Nov 212010


Titian's bedazzling Assunta, portraying the Assumption of the Virgin.

by Anura Guruge

Nov. 23, 2010 UPDATE: PLEASE read the comments, below. This too appears to be due to translation and misinterpretation problems … this time by the BBC. What it APPEARS is that the pope was not speaking about himself. He was talking about popes in general and their ability to make infallible statements. That is REALLY COOL. Far from being wrong, it is actually quite enlightened! Bravo, pope! Basically, this pope, to his eternal credit, is putting papal infallibility in its proper place. I THANK Marko B. in particular, but all the rest, including Fr. Peter and Darien, for helping me clear this up. As you can see from the post, my issue was one of confusion as to what the pope was saying. This is the SECOND major errors in translation I have stumbled upon this year. The other being the error about the precedence of cardinal bishops, where all the English translations state episcopal consecration [i.e., when first made a bishop] when what it really says, in Latin, when made a ‘CARDINAL bishop’. I also discovered an error between the UK English and US English translations of the 1983 Canon Law. Thank you. I feel so much better. That infallibility thing bothered me because I dearly hoped that this pope, of all people, got it. AND he does. That is GREAT. Thank YOU.

The media has been transfixed by the pope’s unexpected statement on a possible exception to the use of condoms.

But, they have all but ignored another MUCH MORE SIGNIFICANT statement, supposedly made by the pope as a part of that whole interview.

That statement apparently was: “Among other interesting topics that Pope Benedict touches on in the extracts of his long interview with Peter Seewald, are papal infallibility – he says he cannot continue to produce ‘infallible statements’; his attitude towards resignation -“ [Please refer to BBC article, of Nov. 21, 2010, containing this statement.]

That to the cognoscenti is much more significant that the about-face on condoms.

Why? It might indicate that the pope, at a minimum, was somewhat ‘distracted’ when doing this interview and ALL his comments during this interview might have to be taken with a ‘pinch of salt’!

Why? Contrary to what so many believe, a pope’s statements are ONLY infallible in some very tightly constrained, specific scenarios. For a start, the statements HAVE TO be about dogmatic teachings on faith or morals — and the pope MUST clearly spell out that he is making an infallible statement that is binding to the Church.

As far as I recall, and I, as ever, may be wrong, this pope has yet to make an infallible statement per those criteria for it to be deemed infallible. That is the problem. By most reckoning the last instance of papal infallibility was in 1950 when Pius XII (#261), via his Munificentissimus Deus, defined the Assumption of Mary. Prior to that, the other ‘big’ one was Pius IX’s (#256) Ineffabilis Deus, defining the Immaculate Conception. I again checked the Vatican Web site for this pope’s pronouncements. I cannot see ANY that meet the hurdles for infallibility!

So what is the pope talking about?

That he cannot continue to produce infallible statements. That is very strange.

That is akin to me saying that I cannot continue to produce sub-9 second, 100 meter sprints when I go running — as if, I was ever able to even do one of those.

This issue is disturbing to me. Why did the person doing the interview, supposedly a friend of the pope’s, not clarify it. Printing it, as it is, does not do the pope any favors.

Moreover, why did the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano print that excerpt from the interview. I hope that there is at least one person at L’Osservatore Romano that understands the parameters of papal infallibility.

Very strange. They are now trying to do damage control on the condom part of the story.

As a marketer, with 30 years of solid experience, I would shelf the condoms, and focus on putting right that infallibility statement. Because, that statement, more than anything else, indicates how the pope is ‘thinking’!


  18 Responses to “Pope Benedict XVI’s Infallibility Comment Might Explain His Statement On Condoms [Updated Nov. 23]”

  1. Any possibility of being “lost in translation”? Most probably the original language of the interview is German. L’Osservatore Romano is in Italian. Many times the Vatican has proven that translations are not their strength. Remember the problem with the precedence among cardinal bishops when an English translation was incorrect.

