The Pope, Condoms, Prostitutes, and [insert joke here]

When news of the Pope's recent statements on condoms and AIDS recently hit the headlines, my first response was: Interesting, once again, the only concern from the Church (all of it, not just Catholic) is for men:  

“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.”
Not that there should be a hierarchy of any kind, but even gay prostitutes seem to take priority over women.  And let's not forget comments from a couple of years ago, when this Pope suggested that saving the world from queers was as important as saving the environment.

Now, the Pope's spokespersons seem to be adding women into the mix as well in later clarifications.  A nice afterthought - the PR machine doesn't sleep for any giant, multinational institutions.

But while AIDS activists praise the Pope's statements as a "shift" and "a significant step forward," an interview on NPR tonight with the head of Ignatius Press - publisher of the Pope's book - practically fell over himself to downplay the significance of the comments, and assert that they are no different than any prior teaching or comments.

I'm not anti-Catholic by any means, but the public is far too eager to find something praiseworthy.  I don't cheer for "bare minimum," and I certainly don't praise "less bad" over "bad."  The Church - Catholic and Evangelical - MUST stop treating women as an afterthought.  And dealing practically with issues like AIDS wouldn't hurt, either...


nate said...

I mean no offense Peter, because I really like you, but this does come off as anti-catholic. Namely the phrase "Interesting, once again, the only concern from the Church is for men:" is a clear indicator--as it is far from accurate--and if it is pure hyperbole, it is certainly incendiary.

On the issue of contraception, the Church's primary concern is not for men, but for women. I think that Mary Eberstadt argues this convincingly in both "The Will to Disbelieve" and "The Vindication of Humanae Vitae."

Forgive me if it takes a while for me to respond at any point...I am without internet and rarely get on these days.

Peter J Walker said...

Nate, long time! No, no offense taken.

I went in & inserted "(all of it, not just Catholic)" right after "Church."

I'm afraid I wasn't speaking in hyperbole, however. The Christian institution is first & foremost oriented toward the priorities of men, & this attitude is normalized in much of Christian religious culture.

I appreciate Eberstadt's articulation of the issues at hand in "Vindication" because her priorities are clear & she's not inflammatory or defensive, but there is much I disagree with her on.

She mentions the result of widespread contraception leading to "a lessening of respect for women by men." I hardly think that 1950s social behavior toward women was better than current attitudes, although I'll grant attitudes are bad now, & potentially getting worse in post-feminist backlash. That's not birth-control's fault, that's (a) the growing pains of dramatic social change, & (b) retaliation from principalities & powers that are direct beneficiaries of male hegemony. That can be as localized as a threatened husband, or as nebulous as global patriarchy.

I'd challenge anyone to find an idealized situation where women were widely "respected" more than they are now (& that's not a case for today being particularly good). The 1950s? 1800s? Victorian America? In the past, women had doors held open for them, men stood up when they entered the room, yet they were "revered chattel," silent & powerless in polite society.

Even if contraception did contribute to greater disrespect of women (which I reject), that doesn't mean we take it away, as one of the few protections women have - particularly those sexually obligated in misogynistic, dominated relationships. We deal directly with the root of the problem, which is disrespect.

to be continued... (character limits)

Peter J Walker said...


I know she isn't saying this, but it makes me think of legitimizing "separate but equal" to avoid racist violence. It doesn't deal with the underlying social evil, it just avoids problematic situations. I know, maybe that's a stretch...

I agree with Eberstadt that the sexual revolution may have contributed to the weakening of family cohesion, but economics has a large hand in that as well: as the middle class dissolves, it becomes increasingly impossible for most families to survive on a single income. This keeps parents separate from their own children's upbringing - absent parents, even in married households.

Eberstadt also uses the contraception discussion to argue against the legitimization of homosexuality, which I have a problem with.

As far as I can see, church heirarchies - Catholic, Orthodox & Protestant alike - are still heavily dominated by masculine power. Culturally, they still isolate & (I believe) systematically delegitimize women, both corporately & in local parishes. This is not surprising, since our canon reflects the exact same vantage: a world of men, writing about the perspective & interests & actions of men. The "presence" of women does nothing to counter this.

Phyllis Trible's 'Texts of Terror' demonstrates this emphatically. Until we learn to contextualize biblical gender roles, we're doomed to keep running in circles around this issue.

Nate, I like you a lot too, dude, & we may have to agree to disagree, but I don't think I know more about this issue than you. Certainly not more about Roman Catholicism. I can only take responsibility for my own observation of the world, which I acknowledge is as problematic & stilted as anyone else's.

But I honestly did not mean to come across as shocking or incendiary. The more I really look around myself - paying attention to interactions & behaviors - the more aware I am of how problematic our gender dynamics are. I cannot separate those observations from the influence of the church.

& all that said, I believe the church has the capacity (& proven ability) to transcend this dysfunction, & to be a redemptive, equalizing entity in the world. I've seen that firsthand, too. I'm just not convinced that's the norm.

Peter J Walker said...

Take care bro, look forward to your response. No hurry.

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