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A landmark in the ministry of Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict’s interview with Peter Seewald marks an important moment in the Holy Father’s ministry

By on Wednesday, 24 November 2010

On Tuesday, publishers around the world released the first-ever book based on a face-to-face interview with a pontiff. The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano printed the first extracts days earlier, generating what one commentator called “the world’s most successful pre-book launch hype”.

That hype, of course, focused on Benedict XVI’s remarks about Aids and condoms. But there is so much else besides in Light of the World. The interview by the veteran German journalist Peter Seewald offers arguably the most intimate portrait of a serving pope in history. The figure that emerges is compelling: Pope Benedict possesses an all too rare combination of humble faith and sparkling intellect, which enlivens even the most commonplace topics. He also displays a bracing realism about the challenges facing the Church, both from within and without.

We want, in particular, to draw your attention to the Pope’s words on the abuse crisis. We hope that these will help the faithful who watched in dismay when, as the Holy Father puts it, “a tremendous cloud of filth” descended on the Church earlier this year.

Benedict XVI’s comments about condoms have disappointed some Catholics and elated others. We believe that, correctly understood, they should be welcomed. The Pope was not, of course, altering Catholic teaching on contraception or setting aside the Church’s conviction that condoms are not a moral solution to the Aids crisis.

Nevertheless, as the Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said, Pope Benedict was making an important and original contribution to the debate about what the Church should say to those with HIV whose sexual activity exposes others to mortal risk. In speaking of a “first step in the direction of a moralisation” of sexuality the Holy Father is offering us a new language with which to explain how Church teaching applies to such cases. We encourage everyone to reflect deeply on the Pope’s precise words and to recognise that Benedict XVI is seeking, above all, to show those who are living far beyond the Church the path that leads to God.

No one who reads Light of the World will be left in any doubt about the Pope’s top priority: to make God known to everyone alive today. This book is an important landmark in that mission.

  • KatyRadcliffe

    I cannot WAIT to get my copy!

  • Jack Regan

    Good review, thank you.

    As a German speaker, I am trying to get my hands on a German copy, but it's proving difficult. Given some of the debates about languages and meaning over the last few days, I think it might be better to read it in the original :)

  • EditorCT

    I've absolutely no intention of participating in another battle on this subject (I've been busy on the Staff Reporter thread on this) but I want to make two points.

    Firstly, I think an author should put his name to his or her work. So, to attribute an article to “The Catholic Herald” or to “The Staff Reporter” is unacceptable. Having read the above piece, I can well understand why a Catholic might be reluctant to be identified, but I want to make the point that articles attributed to the name of a newspaper, or a “Staff Reporter,” is a nonsense.

    My second point is that this news, that the Pope is now affiliated to the “safe sex” lobby, entirely contradicts previous teaching: “it is never permissible to sanction, encourage or do an intrinsically evil act so that good may come from it (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1756), even in cases when “the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general” (Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, no. 14).

    Seems very clear to me but then, as I've said before, I'm a simple gal. I've made my point, now, and since I've already contributed a great deal on the other blog on this subject, and since I've gotten behind with everything and have things to do, people to see tomorrow, I'll bow out and leave you to your convoluted efforts to defend the indefensible.

    And please spare me – I know that the Pope reaffirmed Catholic teaching on condom use. He did that in the same breath that he contradicted his previous statement about condoms actually making the HIV infection rate worse (during his African trip.) Now he thinks using a condom might lead a homosexual, woman or transsexual to become a more moral person. God help us all.

    Over and out!

  • Jamie MacNab

    As a newcomer here, I am curious as to the name of 'Editor CT'. In general, I am baffled by the sheer number of acronyms and abbreviations that appear in Catholic publications. Perhaps we could have some plain English.

  • paulpriest

    Oh Madam Editrix

    The Pope is MOST DEFINITELY NOT promoting condom use – nor is he to be sneeringly dismissed as a member of the 'safe sex' brigade – He is the Successor to Peter and affords a little respect and the benignity of assuming the best motive in all things before its proven to the contrary!

    In this regard you are a scoundrel Ma'am – invariably adopting the presumptive ill-intention and worst possible motive – You seem to forget you are no longer dealing with a misguided Paul VI or a hostaged John Paul II – But the cleverest man to take the throne since Pius XI – and probably the most clear-thinking since Innocent XI.

