Church in the World
‘Urgent need’ for sexual morality encyclicalChrista Pongratz-Lippitt - 4 December 2010
Bishop Klaus KUng of Sankt Pölten, Austria, has called for a new encyclical on the Church’s teaching on human sexuality, following the publication last week of Light of the World, a book of interviews with Pope Benedict XVI.
In-depth clarification and interpretation of Catholic teaching on sexual morality in a new encyclical was urgently required as Catholic practice and present church teaching were drifting further apart, Bishop Küng said in an interview in the German daily Die Tagespost. In the book of interviews with Peter Seewald, the Pope describes circumstances in which the use of condoms to protect against transmission of HIV might be “not a moral solution but … a first step towards a different, more human, way of living sexuality”.
“Action is urgently called for – not to change the Church’s teaching but to explain it in a new way so that everyone can easily understand it … and that would be possible in the form of an encyclical,” Bishop Küng said. He could imagine first of all establishing a commission to review all the problems under discussion connected with sexual morality. “It would be particularly important to include married couples and their experiences. It has become clearer and clearer that married couples are not only the recipients of the Church’s teaching but also in a sense important developers. We need young, mature people to show us how marriage can work and bring happiness,” Bishop Küng said.
A Vatican-appointed commission that included married couples came out in favour of artificial contraception two years before the publication of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968, which ruled it out.
Bishop Küng insisted that the Pope’s comments on condoms had in no way changed the Church’s teaching. Some people were not prepared to be faithful or to abstain or to act responsibly, the bishop said, and if for instance, drug addicts or prostitutes had Aids and there was a danger that they would infect others, it was better for them to use condoms to avoid passing on the disease, he argued. Asked what was new in what Pope Benedict had said about condoms in Light of the World, Bishop Küng replied, “What is new is that the Pope has said that using a condom in the above cases is a first step towards becoming aware of one’s responsibilities. The Pope’s comment is a contribution towards a necessary clarification. It is not a case of changing the Church’s teaching but of making important differentiations.”
Bishop Küng, a member of Opus Dei, who trained as a gynaecologist, recalled that shortly after the publication of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI had given a group of nuns in Africa who were continually in danger of being raped permission to use the contraceptive pill. This showed that differentiation in individual cases was important. “I understand the Pope’s comments in the following sense: if, for instance, a husband who has Aids refuses to be reasonable and if it looks as though he would use force if refused, then his wife would be justified in demanding that he use a condom as that would lessen the danger of infection. In my view, that would not contradict Humanae Vitae. The purpose of using a condom in such a case is not contraception but protection from disease.”
Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, the president of the German bishops’ conference, also expressed the hope that Pope Benedict would say more on the question of sexual morality. His thoughts on the use of condoms being justified individual cases, showed “the deep empathy of this Pope who can understand the difficult situation people are in”, Archbishop Zollitsch said last week. “If it is conceivable that people may use a condom in certain situations, that is because it could be a first step towards moral and responsible behaviour. Such comments are not a sensation but at the same time something new, which we have not heard from a Pope up to now.” The archbishop added: “I am really curious as to whether the Pope will continue to develop these thoughts and whether one day they will have a formative influence on the Church’s Magisterium, but also what these comments mean for pastoral practice.”
The Archbishop of Bamberg, Ludwig Schick, responsible for world church affairs in the German bishops’ conference, said that Pope Benedict had once again confirmed that Aids was best avoided by abstinence and marital fidelity. This meant that the Pope agreed with the ABC – “abstinence, be faithful, condom” programme against Aids, Archbishop Schick said. As the spread of Aids was above all caused by “both material and spiritual poverty”, the ABC programme must be expanded into an ABCDE programme – abstinence, be faithful, condoms in exceptional circumstances, development and education.
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