Thursday, March 19, 2009

Damage Control, PopeTrip Edition

After the global protest over Pope Benedict's in-flight statement on Monday en route to Africa that condoms "increase the problem" of HIV/AIDS, the Holy See's press operation is now facing heat for "cleaning up" the remark, both in subsequent clarifications and its official transcript of the traditional on-board press conference.

As no less than CNS headlined it, "There they go again":
When the pope spoke to us aboard the flight to Cameroon on Tuesday, he was asked about the use of condoms in AIDS prevention. His answer — including the statement that condom distribution increases the problem of AIDS instead of solving it — has been making headlines for days.

What the pope said (and what we ran in a translation from the original Italian in our story Tuesday) included this line:

“One cannot overcome the problem with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, they increase the problem.”

What the Vatican published on its Web site and in its newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, was something different:

“One cannot resolve the problem with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, there is a risk of increasing the problem.”

Even allowing for translation differences, the pope didn’t speak of a “risk.” He said what he said.

The Vatican made some other changes, too. For example, the pope said you couldn’t resolve the problem of AIDS only with money, explaining that assistance programs require a “soul” and spiritual help as well.

But in the official Vatican version, “money” was, strangely, replaced by the phrase “advertising slogans.”

Asked about the discrepancies, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the tape is normally transcribed and then the text passes through the Secretariat of State for slight editing — to put it into good Italian if there are discontinuous expressions. But modifying the meaning of what the pope said is not supposed to be done, he said.

Father Lombardi said he would have to verify what happened in this case and correct it if necessary.

A similar problem arose in 2007 on the plane taking the pope to Brazil, when the pope’s words to reporters about excommunicating Mexican politicians who had voted to legalize abortion were toned down in the official Vatican transcript.