James Bogle of the Catholic Union of Great Britain has done the Catholic public a service by relating just how poorly the Vatican press has served the Pope. In the recent condom remarks flap, it isn’t just that the sense of the Pope’s words was taken out of context and distorted– the very translation from German is seriously deficient:


“Light of the World”: The Pope, condoms and media inaccuracy

Regrettably, the media seems to be up to their old tricks and this time
L’Osservatore Romano seems to be among them, even going so far as to break
the embargo and publish mistranslated extracts on 20 November, 3 days before
the book, Light of the World, was due out, thereby virtually ensuring that a
misrepresentation of the Pope’s words was what hit the world’s headlines.

The media are reporting that the Pope said this in his interview with Peter
Seewald, in the book Licht der Welt, “Light of the World”:

“Es mag begründete Einzelfälle geben, etwa wenn ein Prostituierter ein
Kondom verwendet, wo dies ein erster Schritt zu einer Moralisierung sein

Which translates:

“It may be justified in individual cases, as when a (male) prostitute uses a
condom, where this is a first step towards morality”

However, he, the Pope never uses the word “begründete” or “giustificato” or
“justified”, neither does he say that “individual cases” of condom use may
be justified. Yet this appears in L’OR and even, some say, the Italian
translation of the book.

Sandro Magister gives extracts from the book and includes the original
German of the controversial passage but then he goes on to mistranslate it
himself. See here:


Here’s Sandro Magister’s extract from the book (assuming Magister has not
got that wrong, too). It reads:

“Die bloße Fixierung auf das Kondom bedeutet eine Banalisierung der
Sexualität, und die ist ja gerade die gefährliche Quelle dafür, dass die
Menschen in der Sexualität nicht mehr den Ausdruck ihrer Liebe finden,
sondern nur noch eine Art von Droge, die sie sich selbst verabreichen.
Deshalb ist auch der Kampf gegen die Banalisierung der Sexualität ein Teil
des Ringens darum, dass Sexualität positiv gewertet wird und ihre positive
Wirkung im Ganzen des Menschseins entfalten kann. Ich würde sagen, wenn ein
Prostituierter ein Kondom verwendet, kann das ein erster Akt zu einer
Moralisierung sein, ein erstes Stück Verantwortung, um wieder ein
Bewusstsein dafür zu entwickeln, dass nicht alles gestattet ist und man
nicht alles tun kann, was man will. Aber es ist nicht die eigentliche Art,
dem Übel beizukommen. Diese muss wirklich in der Vermenschlichung der
Sexualität liegen”.

Magister makes this translation:

“Concentrating only on the condom means trivializing sexuality, and this
trivialization represents precisely the dangerous reason why so many people
no longer see sexuality as an expression of their love, but only as a sort
of drug, which one administers on one’s own. This is why the struggle
against the trivialization of sexuality is also part of the great effort so
that sexuality may be valued positively, and may exercise its positive
effect on the human being in his totality. There can be individual cases
that are justified, for example when a [male] prostitute [ein
Prostituierter] uses a condom, and this can be the first step toward a moral
sensitization, a first act of responsibility to develop once again the
understanding of the fact that not everything is permitted, and that one
cannot do whatever one wishes. Nonetheless, this is not the real and proper
way to overcome HIV infection. What is truly needed is a humanization of

That is not an accurate translation.

Neither is that used by the BBC here:


The BBC version reads as follows:

“This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of
sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the
attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a
sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight
against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to
ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to
have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.

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 extract actually translates thus:

“I would say, if a (male) prostitute uses a condom, that can be the first
act towards a moralisation, a first step to responsibility, toward
developing a consciousness that not everything is permitted and that one
cannot simply do what one wants, when one wants it. But this does not get to
the root of the evil. That must really lie in humanising sexuality.”

Thus, it appears that the Pope never actually said what is attributed to him
by L’Osservatore Romano and other media.

Unless someone can show that any of the above is wrong, please ensure that
this correction is passed far and wide.

Moreover, Magister seriously misrepresents Catholic teaching on the condom
use in his article when he writes:

“…Benedict XVI justifies the use of a condom by a prostitute (in the
masculine form in the original German of the book: “ein Prostituierter”). A
use that Catholic moral doctrine already acknowledges – on a par with
recourse to condoms by spouses when one of them is infected with HIV – but
is publicly approved of by a pope for the first time here”.

This is simply misreporting and a journalist of Magister’s seniority ought
to know better.

Best wishes,

James Bogle
The Catholic Union of Great Britain.