Letters: Pope Benedict and contraception

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Pope Benedict's statement about condoms has been taken out of context ("Catholics weigh significance of Pope's words on condom use", 22 November).

What people need to realise is what he essentially said is that as a male prostitute is already planning on engaging in amoral sexual activity, the sin is not in the use of the condom, but in the act itself. Fornication is still fornication and adultery is still adultery.

He also said that using a condom when you know you are infected with Aids can be an important first step in realising that sex holds the power of life and death and that you have to be responsible for the lives and health and human dignity of others.

This does not indicate that the Catholic Church now supports condoms or any form of contraception. The Pope was not even speaking on behalf of the Church, or making decisions about the official position of the Church; he was being interviewed by a newspaper.

Though raised as a Catholic, I can agree that the Church's attitude to preventing the increase of Aids and HIV is a "muddled and unrealistic approach". But if the Pope says he can understand the justification behind use of condoms in some circumstances then he too is allowed to hold personal opinions and even struggle with his own relationship to Catholic teaching.

Emilie Lamplough

Trowbridge, Wiltshire

The Pope's statement on legitimate use of condoms is no surprise to anybody familiar with the source which sets out the Church's teaching on contraception, Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae, to which nothing has since been added.

Paragraphs 14 and 15 are relevant. What the Church disapproves of (however controversially) is the contraceptive intention. It accepts therapeutic means to cure organic diseases even when they may have a contraceptive effect. The use of condoms within marriage to prevent transmission of HIV is against neither the letter nor the spirit of the encyclical.

The problem has been that local clerics are fearful of any statement on their part that is less than wholesale condemnation of contraception. They fear retribution from the Vatican. They also fear the media's headline. Let us hope that anybody pronouncing on this subject in future will take the trouble to study what the Catholic Church actually teaches.

Rev Bernard O'Connor OSA

St Augustine's, London W6

How would the Pope's teaching on condoms deal with this situation: a married couple have got through a difficult period in their marriage during which the husband has become infected with Aids and the wife can no longer have children for reasons of age or illness?

Is it permitted for them to use condoms to protect the wife's health while resuming marital relations? Underlying this is the problem, is sex without the possibility of conception a good thing? My view is in the affirmative, where neither party is making use of the other.

Is the Vatican moving cautiously in that direction? If so, how many centuries will it take to reach a satisfying Christian response to the needs of modern life?

Rev Ainslie Walton


As a humanist, I find it pathetic that a good section of the world should hang on the words of a man with no special claim to wisdom. To greet with joy a small crack in papal ignorance and superstition seems a small step forward, when scientists and health workers are struggling to reduce a mountain of misery.

When will these old and celibate clerics wake up to the reality that sex is not a sin but a joyful human pleasure? It is not simply a chore to increase the world's population.

Pete Parkins


Back Royals and fight puritanism

The likely cost of the forthcoming royal wedding is being used by republicans as an argument for replacing the monarchy with a presidential system of government. A point frequently made is that an elected president is more representative of the population than an hereditary king or queen.

This might have been true up to, say, half a century ago, when many political leaders, from among whom a president would be drawn, were from the landed gentry, the top ranks of commerce and industry or the "shop-floor". It is hardly the case now, when most government ministers are professional politicians with little experience of life beyond the bounds of their chosen occupation.

At the same time, strenuous efforts have been made to give the younger royals a broader background than would have been thought proper for their predecessors. That a prince is set to marry a lady whose grandfathers were a miner and a builder indicates how far this process has progressed.

The statue of Oliver Cromwell – Britain's only non-royal head of state – outside the Palace of Westminster symbolises more than just the supremacy of Parliament over the monarchy. The patronising tone of some articles and letters towards cap-doffing peasants such as myself, who actually enjoy the pageantry associated with royalty, indicates that puritanism is alive and kicking in Britain today.

M A Timms

Iver, Buckinghamshire

Looking through Kate Middleton's family tree, I see that of her 32 great-great-great-grandparents five have names which are patently Welsh in origin. On her father's side are a Davis and a Powell, on her mother's side are a Jones, a Jenkins and another Powell.