  2. Thank you, Marko.
    Yes, original language was German and there is continued questions as to the use of the German term for a male prostitute. It could also mean ‘all’ prostitutes.
    At least one ‘expert’ confirmed that I was right … as far as he know too … this pope has not made any ex-cathedra infallible statements. So why he talks about ‘continuing to make them’ is a holy mystery.
    I know that you are well qualified to comment on whether the pope has made any TRUE infallible statements.
    Hope all is well. Cheers.
    P.S., watch out for a new post.
    P.P.S., a cardinal died this morning. But, he was 90 years old. So electors still at 121!

  3. This is what was posted on the Blog of ‘The Archbishop of Ottawa’ on the comments;

    ……..Too bad the media feeding frenzy overshadowed the significant homily and addresses the Pope gave on the occasion of creating twenty-four new cardinals in his third consistory.

    I have not seen the book of Peter Seewald’s interview with the Holy Father, but the blogosphere has been full of commentary by those who have not read the book, as well by those who have but, even under media pressure, have decided to observe the embargo which is set to end at noon (Rome time) tomorrow or 6 o’clock tomorrow morning in Ottawa.

    One who has seen the book and will comment on it once the embargo is lifted is the American Catholic commentator Amy Welborn whose blog “Charlotte Was Both” ( yesterday roasted the Pope’s newspaper for violating publication convention; she also gives a hint as to what we can expect, including more surprises:

    What’s most unbelievable about today is who broke the embargo – L’Osservatore Romano that’s who. With a mistranslated section that’s what.

    (I think – I’m assuming. The Italian translation had a feminine article with prostitute and the English version that I read … is specific about male prostitute.)

    The point? No the Pope did not have a “condom conversion” as Ruth Gledhill so idiotically put it on Twitter. What he said – whether he should have said it or not is another issue – but whatever the case it really is nothing new and has nothing to do with the Church’s teaching on contraception either.

    It’s an articulation of his concern for and interest an individual’s moral progress – ironically enough.

    Here’s what I’m going to say – this whole conversation is going to be flipped on its head when the rest of the interview comes out and the people who are either crowing about or mourning the Pope changing the Church’s teaching on contraception or sexuality or something are really not going to know what to say next.

    Interesting days ahead…!

  4. If you read my two posts carefully condoms per se are the least of my interest in terms of what the pope did or did not say.

    His comment about HIS infallible statements is the one that intrigues me the most since it can tell us what the pope is thinking. But, I am beginning to appreciate that with a few exceptions most people don’t understand that issue. So be it.

    Doesn’t matter to me whether it a male prostitute or a female prostitute. Prostitution is prostitution and IF the pope spoke of any type of prostitution then he is following in the glorious footsteps of Sixtus IV. Then there is the issue of gigolos. It cracks me up when the media plays ‘dumb’. A male prostitute can have female clients — in which case it is contraception.

    I have no axes to grind either way. Papal infallibility is something I track, as a papal historian. That interests me. So, lets wait and see.

    Cheers, Anura

  5. The more I read about this, the more troubling and bizarre it becomes. Anu to quote you: “They are now trying to do damage control on the condom part of the story.” I see two forms of damage control about to occur. This kind with the media (this is the only mention of the condom issue from here on out in this post) and more importantly I believe the damage control with observant, informed Catholics who are trying to figure out what the hell the Pope meant by everything else he said.

    As I mentioned to Anu in an email yesterday, I am unaware of any instances this Pope has made an infallible ex-Cathedra proclamation. I trust Anu’s research that Papal Infallibility has not been evoked since Pius XII in 1950. This then, is quite concerning. Could he be misconstruing previous statements on condoms being against Church teaching and mistakenly thinking he was going ex-Cathedra? This is unfathomable being that he was the Church’s chief doctrinal officer for 20 years (and I presume understands Papal Infallibility better than anyone in the Vatican) … UNLESS … the Holy Father is finally showing his age. He is 84 years old and the Vatican has hidden Papal health issues in the past. Could Benedict XVI mental sharpness be declining?

