Cardinal Burke: What the Pope Really Meant

Freshly minted Cardinal Raymond Burke discusses the controversy regarding ‘Light of the World,’ and what it’s like to work in Ratzinger’s Rome

by John Burger

Cardinal Raymond Burke is prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the court of final appeal at the Vatican.

The Wisconsin native is the first American to hold that curial position. Pope Benedict XVI, who appointed him to the post in 2008, elevated him to cardinal Nov. 20, along with American Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., and 22 other bishops and archbishops from around the world.

In the midst of activities related to the consistory of Nov. 22, Cardinal Burke took some time to read an advance copy of Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times, Pope Benedict’s book-length interview with German journalist Peter Seewald, just as a controversy about the Pope’s views on condom use broke in the press. Cardinal Burke discussed the issue by phone Nov. 24 with Register news editor John Burger.

In Light of the World, Peter Seewald poses the objection that “it is madness to forbid a high-risk population (AIDS) to use condoms. To which Pope Benedict answers, in part, “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. 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.”

Seewald asks for a clarification: “Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?” The Pope answers, “She of course does not regard it as a real or 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.”

What is the Pope saying here? Is he saying that in some cases condoms can be permitted?

No, it’s not. I don’t see any change in the Church’s teaching. What he’s commenting on — in fact, he makes the statement very clearly that the Church does not regard the use of condoms as a real or a moral solution — but what he’s talking about in the point he makes about the male prostitute is about a certain conversion process taking place in an individual’s life. He’s simply making the comment that a person who is given to prostitution, at least considers using a condom to prevent giving the disease to another person — even though the effectiveness of this is very questionable — this could be a sign of someone who is having a certain moral awakening. But in no way does it mean that prostitution is morally acceptable, nor does it mean that the use of condoms is morally acceptable. The point the Pope is making is about a certain growth in freedom, an overcoming of an enslavement to a sexual activity that is morally repugnant so that this concern to use a condom in order not to infect a sexual partner could at least be a sign of some moral awakening in the individual, which one hopes would lead the individual to understand that his activity is a trivialization of human sexuality and needs to be changed.

Is “the world” assuming too quickly that the Pope all of a sudden is open to “compromising” on condoms, that this may be a small yet significant opening toward “enlightenment” for the Catholic Church? For example: In rare cases, Pope justifies use of condoms (New York Times). “Condoms OK” in some cases — Pope (BBC). Boston Herald quoting male prostitutes saying “too little too late, but it may encourage condom use, and that’s a good thing.”

From what I’ve [been] seeing of the coverage in the media, I think that’s correct, that that’s what they’re trying to suggest. But if you read the text there’s no suggestion of that at all. It’s clear that the Pope is holding to what the Church has always taught in these matters. He starts out — the context of the question — he starts out by saying that when he was asked this question on the plane on his way to his pastoral visit to Africa, he felt that he was being provoked, and he wanted to draw attention to all that the Church is doing to care for AIDS victims. In Africa, the Church is the main agent of care for the AIDS victims, and so he was trying to draw some attention to that.

The text itself makes it very clear that he says the Church does not regard it as a real or moral solution. And when he says that it could be a first step in a movement toward a different, more human way of living sexuality, that doesn’t mean in any sense that he’s saying the use of condoms is a good thing.

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Thanks to our best buddy, Lisa Graas for the heads upon this one. Lisa can be found at “Lisa” and is on Twitter @LisaGraas and on Facebook. Lisa also is a regular blogger at David Horowitz’s News Real Blog.

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