Promise of Ambiguity
The exchange these last weeks over Pope Benedict XVI’s comment about condom  use as a first step in AIDS prevention has turned out to be a provocative case study both in ecclesiology and method in official teaching. That his response to the queries of his press spokesman, Frederico Lombardi, S.J., for clarification were alternately frank—referring to the varieties of contemporary sexuality: male, female, transsexual—and coy—responding to Lombardi with a silent smile—makes his remarks all the more intriguing.
With respect to ecclesiology, why did the pope choose the format of an interview rather than an official papal statement to break with the conventional hierarchical wisdom on condom use? Was he doing an end-run around his own Curia and the College of Cardinals? Was he demonstrating some of the down-to-earth pastoral common sense he has shown in dialogues with diocesan clergy, or do his remarks reflect his conversations with bishops for whom the AIDS epidemic is a pressing pastoral problem?
For moral theologians, perhaps the ambiguous sensitivity of Pope Benedict’s comments may discreetly signal a move away from the ecclesiastical positivism of the last pontificate, with its risk of drifting toward politicization of moral teaching. It may be that moral theologians and bishops who a decade ago took the same position as the pope, only to be rejected, can begin to hope that their collective wisdom might again function as an integral part of the ordinary magisterium, as it did for centuries. Perhaps, in line with the reduced expectations Benedict has sometimes attempted to encourage about the exercise of the papal office, he may be gently nudging bishops not to feel compelled to present themselves as oracles on new moral challenges.
Sharing the Beach
The good news from Israel is that some Israeli women are determined to share the basic pleasures of life with their deprived Palestinian neighbors. According to Ynetnews, one basic pleasure is a day at the beach—salt water, children rolling on the grass. Women stride into the surf, though fully clothed, and feel the sand beneath their feet.
Two women writers drove Palestinian women from the Territories to the Tel Aviv beach. Five women from another group brought Palestinian children to the shore twice a week during the summer for what may have been their only sight of the ocean in their lives. They guided toddlers through the security checkpoints (an 18-month-old baby was suspected of carrying a bomb). The lifeguard was reluctant to accept them, but in time his heart opened to the children. A 15-year-old boy who had dropped out of school to support his family was singled out as a security risk until press coverage got the ban on him revoked.
The bad news is that the two women writers were threatened, as they anticipated, with prosecution for violating the Entry Into Israel Law, and the Web site of Ynetnews was bombarded with hate mail from both the United States and Israel: If Palestinians want beaches, let them go to Gaza; kids in Colorado don’t see the beach either, but nobody raises money for them; women and children can still be terrorists.
One wonders, Why can’t Israelis and Palestinians share a beach? One commentator put it this way: “You treat these children like criminals for breathing the same air as you.”
A Duty of Self-Care
This New Year’s, as many people resolve to lose weight and take better care of themselves, a new study suggests American women would do well to maintain these resolutions not just for a year but for a lifetime. A state-by-state report card assessing women’s health in the United States was recently released by the National Women’s Law Center and the Oregon Health and Science University. The overall health of U.S. women was graded unsatisfactory; in some areas it is actually getting worse. Most surprising, say researchers, is that the number of women of all ages who indulge in binge drinking has gone up—to more than 10 percent in 2010 from 6.7 percent in 2007. In addition, the number of women who receive cervical cancer screenings has gone down even as the number of women who test positive for chlamydia has risen.
Perhaps less surprising is the fact that an increasing number of women struggle with obesity, diabetes and hypertension. Massachusetts and Vermont received the highest score given to any states for the health status of their residents, the low grade of “satisfactory minus.” Twelve states received a “failing” grade; Louisiana and Mississippi ranked lowest. The grades reflect failure to meet the government’s Healthy People 2010 initiative.
In a time when the unhealthiest foods are often the cheapest and many women are the sole providers for their families, few have the time or funds to find healthy meals or join a gym. Ensuring that fresh, healthy, local foods are affordable and available to all would be a good first step toward improvement. Recent reforms in heath care will expand Medicaid eligibility and put an end to some gender-based inequalities. Christian stewardship encompasses care for all of God’s creation, including oneself.