    You are perfectly entitled to disagree with the Pope's position that the prostitute's use of the condom was indicative of a spark of common decency, a more human degree of concern and from a Thomistic perspective – a minimal moralising factor amidst grave intrinsic moral disorder. You are entitled to adopt a Kantian deontological approach that not aggravating the sin further has no moralising value whatsoever [as Frs John Boyle and Fr Tim Finigan conclude]

    BUT – you are expressly forbidden to infer from this that His Holiness was advocating condom use – when it is blatantly obvious that he is commending the motive – not the means – as the 'step towards moralising'.

    Now I'm afraid you're simply in error in regard to contraception – the person using it may be a grave mortal sinner doing that which is evil – but objectively artificial contraception – because it can be used for other intents…

    [e.g. medical provisions - the pill [with abstinence to avoid its abortifacient effects] can be utilised to regulate menstrual cycles and thus promote fertility; the condom can be used during lovemaking where a vagina is too acidic and spermicidal and the sperm transferred to within the cervix [assisted ferilisation approved since the time of Pius XII's allocutios]]

    …and can be utilised in positions of moral dilemma to prevent a grave objective [lethal] evil occurring
    [e.g. forced gay rape or enslaved prostitution]

    Holy Mother Church has classified artificial contraception as an INTRINSIC MORAL DISORDER [check the Latin in humanae vitae#14 - it's disordo - not malo] ; for if it were an OBJECTIVE EVIL [like abortion, judicial murder, euthanasia, eugenics, bearing false witness, apostasy etc] it could never have any due recourse without grave sin – it would ALWAYS be proscribed.

    Now you're imposing the rules for objective evil onto an intrinsic moral disorder – if you extrapolated this paradigm it would be impossible to kill anyone in self-defence ; or resort to a just war – because moral dilemma rules [where an intrinsically morally disordered act is permitted to prevent an object moral evil occurring] would be forbidden !!!!

    You duplicitously impose a paradigm which is erroneous.

    Humanae Vitae does indeed forbid contraception use as you state ; but His Holiness was not referring to condom use as the moral agent – to the contrary he was arguing it was the 'spark of common decency' that was the moral agent – the motive – NOT THE MEANS FOLLOWING THE MOTIVE – implying it could be a moral beginning…

    I suggest you issue a retraction – before you lose all credibility….

  • FrHeythrop

    “We encourage everyone to reflect deeply on the Pope’s precise words” …….quite.

  • EditorCT


    You accuse me of questioning the Pope's motives. Nowhere, in any of my comments on this subject, have I mentioned motives at all, let alone attributed bad motives to the Pope. We may NEVER attribute motives – how can anyone possibly know anyone else's motives. If asked to speculate, I'd say that the Pope's motives are good – like his motivation for pursuing the scandal of ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue – he thinks he will be helping, somehow, to take people forward. Not true. Even the secular media pundits are laughing at the idea that prostitutes will be toasting the Pope and deciding to use condoms as a first step on the road to moral responsibility. Given that they don't think they're doing anything wrong in the first place, that, the media commentators are saying with a smile, is hilarious. And, of course, the “safe-sex” brigade have welcomed the Pope's comments with delight – even the mastermind behind the Soho “gay” Masses – ex-priest Martin Pendergast – is now a fan. Go figure, as our American cousins would say.

    I'm not interested in the Pope's motives. I'm concerned only that he has thrown the Church into turmoil by his departure from Catholic teaching on prostitution and condom use That's all. However good his motives may be – like the bank robber who hands the proceeds of his crime to Children in Need – he's wrong.

    The rest of your post is yet another convoluted attempt to defend the indefensible. I know perfectly well that the original use of the pill was for the regulation of menstrual cycles – but it's not exactly at the top of the answers in any “Do you know” quiz in sex education programmes. The pill is widely used as a contraceptive and any attempt to deliberately prevent conception is an evil. The Thomistic definition of evil is “the absence of the good that might be expected” from something – so, it is disingenuous of you to apply only a literal definition.