    I quite agree with what you said, Anu, at the end of the original post about where the Vatican’s attention should be focused. Someone needs to deal with the media firestorm (sorry Fr. Lombardi), but beyond him the attention needs to go to this rather bizarre issue of infallibility.

  6. Thank YOU, Darien.
    We are on one on this. I will, however, confess, I am still not an outright expert on papal infallibility … as I said in my post. So, there is a chance I missed something between 1950 and now … but, I am fairly sure that THIS POPE has not made any infallible statements that meet the stated criteria.
    Yes, this is very concerning. Don’t you sometimes get the feeling the Vatican is conspiring to make this pope look bad!
    Thanks again Darien. I am very frustrated that so many just don’t seem to grasp what is happening. Everybody is transfixed by ‘condoms’ — and cannot even see the bigger picture.
    All the best. Keep on contributing. Your knowledge is much appreciated.

  7. Googld, found it in german. Used my quite good knowledge of German plus online dictionaries to translate. Much ado about nothing.

    Q: Ist der Papst wirklich „unfehlbar” in dem Sinne, wie es in den Medien zuweilen kolportiert wird? Ein absoluter Souverän, dessen Denken und Wille Gesetz sind?

    A: Das ist verkehrt. Der Begriff der Unfehlbarkeit hat sich im Laufe der Jahrhunderte entwickelt. Das Erste Vatikanische Konzil hat, einer langen Tradition aus der Zeit der Urchristenheit folgend, schließlich festgehalten: Es gibt eine letzte Entscheidung! Es bleibt nicht alles offen! Der Papst kann in bestimmten Umständen und unter bestimmten Bedingungen letztverbindliche Entscheidungen treffen, durch die klar wird, was der Glaube der Kirche ist und was nicht. Was nicht heisst, dass der Papst ständig „Unfehlbares” produzieren kann.
    Nur wenn bestimmte Bedingungen vorliegen, wenn die Tradition geklärt ist und er weiß, dass er jetzt nicht willkürlich handelt, kann der Papst sagen: Dies ist der Glaube der Kirche – und das Nein dazu ist nicht der Glaube der Kirche.

    Q: Is the Pope really infallible in the sense that it is spread in the media sometimes? An absolute sovereign, whose thoughts and will are law?

    A: This is wrong. The concept of infallibility has evolved over the centuries. Following a long tradition from the days of early Christianity, the First Vatican Council finally stated: There is a final decision! It is does not
    remain all open [I had difficulties translating “alles offen”; it means “all open”, but I don’t completely get the meaning]. The pope can, in certain circumstances and under certain conditions, make finally binding decisions, by which [i.e. the decisions] it is clear what the faith of the church is and what it is not. Which does not mean that the pope can constantly produce “infallible”. Only when certain conditions exist, if the Tradition is clear and [thus] he [i.e. the Pope] knows he at that moment [“jetzt” is “now” but does not sound clever to me in English; it is much wider used in German or Croatian] does not act arbitrary, can the Pope said: This is the faith of the Church – and No is not the faith of the Church.

  8. Really, much ado about nothing. The pope merely referred to the general mainstream understanding of papal infallability. That same understanding that has driven some BBC guy to mention infallibility in the initial article that inspired this post. Of course, the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the Assumption of Mary were for century a part of non-dogmatic Tradition that the faithful were allowed not to observe.

  9. Memos were in early form those days. They got nearly as lost as e-mails.
    John II, a very interesting pope, among other things, at the behest of the Emperor, gladly contradicted Hormisdas (#52) on the Theopaschite formula. First major instance of a pope basically saying that one his predecessors got it wrong.

    I like what you have to say. Nicely said. THANK YOU.

