Vatican edits pope on condoms and AIDS solutions

March 19, 2009

pope-in-planePope Benedict’s comments about condoms on his flight to Cameroon have made headlines worldwide. They have been quoted extensively on many websites run by news organisations and also by the Vatican. But that hasn’t stopped the same Vatican from editing them after the fact to try to make them sound more acceptable.

(Photo: Pope Benedict answers questions in the plane to Africa, with Rev. Georg Gänswein (L) and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (C), 17 March 2009//Alessandro Bianchi)

The main change on the Vatican website comes in the most controversial part, where he says: “It (AIDS) cannot be overcome by the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, they increase the problem.” This was criticised in Europe and the United States as going beyond a doctrinal question and spreading untruths about public health policies. Now the Vatican’s Bollettino (daily bulletin — here in the original Italian) has watered this down to have him say:   “On the contrary, the risk is that they increase the problem.” The Milan daily Corriere della Sera has the original transcript in Italian.

The Vatican editors also softened the pope’s talk about solutions. In the original, he said: “The problem of AIDS cannot be solved only with money …” In the new version, this comes out as: “The problem of AIDS cannot be solved only by advertising slogans …”

The Bollettino flip-flopped when it came to using the everyday word “condom” (preservativi in Italian), as the pope did when he spoke on the plane to journalists. It first replaced that with the more scientific sounding word “prophylactics” (profilattici). The term “prophylactics” has a wider meaning and could include other methods besides condoms. But abstinence, which the Vatican preaches as the most effective method against spreading AIDS, can also be described as a prophylactic measure. This seems to have dawned on the Vatican editors only after they changed Benedict’s comment to say profilattici, as Corriere documents in the screenshot here. So they later had to go back and correct the correction by switching back to preservativi.

bollettinoAsked in Yaoundé about the editing, chief Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said he knew about the issue with the word preservativi but was not aware of any other changes. He said the Vatican’s Secretariat of State occasionally “finetunes” the pope’s unprepared spoken workds to “make them flow better in Italian” and to “join loose phrases.” The pope’s native language is German, but he is an impressive linguist, has been living in Rome since 1982 and speaks excellent Italian.

This is not the first time this has happened. Two years ago, Benedict’s comments in the plane flying to Brazil about excommunicating Catholic politicians who support abortion were changed in the final Vatican version.  In his famous Regensburg speech, he said a Byzantine emperor he quoted criticising Islam had spoken “somewhat brusquely.” The final version spun this to say he spoke “with a startling brusqueness we find unacceptable.”

Unacceptable. Interesting that he should choose that word. Is this editing of his comments unacceptable?

One comment

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To fight against the use of condoms is the fight against common sense. To the extent that people already engage in sexual activitices, condoms can hardly be seeen as exascerbating the problem. I think the real issue is to teach responsible sexual behavior. Preaching abstinence is an anachronism that’s out of touch with reality. You can find more of this perspective at: http://www.ricoexplainsitall.com/politcs -economy/2009/3/20/sex-and-the-vatican-c ity.html