Pastor's Page
By Fr. George Welzbacher
December 12, 2010

Janet Smith is a distinguished bioethicist and a highly effective advocate for the pro-Life cause who holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Detroit's Sacred Heart (Major) Seminary. A year or two ago, as a Visiting Professor, she taught bioethics at our own St. Paul Seminary, one fact among many, one might remark in passing, that illustrates the recent profound transformation of that institution's faculty from which the seminarians have drawn immense benefit, all of it the result of the direct intervention of Archbishops Flynn and Nienstedt, with the energetic collaboration of Msgr. Aloysius Callaghan, who just a few years ago was installed as the Seminary's new rector. Our major seminary, which for a quarter of a century or more was on the black-list of more than one bishop who did not smile benignly at "progressive" reinterpretations of the Catholic faith and its moral code, is now bursting at the seams with candidates for the priesthood from dioceses across a broad swath of our nation. Long live the new regime! But I digress.

Janet Smith is a productive writer as well as a popular lecturer. She is the author of Humanae Vitae Was Right. A Reader. She has coauthored Life Issues, Medical Choices, Questions and Answers for Catholics, with Chris Kaczor. She has a new book, The Right to Privacy, published by Ignatius Press. She speaks nationally and internationally on the Catholic teachings on sexuality and on bioethics and has published numerous articles on sexuality and bioethics.

She is serving a third term as a consultor to the Pontifical Council on the family. She received an honorary doctorate in Christian Ethics from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, an honorary doctorate from St. Charles-Borromeo Seminary and the Veritas Award from the St. Thomas Aquinas Institute at Ave Maria University.

She has appeared on the Geraldo Show, Fox Morning News, CNN international, CNN Newsroom. and has done many shows for various series on EWTN.

Over a million copies of her talk, Contraception: Why NOT have been distributed. An updated version of Contraception: Why Not and a series of talks "Sexual Common Sense" are available through

In a recent interview with Zenit, the Catholic News Agency, Dr. Smith had this to say with reference to Pope Benedict's now famous comment, in the just published book entitled Light of the World, the transcript of an hours-long conversation with German journalist Peter Seewald, about how even in the context of behavior that is intrinsically evil, if there is some residual spark of concern for even the partial well-being of another person, that little spark, under God's providential love and care, has the potential for being nourished towards an eventual  greater moral awareness and concern that could lead to a final conversion of heart.  Admittedly, it's a long shot, but for a loving God it is not beyond the realm of the possible.  That is the point Pope Benedict was making, in response to a question from Peter Seewald. What Pope Benedict actually said was this "There might in fact be certain exceptional situations, such as a male prostitute's using a condom as a first step towards regaining moral awareness, as an initial display of responsibility, with the goal of once again developing the sense that not everything is permitted and that one cannot do everything that one would like to do. But this is not the appropriate way to cope with the evil of HIV infection. The solution lies rather in restoring the human dimension to sexuality."

(My translation from the German). In view of the media's misinterpretations of the Pope's words, Janet Smith's comments are well worth listening to. Here they are, as printed in the December 2nd issue of the The Wanderer.

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Pope Benedict XVI's, New Book, Light of the World
December 2, 2010 issue of The Wanderer

Interview With Janet Smith

A book-length interview with Benedict XVI, released on November 23, is already causing controversy in the public spotlight due to the Pope's comments on the use of condoms.

Some quotes from the book, Light of the World (Ignatius Press), were published ahead of the release date, prompting media opinions and a statement of clarification by Father Federico Lombardi, SJ,  director of the Holy See's press office.

Janet Smith, a consultor to the Pontifical Council on the Family who has published extensively on the topics of sexuality and bioethics, explained in this interview the source of the controversy and what the Pope is really saying.

She noted that in the book (p.119), to the charge that "It is madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms," Pope Benedict replied (this paragraph is at the end of an EXTENDED answer on the help the Church is giving the AIDS victims and the need to fight the debasing of sexuality):

"There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a FIRST step in the direction of a moralization, a FIRST assumption of responsibility, on the way TOWARD recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie ONLY in a humanization of sexuality."

The interviewer asked the Pontiff, "Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?"

The Holy Father replied, "She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the INTENTION of reducing the risk of infection, a FIRST step in a movement toward a DIFFERENT way, a more human way, of living sexuality."

Dr. Smith explains in the following interview, which she sent to ZENIT News Agency, how Benedict XVI was advocating CONVERSION, not condoms, in the striving for moral behavior.

Q: What is Pope Benedict saying?

A: We must note that the example that Pope Benedict gives for the use of a condom is a male prostitute; thus, it is reasonable to assume that he is referring to a male prostitute engaged in homosexual acts.

