and others were criticized for allegedly reading into the pope’s words what we wanted him to say. It was claimed we were twisting the pope’s words to suit our opinion.
Yesterday the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a clarification statement which supports our claim – that the pope introduced no new teaching and suggested no new pastoral practice in his condom comments – was correct. By a process of simple logic, this means that it was the revisionists – individuals who argued the pope had changed or “updated” the Church’s teaching – who were guilty of reading into the pope’s comments (as I have claimed from the beginning). Matt Bowman has already done a fine job of explaining the CDF statement. I want to examine the debate which led up to it.
This was not a debate between two valid views, one of which was vindicated and one of which was ruled out. Rather, it was a debate between those who approached this issue with the totality of the Church’s teaching and those who viewed this issue through a biased personal lens. Some people want the Church to change its teaching on condoms, and are thereby prone to getting the pope’s comments wrong.
Some at the Huffington Post were so misguided as to claim that two saints supported the pope’s statement on condoms (that is, back when the author thought the pope was allowing their use). Will they now admit that the pope’s actual comments are truly supported by the saints?
Some at Commonweal hailed the pope’s comments as “literally life-saving” (odd, considering the type of behavior under discussion). Will they now admit the pope’s actual comments are soul-saving?
Some at America Magazine accused us of unfairly “narrowing” the pope’s comments because “Change can be frightening” (to us, apparently). Will they now admit they unfairly broadened (and in fact, misunderstood) the pope’s comments and were needlessly afraid of unchanging truths?
Some at National Catholic Reporter sputtered nonsense about our being guilty of “binary analysis” and that we fail to see that “we live our lives in a world of grey?” Will they now admit the pope’s actual comments suggest a world of moral laws to be followed both day and night?
Some at the UK Telegraph claimed we were “secretly cross at the pope” and couldn’t bring ourselves to admit that we disagreed with him. Will they now admit to secretly having disagreed with the Church’s teaching before they thought the pope had changed his mind and are now back to secretly disagreeing with the Church’s position – in effect, being cross at him?
I cite these examples and ask these questions because I want my readers to see what I saw when I first saw all these usual (and a few unusual) suspects instantly taking the pope so seriously once they thought he had given up a position they disagreed with and had embraced their own: I saw hypocrisy. This hypocrisy came out the most strongly when they proceeded to charge me and others who agreed with me of holding to our views more closely than the teachings of the pope and the Church.
So I’ll make this simple and ask them to follow suit: I’ve always agreed with the Church’s teaching on contraception and that “an action which is objectively evil, even if a lesser evil, can never be licitly willed.” Therefore, the pope was never saying the choice of using a condom for an immoral act can be licit. And I never disagreed with the pope on this issue because I never believed he had modified this teaching of the Church or departed from it. Now that the CDF has authoritatively commented on the question and confirmed my original understanding of the pope’s comments, I renew my firm commitment to that teaching, having never strayed from it in the first place.
The above is a statement which none of those who disagreed with my “interpretation” of the pope’s comments can say. Because they can’t, only one question remains: who was actually guilty of twisting the pope’s words to suit their personal opinion?
I’m harping on this for one reason: this same problematic comes up time and time again when Catholic issues are debated. On the one hand, you have Catholics who proudly support the Church’s teaching (and say so), and on the other, you have those who have at best a conflicted support of the Church’s teaching. I have no problem debating these issues, but I think I can remain reasonably pessimistic of making any progress on these debates if my interlocutors refuse to debate the issue as Catholics, and refuse to admit they are debating their personal views, not the views of the Church.
I believe that to be Catholic means to be joyfully following the teachings of the Church. And I propose that my position throughout this debate over the pope’s comments have reflected this commitment.
As for those who disagreed with my position, what do they believe?