Friday 29 October 2010

Jack Valero of Catholic Voices sells the pass again on Catholic Church teaching on condoms

Yesterday Jack Valero, speaking on behalf of Catholic Voices, was interviewed by the BBC World Service about the distribution of condoms by a Catholic church (pictured) in Lucerne, Switzerland (see full transcript below). He was interviewed alongside Mr Florian Flohr, a spokesman for the Lucerne church. Interestingly, the presenter said:
"We actually invited the Vatican to come on the programme and speak about this. They told us there was no need to, because the Catholic Church's view on this issue is already known."
Last week Mr Valero affirmed that he:
"totally support[s] the Magisterium of the Church as expounded in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and all the relevant encyclicals (Humanae Vitae, Veritatis Splendor, Evangelium Vitae, etc)"
Yet yesterday Mr Valero again let down the pro-life/pro-family movement by once more misrepresenting and short-selling Catholic Church teaching on condoms. Mr Valero again made the false claim that "the Church is not against condoms", and again was silent on the primary reason why the Catholic Church is against condoms. The primary reason why the Catholic Church is against condoms is because condoms' use, by closing the marital act to the transmission of life, separates the procreative and unitive dimensions of sexual intercourse, contrary to the crystal-clear teaching of Humanae Vitae that:
"[E]ach and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life." (Humanae Vitae, 11)
Mr Valero merely described the Lucerne church's condom distribution as "a mistake". In this Mr Valero repeated his same woefully inadequate description of April's disgusting Foreign Office memo as just a bad joke. There is a world of difference in explaining things and in explaining away things.

Mr Valero's approach was entirely consequentialist, focusing on the effectiveness of Catholic campaigns against promiscuity and ineffectiveness of condom distribution campaigns respectively in reducing the spread of HIV. Even on that point Mr Valero misrepresented Catholic teaching, by claiming that the Church preaches both chastity ("abstinence before marriage, fidelity within marriage") and limiting promiscuity ("delaying sexual activity and reducing the number of partners"). The delay of sexual activity and reduction in partners is no different to what IPPF, FPA, Marie Stopes etc say is the benefit from their sex education programmes. So it is entirely unsurprising that the Lucerne church spokesman responded:
"Yes, I agree with my colleague [Mr Valero] that the main thing is not the condom ... We preach the same thing, the ABC rule, A is abstinence, B is be faithful, [C is use a condom if you can't abstain or be faithful]" [my emphases] 
Mr Valero was conspicuously silent on Mr Flohr's repeated claims that condom use is an open question for Catholics and that conscience and pluralism are more important than church authority. Mr Valero ignored a golden opportunity to uphold Catholic teaching on condom use, conspicuously failing to follow up the presenter's question to Mr Flohr that distributing condoms "flout(s) papal doctrine". Mr Valero also flatly spurned another golden opportunity when he was asked directly:
"Is this church breaking away from Rome?"
Mr Valero's reply:
"No, I don't think so, but on the other hand I don't think that in Switzerland we need condoms to fight AIDS. AIDS in Switzerland is under control."
Jack Valero has said that Catholic Voices' tactic in dealing with questions from the media is "re-framing". It seems that his idea of "re-framing" is actually to leave Catholic Church teaching out of the frame when it's convenient to do so.

"Swiss Catholic church hands out condoms in HIV/Aids campaign", BBC World Service, 28 October 2010, SPUC transcript:

Florian Flohr: "I think that we have to give a sign to the people that we are open to speak about all problems, and without taboos about this question of AIDS. It was not a question of distributing condoms as flyers for a pizza service but was always part of a discussion, and a good part of this action, I think."

Presenter to Flohr: "Well that's a very interesting point - how are you actually distributing these condoms? Is it on church territory, or are you out and about in the community with this?"

Flohr: "No. We had two parts of this action. The one part was an exposition on a truck in a place in front of the main station of Lucerne, and we were also at this truck, nearby, and we discussed with the people, with the young people about AIDS in Switzerland. There were very good talks. There was a 65-year-old woman who came to me and asked me for four condoms, and I was a little astonished, and she said: "They are not for me, but I have four grandsons, and I want to discuss with them about AIDS, and that's a very good sign to discuss with them."

Presenter to Flohr: "But nonetheless, this does flout papal doctrine, doesn't it? Have you been in contact with the Vatican? Did you ask them about this before you decided it, or have they been in touch with you?"

