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Debate: Was the Pope wise to agree to the Peter Seewald interview?

Or should he have listened to Fr Lombardi?

By on Friday, 26 November 2010

Pope Benedict XVI holds a copy of Light of the World with its author Peter Seewald, left, and Archbishop Rino Fisichella (Photo: PA)

Pope Benedict XVI holds a copy of Light of the World with its author Peter Seewald, left, and Archbishop Rino Fisichella (Photo: PA)

Fr Federico Lombardi, the Vatican press spokesman, tried to dissuade Pope Benedict XVI from going ahead with the Peter Seewald interview, it emerged this week.

According to the Italian blogger Andrés Beltramo, Fr Lombardi had said that in the current media climate it would be “a huge risk”. The Pope, though, was not worried. Beltramo says he responded to Fr Lombardi’s comments with “the knowing smile of a Pope who knew what he was doing”.

But was he right to dismiss Fr Lombardi’s concerns? The media always tend to simplify and distort what the Pope says; many Catholics believed last weekend that he wanted to change Church teaching on condoms – until they actually read what he said. Even now, his comments still cause confusion.

On the other hand, aside from all the controversy about condoms, Light of the World is a brilliant book. It shows the Pope’s thinking in all its clarity, wisdom and beauty. And it’s being whisked off the shelves: through it he is able to speak to millions of people who otherwise might not listen to what he had to say.

So, was it wise for the Pope to give the interview? Or should he have just written a book himself, and thus limited the risk of his words being distorted?

  • Jack Regan

    Interesting question, and I'm sure you'll get some interesting answers too (some polite, some less so). Personally I think there is rarely anything to lose by stimulating debate and making people think – even if that means shaking them a little bit. I also think that there is little to lose and everything to gain by taking a trip into the thoughts of one of the greatest minds of the last few centuries.

    Some might argue that the Holy Father was unwise to leave himself open to misinterpretation and to being caught off-guard, but if our faith is based on a veneer of unhuman perfection being present in our leaders (aside from infallibility, of course) which we dare never expose to any chance of damage, then that faith is pretty shaky to be honest.

    I have ordered a copy of the book and I'm really looking forward to getting stuck into it.

  • Eterioherrera60

    it depends on what ever issue he was bringing upfront, condom to stop AIDS is always a good issue

  • Rory

    Yes, it was wise for the pope to give the interview. Having read the book, I can say that beauty and depth of the Holy Father's words will be a great inspiration to those “on the way” to God. It was the earlier books with Seewald that brought me back to the faith. The benefits far outweigh the risks!

    A question though…Beltramo says that Fr. Lombardi “tried to dissuade Pope Benedict XVI from going ahead with the Peter Seewald interview”…”a few hours before the worldwide launch”??? Isn't that a bit late?!

  • M Forrestal

    I think the Pope knew exactly what he was doing. And he knows P.S. He was interviewed by him before he became pope, and made some very pertinent comments about animal cruelty in that same interview.

    Plus it´s a great advertising ploy: get the masses interested in what the Pope has to say about Aids and condoms is a sure way to move his book off the shelves!!!

  • Anncouper-johnston

    Moral theology (any theology) deals in fine distinctions: journalists (especially secular ones) don't do fine distinctions; they do soundbites. However the Pope expressed himself, it would get distorted. Add to that the fact that most people don't know the difference between objective sin (which has to be black and white, because people have to know what is right and what isn't) and subjective sin (where you can approach the individual taking account of particular circumstances, which it seems is what the Pope was doing).

    I believe this illustrates a more general question which is important in our approach to our fellow human beings in a society in which acceptable behaviour has diverged much more from Church teaching than once was the case. As a result the teaching is seen as unduly harsh and restrictive. If I conduct a debate with a Catholic or Christian organisation on the Internet (I have many Catholic friends online) I present the teaching of the Church; as a Catholic, that is what I am bound to do (if I know there are non-Catholics in the discussion, I try to get in some statement to the effect that I am not a professional – neither theologian nor priest). However, all sorts and conditions of men may read what I write: I have on occasions been reprimanded along the lines of “we must not judge: love is the most important thing”. On one occasion I did explain the difference between objective sin (a general statement of fact that an action is sinful: it just is, no ifs and buts) and subjective sin (can you say that the couple living together are guilty of sin when no-one has ever taught them the beauty of marriage and everyone around them accepts their way of life anyway – you need knowledge to commit a sin).

    To whom do I address my comments? If I give the teaching of the Church straight (and so often it is muddled, as it was initially in this case, so in counterbalance we need to state it clearly) I may well dissuade the common man from the Church – he is not yet ready for that, and I should start where he is, rather than where I am, if I am to connect with him. I believe people deserve to know the Truth that will set them free; it is their right to know, but how and when?

  • paulpriest

    I should neither seek nor follow Lombardi's advice on which breakfast cereal to eat; let alone what His Holiness should do. He should be summarily dismissed for his lethal misguided 'embellishments' forthwith.

  • David Armitage

    It certainly circumvents the incovenience of collegiality and the fatigue of discussion. Much cheaper than councils. Not sure where the Holy Spirit comes in on this development of doctrine, but I think he got to most Catholics on the contraceptive issue. Don't worry, he whispered about Popes,Cardinals ans Bishops, they'll get there in the end! In Jesus's day the Holy Spirit was subversive. Today?

  • 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!

  • GFFM

    Of course he should have done the interview. Like his predecessor, his motto seems to be “Be not afraid.” What can be wrong with telling it as he sees it? However, his openness does not offset Lombardi's limited public communication savvy. The Pope would do well to hire a solid, faithful, sharp lay person who is tuned into the new social technologies and who can deal with the mainstream media and its invincible ignorance. Lombardi is clearly not that person.

  • EditorCT

    “Be not afraid”? Pope Benedict should be totally terrified. He's done more harm to the Church in that one interview, than the Orange Order have managed to do in their entire existence.

    Never mind getting people with communication skills to keep the Pope right – if he revises Catholic moral theology, he'll soon realise his error and call a press conference to correct it,

    What this scandal has highlighted is not merely the ignorance of Catholics about the nature and universality of the moral law but their Catholic sense. Razor sharp it is NOT.