December 13, 2010

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict’s recent comments about condoms represented a “normal and traditional” pastoral application of moral theology, says a theologian who advises the Vatican on doctrinal matters.

The pope’s comments reflect the principle that there can be “intermediary steps toward moral awareness” that allow for some flexibility in how Church teachings are applied, Franciscan Father Maurizio Faggioni said Dec. 3.

Faggioni, a moral theologian and a consultant to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke to Catholic News Service about the pope’s statement on condoms in the book, Light of the World.

In the book, the pope repeated his view that condom campaigns are not the way to stop the AIDS epidemic, but he allowed that in some specific cases — for example, a prostitute who tries to diminish the risk of spreading infection — use of a condom could be a first step toward taking moral responsibility for one’s actions.

Faggioni said the pope’s comments should be seen in the light of traditional principles of moral theology, including gradualism, which understands moral decision-making as a path that involves a series of progressions.

“The Holy Father recognizes that there is a path of growth in responsibility,” Faggioni said.

By saying condom use may mark a step along that path, he said, the pope is allowing for a “wise and prudent” application of Church teaching to individual cases.

Faggioni said the pope’s comments do not place in question the Church’s teaching against birth control, but recognize that there can be different ways of applying the general law to specific situations.

Faggioni noted that the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation began studying the morality of condom use in disease prevention at a time when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict — was the congregation’s prefect.

The pope chose an informal medium, that of a book-length interview, to discuss the issue. In the strict sense, his words do not have the weight of official Church teaching, he said.

But at the same time, Faggioni said, the pope knows what he’s talking about.

“This is the pope speaking, after all,” he said. “He is the supreme teacher.”