CNN Misinterprets Pope's Condom Remarks; NBC Offers Accurate Coverage

On Monday's Newsroom, CNN's Kyra Phillips gave a false impression of Pope Benedict XVI's recent comments about condoms. While the Pope stated that condom use "can be a first step...on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed," Phillips stated that the pontiff "says condoms are okay sometimes." Refreshingly, Monday's Today show on NBC accurately covered Benedict's remarks.

The anchor previewed CNN correspondent Atika Schubert's report on the pontiff's comments 10 minutes into the 9 am Eastern hour with her inaccurate description: "Well, the Catholic Church and condoms: two things that have never really gone together until now. The Pope, quoted in a new book, says condoms are okay sometimes. Now, that's a talker!" After a commercial break, Phillips continued with another misleading statement:

PHILLIPS: Pope Benedict is bending a bit when it comes to condoms. A new book actually quotes him as saying that they are okay to use in certain circumstances, like to prevent disease, not birth control. It's the first time the Church has ever talked about exceptions to the condom rule....Here's a part of what the Pope says in the book. See if your eyebrows raise a little bit. It says- quote, 'There could be single cases that can be justified. For instance, when a prostitute uses a condom.' Say what? (laughs) Doesn't it kind of sound like the Pope is justifying prostitution, too? Surely not, but what a bizarre analogy.

Kyra Phillips, CNN Anchor; & file photo of Pope Benedict XVI | NewsBusters.orgThe CNN anchor actually paraphrased the Pope's remarks, which were actually part of a wider conversation with German journalist Peter Seewald, who asked about Benedict's March 2009 trip to Africa. The bishop of Rome actually defended the Catholic Church's record of caring for those suffering from HIV/AIDS and criticized the "secular realm" for cheapening sexuality:

...[T]he secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work. 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.

[Seewald] Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.

Later in the segment, Phillips bizarrely asked Schubert, "So the comments don't exactly rise to the level of official Vatican policy. So, what's your take? Is the Pope kind of going rogue here, or is he just being realistic?" It's not surprising that the anchor would get it wrong when it comes to the Pope and/or Catholic Church, as she falsely claimed during a June 11, 2010 report that Benedict XVI hasn't said he's sorry for the priestly sexual abuse scandal. Phillips also endorsed the radical agenda of three heterodox Christians she brought on as guests during a March 26, 2010 segment: "I think all three of you need to head to the Vatican and institute some change."

NBC correspondent Kerry Sanders covered the pontiff's comments for the Today show just after the top of the 8 am Eastern hour, and actually turned to Benedict's publisher in the U.S., Father Joseph Fessio, for his take. Sanders also read actual excerpts from the book, something Phillips and Schubert didn't do:

Kerry Sanders, NBC Correspondent | NewsBusters.orgNATALIE MORALES: The Pope is addressing difficult issues facing the Catholic Church, including condom use, in a book that comes out tomorrow.

NBC's Kerry Sanders already has a copy, and he joins us now from Miami. Kerry, good morning.

SANDERS: Well, good morning Natalie. Here is the book, 'Light of the World,' by the pope, Benedict XVI, and it's about 200 pages long. But it's near the end, where he talks about condom use, that will draw the most attention among America's 68 million Catholics.

SANDERS (voice-over): The book is simply questions and answers. Pope Benedict XVI sat with journalist Peter Seewald, in what the Vatican says was an open forum to ask any questions, and it's there on page 118: a question about AIDS in Africa: should condoms be used to prevent the spread of that disease? In one of the longest answers in the book, the Pope says, in part, 'There may be a basis in the case of some individuals as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom. The Church, of course, does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but in this or that case, there can be, nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.'

SANDERS (on-camera): Was that the Pope endorsing the use of condoms?

FATHER JOSEPH FESSIO, S.J.: No, it's not. But it sounds dangerously close, doesn't it?

SANDERS (voice-over): Father Joseph Fessio is the publisher of the Pope's new book. He's also a longtime friend.

SANDERS (on-camera): When you hear that, already, the word is out that the Pope is endorsing the use of condoms in limited situations-

FESSIO: Right- he's saying it's immoral, but he's saying someone could do it, in a particular case, having an intention of causing less harm, and that could be a first little step towards a more moral life. But that does not say- okay, go ahead, use condoms- it's all right.

SANDERS (on-camera): In the book, the Pope answers every question he was asked, including some very direct difficult questions about the sex abuse scandal in the Church.

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