Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Light of the World and the Mainstream Media

Ignatius Press president Mark Brumley has been busy fielding questions about Light of the World from a multitude of media sources. But they all seem to ask the same questions…

Mainstream Media:  So the Pope has written a book about condoms!

Mark Brumley: Well, actually, it’s an interview book.  And journalist Peter Seewald interviewed Benedict about a wide-range of topics, not just about condoms.

MM: Yes, but condoms must be a major theme of the book.  Look at all the coverage that has focused on condoms!

Mark: Actually, the Pope’s comments about condoms cover only about two pages out of about 200 pages of Q & As.

MM: Well, what did the Pope say about condoms?

Mark: You can go here and read for yourself what he said.

MM:  Many readers won’t want to be bothered to do that.  Can’t you just tell us?

Mark: Really, the Pope’s remarks aren’t very long.  And Ignatius Press has gone to the trouble to have them translated into English, so English-speakers can read them for themselves.

MM:  I’m sure people appreciate that, Mr. Brumley, but, please, summarize things for us.  When can we use condoms, according to the Pope?

Mark: The Pope never said we may use condoms.

MM: That’s not what I read online.  I read the headline “Pope Approves Condoms” or something like that.

Mark: May I suggest that you and your readers actually look at what the Pope said?

MM: Mr. Brumley, you seem like you’re trying to dodge my question.  Please, answer my question.  When, according to the Pope, may we use condoms?

Mark: Ok. Let me try to explain this to you.  The Pope did not approve condom use.  Not even on rare occasions, contrary to what some media reports said.

MM: Not unless you’re a male prostitute.  Then you can, he said.

Mark: No. He didn’t. 

MM: Mr. Brumley, you’re being evasive.

Mark: Show me where he said that a male prostitute may use a condom.

MM: “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.”

Mark: Well, at least you’re actually referring to the Pope’s own words.  So where does the Pope say that it is morally permissible for the male prostitute to use condoms?

MM: “There may be a basis in the case of some individuals …”

Mark: He says there may be a basis, not that there is justification.  A basis for what?  To wear a condom or for a first step to sound morality?

MM: To wear a condom, of course!

Mark: That’s not clear at all.  But let’s assume you’re right.  Let’s assume he says that there may be a basis for wearing a condom.  To say that “there may be a basis” isn’t the same as saying “someone is justified”.  But let’s assume he means, “There may be justification”. 

MM: Yes.

Mark: “May be” doesn’t mean “certainly is”. 

MM: I don’t follow you.

Mark:  Well, buy a lottery ticket.  “You may be a winner” doesn’t mean “You won!”.  At best, the Pope would be speculating on the possibility of condoms being justified in a specific case.  But possibility isn’t certainty.  Now read the rest of his comments.

MM: The rest?

Mark: Yes. Read Peter Seewald’s follow up question and the Pope’s reply.

MM: Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

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.

Mark: Notice that the pope says that the Church doesn’t regard condoms as a “moral solution”.  How can you say, then, that the Pope says condom use may be “justified”?  Justified means “morally justified”.  How can something that is not a moral solution be morally justified?

MM: Ok. But he goes on to say that condoms are ok if they’re a first step toward doing the right thing.

Mark: No.  He says the intention of reducing the risk of infection, in this or that case, can be a first step in the right direction.  It’s the intention of protecting another human being that the Pope commends, not the use of condoms. 

MM: I don’t understand.

Mark: Well, someone can intend to protect his partner from infection. In doing so, he may see that sexual relations aren’t just about his own pleasure or even mutual pleasure.  That he really does have to put the welfare of the other ahead of his pleasure or, if he is a prostitute, his livelihood, such that it is.  He may begin to think about his personal responsibility for his sexual actions.  And that may lead him eventually to reconsider prostitution and perhaps even same-sex genital activities.

MM: How likely is that?

Mark: I don’t know.  The Pope wasn’t addressing the likelihood of it.  He was only pointing to one positive aspect to something he otherwise characterized as not “a moral solution”.

MM: That doesn’t sound to me like he has changed his mind on condoms.  He still doesn’t think they’re a moral solution to prevent AIDS.  He still wants gay people to stop having sexual relations.  He still sees sex as intended for marriage between a man and a woman. 

Mark: Exactly.

Mark Brumley is President of Ignatius Press. A former staff apologist with Catholic Answers, Mark is the author of How Not To Share Your Faith (Catholic Answers) and contributor to The Five Issues That Matter Most. He is a regular contributor to the InsightScoop web log. He has written articles for numerous periodicals and has appeared on FOX NEWS, ABC NEWS, EWTN, PBS's NewsHour, and other television and radio programs.


  1. Oh Mark, you are priceless! What a great way to handle this disaster!

  2. You did forget to incorporate the fact, though, that the book says it expresses his private opinion and not official Catholic teaching.

  3. Thank you Mark for exposing the media as the problem here. Instead of reporting the truth, MM aims to produce reader interest through sensationalism. Whatever happened to unbiased, truthful interviewing and reporting?

    Your comments in regards to the questions from "Mainstream Media" sounded more like a courtroom cross examination than an interview. :>)

  4. Mark,

    I only got as far as reading the actual excerpt and I was already convinced that the Pope didn't ever say anything in allowing use of condoms.

    Great job!

  5. Thanks Mark - I feel well prepared for post-Thanksgiving dinner banter!

  6. Eric,

    That really doesn't matter. For the MSM (who pretends to not understand what the Church teaches so they can feign ignorance for shoddy reporting) and the anti-Catholics (the target of the MSM, who actually do not understand Church teaching), stating that will go over their heads and earn you the accusation that you are dodging the direct question by appealing to a technicality.

    It's much preferable to explain what the Pope actually said in language that USA Today readers (5th grade reading skill) can understand.

  7. Very good article, Mark, I like it a lot, thank you.

    I would like to add one comment: the superficial reporting of the Pope's words did not happen only in the mainstream media, I can think of numerous Catholic bloggers or people who went along with it. And the reason is because they have either 1) a superficial understanding of the faith or 2) because they have a personal specific reason NOT to follow the Church's teachings (for instance if they are already using contraception or if they are sexually promiscuous or 3) if their bottom line position is that it is up to THEM to decide what they'll do sexually etc), in which case, such people with a sort of engrained bias against the Church teachings will not "listen" to the Pope's words.

    And finally, I'll add that all this brouhaha did open the door for all of us, faithful and engaged believers - to talk about sex and marriage, fidelity and chastity and true love... so I don't think it is a disaster at all (as the very 1st comment said). But you managed to be funny too and I thank you for it!

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