    However, the issue here is not contraception. The “evil” which is being apparently tolerated by the Pope is the evil of prostitution and – since the “clarification” – transsexuality, if that's the word. So, a good attempt at clouding the issue, paulpriest. But not on. That part of the quote from Humanae Vitae which I cited – the bit which you neatly ignore – is a moral precept applicable, not only to contraception: that is, the part which makes clear that it is never permitted to do evil (or if you prefer, something morally disordered) “…even in cases when “the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general.” That is an elementary precept of moral theology. We may never do evil, even if the intention (motive) is to effect good. The answer to the example you cite, killing/self defence, is quite simply that the universal law applies to innocent life which is why we may, -as a last resort, kill in war or self-defence, why nations may use capital punishment. It would, however, never be permitted to kill innocent human life even for a perceived good outcome (abortion and euthanasis being the most obvious examples.)

    I'm not surprised that the priests you name are part of the damage limitation circus. We live in hope for a modern day St John Ogilvie or Bishop John Fisher to help us in this terrible crisis of faith and authority, but to date no priests of that calibre have shown themselves willing to speak out about the truth of the extent of the seriousness of the apostasy. They are desperately trying to pretend that everything is fine, we're all a united “community” when the fact is that the same people who are crying “infallible” about this bout of papal opinion expressing are the same disobedient bunch who use every trick in the linguistic book to deny that the teaching of Humanae Vitae is infallible, which it is, of course, in the very nature of that teaching. Rather than speak out and correct these people, the bulk of the clergy want to cover up the dissent and pretend – in the name of “good relationships” or “unity” – that all is well. All is NOT well and to go along with these scandals is to be complicit in them.

    Finally, don't you worry about my “credibility.” If I'm wrong about this, I'll be delighted and readily acknowledge the truth of the matter. But if I'm wrong, so are an awful lot of other people – including the “top theologian” who said that the Pope's clarification made the confusion worse.

  • EditorCT

    Jamie MacNab,

    My username indicates that I am editor of Catholic Truth – a humble newsletter published in Scotland.

    I do agree with you that it would be very helpful to know the real identities of bloggers (anyone who wants to check my identity need only visit our website. Our battles with various secular publications, referred to the Press Complaints Commission, are listed on there)

    My name is Patricia, and pleased to meet you, Jamie!

  • paulpriest

    …and still she doesn't get it.

    You don't realise what you're doing: How long do you reckon you've been a donatist?

    I can't help you till you stop fighting the wrong battles against the wrong people with the VERY wrong arguments.

    Lady – you can't even justify self-defence – and when it comes to even the semi-deifficult stuff you fall back on the morally heinous justification for capital punishment – 'not taking innocent life' without realising unless you get the morality right you're guilty of conspiracy [can 1329#2] with the latae sententiae excommunicable offence of judicial murder – so how can you be expected to promote any part of moral theology if you fall flat at the most basic of hurdles ?

    How can you possibly defend yourself if you don't know the difference in moral disorder, intrinsic moral disorder and objective evil ?

    I won't deny you're recognising what's wrong – but you can't understand why it's wrong – to you it just is!

    At present you're too irrationally outraged at the fallout of what the Pope said, what others think he said and what you misguidedly think he said.

    Step back ! Think about what you're doing – because you're becoming part of the problem – what was it Alan Breck said ? “I'd sooner have have ten foes in front of me than one friend like you cracking pistols at my back.”

  • EditorCT

    Well, paulpriest, I spent all afternoon today on the east coast of Scotland. I had newsletter business in Edinburgh and then had to drive on to Peebles in the Scottish Borders. If I thought it was cold there, it's nothing to the temperature on this here blog.

    I'm astonished at your comments, but – I hope you understand – having just got home and with a cold coming on, I need to hit the hay. Long drive.

    Tomorrow, I have a number of appointments but I am just itching to reply to your post, so trust me, I'll be back asap. If not tomorrow, which I'll try to do, definitely Sunday, God willing.

    But me, a Donatist? True, I like the odd doughnut, but I wouldn't say I was a fanatic about them…

  • Jamie MacNab

    Thank you for introducing yourself, Patricia. I hope you understand that I did not intend to be impertinent. I really am confused by all the abbreviations, acronyms and nicknames.

    It would indeed be helpful to know the real identities of bloggers, but I am happy with pseudonyms (as I use) and with sensible other words.

    Right! I have made a date with Catholic Truth as a stage in my odyssey.

  • EditorCT

    Welcome aboard, Jamie!

  • EditorCT


    I've edited my post of two days ago – see below – to respond to you, in full.

  • EditorCT

    Hilariously, the clearest commentary yet on the Pope's condom remarks, comes from Dici – you know, the website of those “schismatic” St Pius X people!

    Truly, you just could not make this stuff up!