Flohr: "No, we decided the action, reflecting on the affair of AIDS, and looking at many statements of bishops around the world, the sentence that 'you can't speak about AIDS without speaking of condoms' of our bishop[s?] of Germany. So I think there is no one doctrine in the Catholic Church but there is a big discussion for years already, and we are part of this discussion."

Presenter: "We actually invited the Vatican to come on the programme and speak about this. They told us there was no need to, because the Catholic Church's view on this issue is already known. But let's bring in Jack Valero, who is press officer for Opus Dei, and a member of Catholic Voices, which is an organisation which provides the media with comment on major issues such as this. Jack Valero, what do you make of this decision by this Swiss church?"

Jack Valero: "Well, I'm not there, but from here, it's looks to me like it's a mistake. The Catholic Church has an approach about AIDS in Africa which works, which is based on behaviour change and education, and I think that's the emphasis. There are many agencies and governments distributing condoms in Africa. They have been doing so for 25 years and they haven't seemed to have worked; the pandemic continues. Behaviour change has been the one thing which has worked."

Presenter to Valero: "Many people would disagree with you on that, they would say that condom use and its free access has been the main thing that has worked."

Valero: "OK. If you take the statements by Edward Green of Harvard, who is one of the experts on AIDS, and he's in favour of using condoms but he thinks that condom campaigns haven't worked, the more condoms you've thrown [at the problem], the worse it has become. The Catholic Church has a different approach - it says, we preach behaviour change, fidelity, abstinence before marriage, fidelity in marriage, and even we preach delaying sexual activity and reducing the number of partners. These definitely work in saving lives, which is what we're all interested in. We have this approach because of this view which we have that sex is for marriage. We're not against condoms - we're against promiscuity, we're against sexual violence, against rape, prostitution; these are the things we're working against, these are the things that if we manage to control, then AIDS will end. The Catholic Church is doing very good work there, and I think that condoms, it completely misses the point of what the Church does."

Presenter: "Let's bring Florian back in on that again."

Flohr: "Yes, I agree with my colleague [Mr Valero] that the main thing is not the condom. We didn't preach to use condom and don't think about it. We preach the same thing, the ABC rule, A is abstinence, B is be faithful, but there are many situations and many people who can't live this, and for them, condoms is one possibility, not a miracle possibility, not the best one, but it is one, and we want to give this thing here because many people do think that the Catholic Church doesn't allow condoms, and I think that that's not true, and we want to say that we're open, discuss with us and discuss with each other because that's the most important."

Presenter to Flohr: "Florian Flohr, what do you think about local Catholic churches having more freedom to make these decisions about using condoms or talking to their parishioners about it, you know, churches in Africa for example where this is a real concern for lots of parishioners. Should local people, local priests have more say about whether or not to talk about condoms?"

Flohr: "I think that there are so many bishops who say this, that not speaking about condoms is unethical, that it's allowed for priests to do this, and it's not the affair of giving condoms, hundreds of condoms, but to make the people think about their behaviour, their sexuality, their responsibility, but not excluding the condom, and that's our message, I think the freedom is there."

Presenter: "Move away then from the church's hierarchy, from the hierarchical structure, from central control, a move away from that, you advocate?"

Flohr: "We think that in many questions, pluralism within the Church is good, is OK, because in this question there is no dogma. There are some preachers of the Pope, but there are also other bishops who say other things. So it's good that there is a discussion without being enemies but to demonstrate different points of view."

Presenter to Flohr: "What about the use of condoms for other reasons, not just for HIV/AIDS but for family planning for example?"

Flohr: "There we think that people are informed that condoms is not the most certain thing in this area and they also have to discuss this. I think the most important [thing] in the Catholic Church is the personal consciousness [conscience] and not what any priest or so said. Every person has to have his or her own opinion and listen to his own consciousness [conscience]

Presenter to Valero: "We're short of time. Is this church breaking away from Rome?"

Valero: "No, I don't think so, but on the other hand I don't think that in Switzerland we need condoms to fight AIDS. AIDS in Switzerland is under control. In Africa I'm sure that all the priests there look after every person who has AIDS there very well and gives them good advice. But I do think, and that it is the case that, in the main, the Catholic Church's message - which is not against condoms, which is against promiscuity, it's about behaviour change - is very helpful. There is no need. There's lots and lots of agencies and governments pushing condoms, there's no need for us to push them, we have our own message which works, and I'm sure that the priests in Africa do that very well."


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