John Zmirak

Sending up a Trial Balloon?

The pope's position, at face value, need not entail any development of doctrine.

Furthermore, a pope speaking only for himself, as a private theologian, does not even have the power to alter Catholic teaching. At least one pope, John XXII, while speaking as a private theologian, taught outright heresy. But this pope doesn't say things lightly, and it may be he's sending up a trial balloon, testing the reaction of the faithful to see if it would be prudent to add some shades of grey at the very edges of Catholic teaching.

The most traditional Catholic view of condom use is that it reduces an act of heterosexual intercourse to sodomy. The seed doesn't hit the ground, so what you have here is an intrinsically evil, unnatural act. The theology of Humanae Vitae --developed in response to non-barrier methods of birth control -- lays heavier emphasis on the issue of intent.

The contraceptive intent is intrinsically evil, but acts with licit intentions that had an accidental contraceptive effect might be moral -- for instance, if a woman takes a heart medication that also renders her sterile. If (and this is a very big if) some future non-private papal statement applied this logic to the use of condoms by married couples where one partner suffers from AIDS, it need not imperil the Church's core teaching on contraception. At least in theory. But pastorally, it could be seen as a crack in the wall, undermining the faith and practice of that crucial minority of Catholics who now obey Humanae Vitae -- who provide a vastly disproportionate percentage of the vocations, donations, and activism among Catholics.


Dr. John Zmirak is Writer-in-Residence at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts in New Hampshire, and author most recently of The Bad Catholic's Guide to the Seven Deadly Sins.

Amy Welborn

Pope Benedict and the Abandonment of the Self

Rather, the decisive thing is that we enter into something that is much greater. That we can get out of ourselves, as it were, and into the wide open spaces.  (Light of the World, 105)

As I read Light of the World, I was continually struck by the way in which abandonment of the self to God's will underlies so much of what Pope Benedict says.

I think those puzzled by him, who try to fit him into this or that box, might do well to reflect on what he says on . . . everything . . . in this light.

Whether it's matters of personal spirituality -- how he reacted to and accepted his election as pope, how he lives and governs the Church -- or the issues of the day, from the sexual abuse crisis to evangelization to liturgy -- Pope Benedict consistently turns the question back to this spot. I am a Christian; that means, as Paul says, it is not I, but Christ who lives in me. The more I put my own ego, desires, and agenda aside, the more closely I cleave to Christ.

And what happens then? It's what is alluded to in the quote above: we're loosened from the cramped, narrow self-centeredness of sin and brought into the expansive presence of God. "Wide open spaces" -- and how interesting that this is an answer to a question about liturgy.