This makes Kate about one-sixth Welsh, a comfortable pedigree to have for one who is about to set up marital home in Ynys Mon (Anglesey).

William Oxenham


Your piece on the predictable publishing frenzy ("Book trade dreams of a fairy-tale Christmas", 23 November) included the quote, "Covering the royals for 30 years ... gives you an awfully good scaffold on which to build". So, nothing much seems to have changed since 1649.

Michael Biddiss

Alton, Hampshire

Members of the Royal Family can get married as often as they like, as long as we get a Bank Holiday every time.

Nigel Wilkins

London SW7

I am very grateful to Prince William and Katherine for announcing the date of their wedding because it has given me plenty of time to book a holiday abroad – preferably on a desert island – so I can avoid the whole shebang.

Sarah Pegg

Seaford, East Sussex

Prince William is marrying someone who, a generation ago, would have been way below his social radar. In this, he is following a continental pattern that started with Sweden. Is this some Darwinian exercise in gene-pool refreshment?

Robert Davies

London SE3

Police heavy on student suspects

I recently had a phone call from my grandson, a history student; he was distraught and needed to talk. Students from his university had been on the demonstration in London and two of them discovered that a picture of one of them was on a police gallery of suspects.

Neither had done anything other than demonstrate so they contacted the number on the website and spoke to a police officer who said that a colleague from London would visit to speak to them; no mention of arrest was made. They were told not to leave their lodgings.

The next day two detectives from London arrived and the students were arrested on suspicion of violent disorder and taken to the police station where DNA, fingerprints and more documentation was taken. They were locked in separate cells for five hours before being interviewed.

Their interrogators told them that they had been taken from their normal duties to serve on a team of 30 officers for special duties on "Operation Malone", an operation to track and apprehend students believed to have committed offences during the demonstration. The two students were charged with violent disorder and are waiting to see if the CPS decides to prosecute.

My grandson expressed his concern to me that such heavy-handed police tactics are being used. He told me that on his history course he has been studying breaches of democracy and human rights around the world, such as the McCarthy "witch-hunt" in America, the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany and similar events in China, Russia and elsewhere.

As a 76-year-old pensioner I recently wore my poppy with pride, but I am increasingly concerned at the direction this country is moving.

Gerald Napper


I wish I could agree with Max Bancroft (Letters, 23 November) that universal suffrage means it is no longer necessary for there to be potentially violent public protests. But what are we to do when governments break their manifesto commitments, or act as elected dictatorships in their contempt for the public's wishes, for example over the poll tax or the Iraq war?

General elections are a slow and blunt means of responding to such injustices, and also ineffective when all the major political parties at times show similar indifference to the people's will. Somehow, governments must learn that elections are the beginning of the democratic process, not the end of it. In the absence of any more sophisticated means of holding the government to account, the people may have to take to the streets.

Julian Gardiner

Elstree, Hertfordshire

Keep after the Nazi criminals

For many years, the authorities have dragged their heels in the prosecution of Nazi war criminals (front page, 23 November). As highlighted by the death of former Belzec guard Samuel Kunz, most of those responsible for the deaths of millions of Holocaust victims have been or will be laid to rest without every facing any consequences for their murderous actions.

In 1947, I became the youngest war crimes investigator in the British Army of the Rhine and felt ashamed one year later when our Army's War Crimes Group was disbanded and our then government denied the importance of pursuing justice. It is why I successfully fought for a War Crimes Act in our UK parliament and it is why I still believe today that it is essential that we keep working to ensure that the perpetrators of these heinous crimes are brought to trial.

However much time has passed and whatever age the perpetrators may now be, there can be no time limit on securing justice for the victims of the Holocaust. Eventually, there will be no survivors left to describe the horrific events. That time is not on our side compounds the urgency of ensuring justice is done in their lifetime.

Lord Janner

Chairman, Holocaust Educational Trust, The House of Lords, London SW1

Truth about guns and children

The UK's legislative approach to firearms licensing has grown up in piecemeal fashion over time, giving rise to certain anomalies ("Let children aged 10 have guns", 22 November).

