IGWILO: CONDOM AND THE POPE
I WRITE in respect of the piece in your paper, 'The Pope and condom' (The Guardian , November 24), by Idang Alibi. This article leaves a sore taste in one's mouth as it is possible for a columnist to just wake up and write about something he knows absolutely nothing about! But one could imagine that the Western press has a great stranglehold on the Nigerian press that is why such a sensitive thing, like the statement made by the Pope could be misinterpreted and used to misinform the public. It is pretty certain that Mr. Alibi did not read the actual excerpt from the book and if he read it, and would like to join the bandwagon of attacks against the Catholic Church, well and good. The Catholic Church no matter what you say, was established by Jesus Christ and it remains the only credible remaining moral voice in the world. Mr. Alibi was suggesting that the 'misinterpreted' Pope's comment was an enactment of the Church's hierarchy. Nothing could be further from the truth.
As Mr. Alibi certainly does not know, the Pope cannot change any piece of doctrine of the Church. In this case therefore, he has not changed anything not to talk of the hierarchy! Mr. Alibi should simply keep quiet as he has shown from his article that he knows next to nothing about the Catholic Church. The suggestion that the 'decision' may have been from homosexual priests is even more laughable as Mr. Alibi may not know that there are no homosexual priests in the Catholic Church contrary to what you read in your Western press. The Catholic Church has been in the forefront of condemnation of Homosexuality as something that runs contrary to natural laws.
He went ahead to make forays into pneumatology, which is the most abused aspect of Christian theology in Nigeria by asking whether the decision was inspired by the Holy Spirit. For the interest of clarity, no decision has been taken by the Church on how Catholics should conduct themselves in matters relating to condoms. On the Holy Spirit, she acts in inexplicable ways and humans interpret through careful and lengthy analysis. The method of this analysis could be sifted from the more than 2000-year history of the Church. This is unlike your traditional Nigerian night-vigil interactions with the Holy Spirit when she talks through the phone, seemingly. Mr. Alabi made a statement that is true about what he does not understand. He said that research has shown that condoms do not protect against HIV. This is true but he went ahead to suggest that the advent of HIV is as a result of sexual immoralities. This is not true since medical science is still grappling with details to determine the origins of this disease.
For the interest of the readers who have been mangled by this insidious misinterpretation of the Pope's comment, it is important that we know that the Pope's comment was an excerpt of a book he has just published and released called Light of the World. Like any other book written by the Pope, it is not a book about Catholic Doctrines or Dogma or a book about what is binding on every Catholic. He has written many books before, making him one of the most prolific Popes ever. But all the books cannot be binding on Catholics. But they serve as avenues for insights on matters of the Church and life generally.
So, reading from the book, Light of the world, what the Pope said is:
'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 moralisation, 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.' This was in response to the question: 'Is it not madness for the church to continue to fight against condom use in the face of the AIDS epidemic'. The interviewer asked another question in this line: 'Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?' The Pope responded: 'She (the Church) 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'.
These are the responses that have caused so much madness in major media outlets abroad through which Mr. Alibi was misinformed. The correct interpretation will be that we must note that the example that Pope Benedict gives for the use of a condom is a male prostitute. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that he is referring to a male prostitute engaged in homosexual acts. The Holy Father is simply observing that for some homosexual prostitutes, the use of a condom may indicate an awakening of a moral sense; an awakening that sexual pleasure is not the highest value, but that we must take care that we harm no one with our choices.
He is not speaking to the morality of the use of a condom, but to something that may be true about the psychological state of those who use them. If such individuals are using condoms to avoid harming another, they may eventually realize that sexual acts between members of the same sex are inherently harmful since they are not in accord with human nature. The Holy Father, or the Hierarchy, does not in any way think the use of condoms is a part of the solution to reducing the risk of AIDS. As he explicitly states, the true solution involves 'humanizing sexuality.' Anyone having sex that threatens to transmit HIV needs to grow in moral discernment. This is why Benedict focused on a 'first step' in moral growth. The Church is always going to be focused on moving people away from immoral acts towards love of Jesus, virtue, and holiness. We can say that the Holy Father clearly did not want to make a point about condoms, but wants to talk about growth in a moral sense, which should be a growth towards Jesus.
Mr. Alibi, and others in the press, should live up to the call of being columnists as misinforming the public in matters we do not have clear understanding about is a Mortal sin!
• Igwilo is with Bells University of Technology, Ota, Ogun State.