The Holy Father is simply observing that for some homosexual prostitutes the use of a condom may indicate an awakening of a moral sense; an awakening that sexual pleasure is NOT the highest value, but that we must take care that we harm no one with our choices [though disordered intercourse always does do great harm to the souls of the participants]..

He is not speaking to the morality of the use of a condom, but to something that may be true about the psychological state of those who use them. If such individuals are using condoms to AVIOD harming another, they may eventually realize that sexual acts between members of the same sex are inherently harmful since they are not in accord with human nature.

As he explicitly states, the true solution involves " The Holy Father does not in any way think the use of condoms is a part of the solution to reducing the risk of AlDs.humanizing sexuality."

Anyone having sex that threatens to transmit HIV needs to grow in moral discernment. This is why Benedict focused on a "first step" in moral growth.

The Church is always going to be focused on moving people away from immoral acts towards love of Jesus, virtue, and holiness. We can say that the Holy Father clearly did not want to make a point about condoms, but wants to talk about growth in a moral sense, which should be a growth towards Jesus.

Q: So is the Holy Father saying it is morally good for male prostitutes to use condoms?

A: The Holy Father is not articulating a teaching of the Church about whether or not the use of a condom reduces the amount of evil in a homosexual sexual act that threatens to transmit HIV.

The Church has no formal teaching about how to reduce the evil of intrinsically immoral actions. We must note that what is intrinsically wrong in a homosexual sexual act in which a condom is used is not the moral wrong of contraception but the homosexual act itself.

In the case of homosexual sexual activity, a condom does not act as a contraceptive; it is not possible for homosexuals to contracept since their sexual activity has no procreative power that can be thwarted.  But the Holy Father is not making a point about whether the use of a condom is contraceptive or even whether it reduces the evil of a homosexual sexual act; again, he is speaking about the psychological state of some who might use condoms. The intention of the condom USER (the desire not to harm another) may indicate some growth in a sense of moral responsibility.

In Familiaris Consortio (On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modem World), John Paul II spoke of the need for conversion, which often proceeds by gradual steps:

"To the injustice originating from sin ... we must all set ourselves in opposition through a conversion of mind and heart, following Christ Crucified by denying our own selfishness: such a conversion cannot fail to have a beneficial and renewing influence even on the structures of society.

"What is needed is a continuous, permanent conversion which, while requiring an interior detachment from every evil and an adherence to good in its fullness, is brought about concretely in steps which lead us ever forward. Thus a dynamic process develops, one which advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God and the demands of His definitive and absolute love in the entire personal and social life of man. (n.9)"

Christ himself, of course, called for a turning away from sin. That is what the Holy Father is advocating here; not a turn toward condoms. Conversion, not condoms!

Q: Would it be proper to conclude that the Holy Father would support the distribution of condoms to male prostitutes?

A: Nothing he says here indicates that he would. Public programs of distribution of condoms ran the risk of conveying approval for homosexual sexual acts.

The task of the Church is to call individuals to conversion and to moral behavior; it is to help them understand the meaning and purpose of sexuality and to help them come to know Christ, who will provide the healing and graces that enable us to live in accord with the meaning and purpose of sexuality.

Q: Is Pope Benedict indicating that heterosexuals who have HIV could reduce the wrongness of their acts by using condoms?
A: No. In his second answer he says that the Church does not find condoms to be a "real or moral solution."That means the Church does NOT find condoms EITHER A MORAL OR EFFECTIVE  way of fighting the transmission of HIV. As the Holy Father indicates in his fuller answer, the most effective portion of programs designed to reduce the transmission of HIV are calls to ABSTINENCE AND FIDELITY.

The Holy Father, again, is saying that the INTENTION to reduce the transmission of any infection is a "first step" in a movement towards a more human way of living sexuality. That more human way would be to do nothing that threatens to harm one's sexual partner, who should be one's beloved spouse. For an individual with HIV to have sexual intercourse with or without a condom is to risk transmitting a lethal disease.

An analogy: If someone was going to rob a bank and was determined to use a gun, it would better for that person to use a gun that had no bullets in it. It would reduce the likelihood of fatal injuries. But it is not the task of the Church to instruct potential bank robbers how to rob banks more safely and certainly not the task of the Church to support programs of providing potential bank robbers with guns that could not use bullets.

Nonetheless, the intent of a bank robber to rob a bank in a way that is safer for the employees and customers of the bank may indicate an ELEMENT of moral responsibility that could be a STEP towards eventual understanding of the immorality of bank robbing.

[Emphasis added.]
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