For example, present rules provide for no minimum age for applicants for a shotgun certificate, and a minimum age of 14 is set for applicants for firearms certificates. But exemptions can be applied in both categories and this means there are effectively no lower limits in either group.

The environment in which shooting is done is critical to ensuring its safety. My view is that all children should be supervised by an adult certificate-holder over the age of 21, and that there should be a review of the exemption which permits miniature rifle ranges to operate without any form of certificate from the police or approval from the Home Office.

In addition, if we are to continue to allow children to shoot, then introducing a minimum age across firearms and shotguns without exemptions would apply more controls than now exist.

This latter point was raised in evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee on 16 November, where in response to questioning I suggested that 10, as the criminal age of responsibility, might apply.

To present this as my having issued a call for children aged 10 to be allowed to use guns is a selective and misleading interpretation of my views.

ACC Adrian Whiting

Association of Chief Police Officers, London SW1

Use all fish catch

Along with "fish discards", there is another fleet vacuuming up fish for industrial purposes such as fertilisers (Letters, 22 November). Landing the discards for use by this industry could reduce the total fish catch.

The industrial catch doubtless includes fish of acceptable size of the species popular as food. Additionally, among the discard there are likely to be species which chefs would discover to be good alternatives to the generally accepted varieties.

Peter Erridge

East Grinstead, East Sussex

Against the war

David Cameron told the Nato summit in Lisbon (20 November) that the British people were right behind the military forces in Afghanistan. When people become politicians, do they sentence themselves to a lifetime of solitary confinement, out of touch with the people? Since day one, I have never met one person who was supportive of the invasion of Afghanistan or of the continuing apparent occupation of the country.

William Burns


Perspectives on Ireland’s bailout

We are all part of the eurozone

"How we avoided Ireland's nightmare" writes Mary Ann Sieghart (22 November), while admitting that the UK suffers from a property boom and over-reliance to a bloated banking sector as much as Ireland does.

That the UK is not, yet, in Ireland's position has more to do with the size of the two economies than with whether interest rates are set in London, Dublin or Frankfurt.

This is less about a failure of the single currency (which shielded Ireland from suffering Iceland's fate when the credit-crunch hit), and more about the failure of an economic model that relied on an over-inflated property bubble and banking sector, coupled with light-touch regulation of those very sectors.

Germany and Finland, a much smaller country, are both in the eurozone but their economies are not facing the mess the Irish are, because they applied a different economic model.

What Sieghart fails to acknowledge is that the UK is in effect part of the eurozone, which the present Government has admitted by accepting that the UK's and the eurozone's banking sectors, and economies at large, are too integrated for Britain not to lend a helping hand. What happens in the eurozone affects the UK profoundly.

So unless there is a way to completely detach the country from the rest of the world it is about time we accept that loss of sovereignty actually occurs when we refuse to take part in the policy decisions that shape our economic and political future.

Petros Fassoulas

Chairman, European Movement in London, London EC1

Basic failure cause is not addressed

The financial crisis in Ireland, and Britain's predicament as a significant creditor and a lender-of-last-resort, is a timely reminder that the present British economic problem is not the simple matter of public-spending profligacy, now curbed by a new and responsible austerity, that has become so quickly the British media and political consensus.

George Osborne, who in 2006 extolled the virtues of the Irish economic tiger, has now become the wooden-faced bearer of £7bn of UK emergency funding to Ireland, extracted from the economic blood, cuts and jobs of his austerity budget package.

The underlying problems that destroyed the world banking system remain unsolved and, to a worrying degree, even unaddressed, as the banking and currency problems besetting the eurozone, EU and UK constantly remind us.

But how are we to expect neo-conservative ideologues in Government to confront, still less acknowledge or solve, the deep intellectual failure that lies at the core of their ideology?

John S Warren

Callander, Perthshire

The state of states to come

The Irish bailout (report, 22 November) raises questions about the state's sovereignty and importance. A state is supposed to provide stability and security and be independent to manage its own affairs.

But the inability of various states to do so in an ever-more globalised economy suggests the state's role is becoming of less value. What will this mean when there are fewer states and more economic collaborations such as the EU?

Jennifer Stott

Newcastle upon Tyne