Pope Francis has used another mid-flight press conference to make a statement of significance to millions of Catholics. Asked if the Church should drop its opposition to the use of condoms to stop the spread of Aids (a teaching already modified by Benedict XVI), he effectively declared that the debate was a waste of time. He referred to Jesus's practice – opposed by the Pharisees on legalistic grounds – of healing on the Sabbath. 'Healing is obligatory!' he said. Earlier in the interview, the Pope took aim at Catholic 'fundamentalists' whose attachment to rules was 'idolatrous'. Here's a transcript from RomeReports:
Question: Aids is a serious problem in Africa, the epidemic continues. We know that prevention is the key and that condoms are not the only means of stopping the epidemic, but it is an important part of the solution. Is it not perhaps time for the Church to change its position with regard to the use of condoms in order to prevent infections?
Pope: The question seems biased to me. Yes, it is one of the methods, the morality of the Church faces a bit of a predicament here. The fifth or the sixth commandment: defend life or a sexual relationship that is open to life. But this is not the problem. There is a greater problem than this: this question makes me think of the question they once asked Jesus: tell me Master, is it acceptable to heal on a Saturday? Healing is obligatory! Malnutrition, exploitation, slave labour, the lack of drinking water, these are the problems. We’re not talking about which plaster we should use for which wound. The great injustice is social injustice, the great injustice is malnutrition. I don’t like making such casuistic reflections when there are people dying because of a lack of water and hunger. Think about arms trafficking. When these problems cease to exist, then I think we can ask ourselves the question: is it acceptable to heal on a Saturday? Why are arms still being manufactured? Wars are the leading cause of death. Forget about whether it is acceptable or not to heal on a Saturday. Make justice and when everyone is healed, when there is no injustice in this world, then we can talk about Saturday.
Five years ago Benedict XVI said that the use of condoms to prevent the spread of Aids could be justified in specific circumstances. Francis apparently thinks the debate is 'casuistic' when Africa is suffering from the plagues of warfare, starvation and slavery in addition to HIV. 'The morality of the Church faces a bit of a predicament here', he says – and it's not the only area where he has harsh words for Catholics who apply moral teachings harshly. Elsewhere in the interview he rages against Catholic 'fundamentalists':
In the Catholic Church we have some – many – who believe they possess the absolute truth and they go on sullying others through slander and defamation and this is wrong. I say this because it is my Church. Religious fundamentalism must be combatted. It is not religious, God is lacking, it is idolatrous. What religious leaders need to do is convince people who have these tendencies. Fundamentalism that ends in tragedy or commits crimes is a bad thing but it exists in all religions.
I think the Pope is right about condoms and Aids; but, considering the interview as a whole (full transcript here), I'm dismayed by his simplistic (and now familiar) analysis of poverty in the developing world, supported by statistics that Francis 'read somewhere'. Africa is a victim; end of story. As for these Catholic fundamentalists, the question everyone will be asking is: who does he mean? What, precisely, qualifies as Catholic fundamentalism? As I keep having to say after these Bergoglian improvisations, your guess is as good as mine.