Well, I’m glad that I am not handling
Vatican public relations. Here’s a curly one about condoms from Joseph
Ratzinger speaking as a private individual, and not as “The Vatican”, or “The
Holy Father”. Understandably, it is difficult to separate the two, which is why
we have a controversy. See Jack Valero, of Catholic Voices, a UK group,
attempting to explain it to the BBC in the YouTube video above.

Here’s what happened, as
related by Rachel Donadio
, of the New York Times, in an unusually nuanced

Back in July Peter Seewald, a German
journalist who scripted two previous books of interviews with Cardinal
Ratzinger, interviewed him again. This new book, “Light of the World: The Pope,
the Church and the Signs of the Times
,” will be published this week by Ignatius Press. (Boy, are they going to clean up on this one!)

In the book, [writes Ms Donadio] Benedict
said condoms were not “a real or moral solution” to the AIDS epidemic, adding,
“that can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.” But he also said
that “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.”

There have been various interpretations of
this brief remark. Janet Smith did a good job in Catholic
World Report

Let me try to interpret it myself.

The Pope is being subtle, a bit
too subtle for 30-second sound bites. He was just making the psychologically
realistic point that if (for instance), the Iranian government were to commute the
punishment for adultery from stoning to beheading because it was swifter
and more merciful, that would mark a moral advance. Its conscience, its sense
of human rights would have begun to stir. Which, in itself, is a good thing.
It’s far from being enough – as they are still executing women in an incredibly
barbaric way. But it would give a glimmer of hope that someday their attitude
would soften even further.

The point the Pope made related to gay
promiscuity — if someone starts using condoms so as not to endanger others, that
indicates a tiny step forward towards more compassion, and even towards a
proper understanding of sexuality. But gay sex, with or without condoms, remains wrong. 

I suggest that we all read the book before
getting too excited.

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet. He lives in Sydney, Australia.