  10. Anura,
    very fascinating topic, including your newer post on this that so far has no responses.
    I speak German, and “etwa wenn ein Prostituierter ein Kondom verwendet” is quite clear in its meaning of “male prostitute”. There is no way to say prostitute in a gender-neutral way in German (except to mention both as is common in German written language), and the natural use as a generic example would be a female prostitute, as they are much more common. So I have to assume he meant to say male prostitute for a reason, and probably because he only had gay sex in mind that cannot result in pregnancy.
    And the way I understand Lombardi’s clarification of B16’s statements confirms this. He is not saying that he did not say “male prostitute” but that the statement applies to both (rather than the word he used meaning both, big difference). Classic backtrack.

  11. Welcome back. I have missed your comments. So, gay sex is OK, prostitution is OK and it is OK to use condoms to prevent disease. Right? That is what he is saying. But, I guess a gigolo cannot use a condom if he has been recently tested and found to be HIV free. I think I will have to make one of color coded charts for prostitutes and those seeking gay sex showing under which circumstances are allowed. What about Fridays? Never on a Friday?
    Glad your back. Thanks. Cheers.

  12. Just to mention, the most junior cardinal elector is… YES! Gianfranco Ravasi. A top papabile! But I am sure that if (God forbid!) Pope Benedict dies before cardinal Panafieu turns 80 (or some elector dies before that date, God forbid!), some of the 121 electors would not show up. Cardinal Suárez Rivera, one of the two electors not to participate in the conclave of April 2005, died in March 2008, almost 3 years after the conclave. The Pope’s problem with only 19 new electors was probably whether to give precedence to Mazombwe (Zambia), almost 80 years old or Vela Chiriboga (Quito), and more than 78 years old by the earliest next consistory.

  13. Thank YOU, Marko B.
    I am sure Ravasi will not miss the conclave.
    With 121, as you have pointed out, we are unlikely to have a problem. I still think we are going to see it tick down to 120 soon! Just guessing.
    The pope, as I pointed out here, created a very high number of cardinal deacons.
    Marko, now that you have had more time to read and reflect, what do you think of the pope’s statement on condom usage? Are you cool with it.
    All the best. Many thanks.

  14. P.S., I have been to Lover’s Leap. Fairly well known location in Ceylon. When we lived there, my father was like a traveling Irish magistrate. He always loved to travel. Most weekends, all holidays and whenever I was off school we would go on what were called ‘circuits’ — yep, a circuit around a territory. He always had things to do. Inspect schools, hand out prizes at a school event, open a sporting event, speak at a rally, check an archeological site. So not much in Ceylon I have not visited, with my father. This was before I was 14. So I do remember going there. I think the ‘leap’ comes from a spectacular drop. All up in what we call our hill country.
    I have to go. Going to bed early tonight.

  15. Thank YOU, Marko. This was VERY GOOD and useful.
    Thank you also for the two examples of expedited elevation. I knew of Vallini. I would have had to have looked up Sepe.
    All the best.

  16. Not to go backwards in the conversation, but I’ve had my first chance to look at this page since before Thanksgiving. And I was surprised to see the article posted quoting Archbishop Dolan. I would love to say that this is an instance of Yahoo or some other news agency misquoting or misrepresenting his words. But this is a direct quote from a Catholic website.Not much chance of that.

    It’s rather off-putting as I regard him as one of the better Bishops in the US. You don’t become the Archbishop of NY without good reason. I’m surprised to see him take such a non-nuanced position.

  17. Wow. THANK YOU.
    You know this is going to take me awhile to assimilate.
    This is wonderful. I hope YOU had fun.
    I noticed you signed your name TWICE — but, that is perfectly acceptable given the amount of work you put in.
    All the best. Football today?

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Rss Feed Tweeter button Facebook button Technorati button Reddit button Myspace button Linkedin button Webonews button Delicious button Digg button Stumbleupon button Newsvine button