What Does the Pope Really Mean?

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his famous essay “Self-Reliance” that a “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

I suspect that the Holy Father would not like the full implications of the remark, but I wonder that he doesn’t realize that some people might see in his many different interventions in the broad stream of social commentary similar disregard for said hobgoblin.

In his 60 Minutes interview with Norah O’Donnell, he seemed to rule out the morality of surrogate motherhood. When O’Donnell said that sometimes this was the only hope a couple might have, the pope said,

I would say that in each case the situation should be clearly considered medically and then morally. I believe in these cases there is a general rule, but you have to go into each case in particular to assess the situation, as long as the moral principle is not skirted. 

If the moral principle is that surrogacy is not moral, then why this insistence on “the situation”? The ghost of Joseph Fletcher seemed to flash by briefly. Didn’t it sound as though he was giving Ms. O’Donnell reason to believe there might be exceptions? He then concluded congratulating the interviewer for her compassion for people contemplating surrogacy. That was, he seemed to be saying, a credit to her sympathy to others’ suffering. It is very charming to compliment opponents to teach about the altruism behind their equivocation, but isn’t it a little confusing.

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