The Pope says the use of condoms may sometimes be justified to stop the spread of AIDS and in other situations – a “welcome” clarification, says one young Catholic who spoke to Channel 4 News.
In a book to be published this week, Pope Benedict cites the example of use of condoms by male prostitutes as “a first step towards moralisation”, although he does add that condoms are “not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection”.
Although the Pope’s words are limited, they still mark a major departure from one of the Catholic Church’s most controversial positions. The late cardinal John O’Connor of New York famously branded the use of condoms to stop the spread of AIDS as “The Big Lie”.
As such, the Pope’s comments have been greeted as a breakthrough by campaigners. While other religious figures have spoken out about the potential use of condoms to stop AIDS as the lesser of two evils, it’s the first time the Pope has ever gone this far.
Jon O’Brien, head of US group Catholics for Choice, said: “It is a marvellous victory for common sense and reason, a major step towards recognising that condom use can play a vital role in reducing the future impact of the HIV pandemic.”
In the book, “Light of the World”, author Peter Seewald dedicates a section to condoms.
Welcome - in context
"Pope Benedict's comments must be kept in perspective," 24-year-old Catholic Madeleine Teahan told Channel 4 News.
"Firstly they were made in a series of personal interviews so they do not constitute an official 'ruling'. Secondly they do not signal a change in the Church's position on artifical contraception within marriage.
"The Catholic Church has always maintained that sex, within a specific context is a beautiful and powerful expression of love which commands a profound responsibility and respect. This clarification whilst welcome, must be contemplated within the wider context to which the Pope referred, namely the need for a humanisation of sexuality."
In the book, the German Catholic journalist asks: “Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?”
The Pope answers: “It 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.”
He has since clarified that the comments do not weaken the Church’s fundamental opposition to artificial birth control, which was formalised in the late Pope Paul’s Humanae Vitae in 1968.
Pope Benedict said “the basic lines of Humanae Vitae are still correct”, indicating his comments about condoms are not intended to apply to birth control, only to AIDS prevention.
The Pope goes as far as to mention the ABC principle (Abstinence – Be faithful – Condom), developed in the secular world, he says, but relevant to his stance that condoms can be justified as a last resort.
The comments are a marked departure from his position even last year, when the Pope caused outrage by saying that condoms could spread AIDS.