THE Vatican this week insisted that remarks made by Pope Benedict XVI on the use of condoms do not represent “a revolutionary shift” in the Church’s teaching on contraception.
In an interview with the German journalist Peter Seewald, published in the book Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the signs of the times (Ignatius Press), which was due to be released this week, the Pope said: “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 moralisation, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward discovering 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 humanisation of sexuality.”
When asked by Mr Seewald if “the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms”, the Pope responded: “She [the Church] does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but in this or that case, there can be none the less, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.”
In a statement released last weekend, a spokesman for the Holy See, Fr Federico Lombardi, said: “In saying this, the Pope is not reforming or changing the teaching of the Church, but reaffirming it by putting it in the context of the value and dignity of human sexuality as an expression of love and responsibility.
“At the same time, the Pope takes into consideration an exceptional situation in which the exercise of sexuality may represent a real risk to the life of another person. In such a case, the Pope does not morally justify the disordered exercise of sexuality, but maintains that the use of the condom to diminish the danger of infection may be . . . ‘a first step [to a] . . . more human sexuality’.”
The Italian translation of the remarks caused some confusion about whether the Pope was saying male or female prostitute.
On Tuesday, Fr Lombardi attempted to clarify the Pope’s remarks. He said that they applied to women as well as men, as part of the battle against passing on infection, as this was the lesser of two evils. “It’s the first step of taking responsibility of taking into consideration the risk of the life of another with whom you have a relationship.”
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales issued a statement on Tuesday supporting the Vatican’s interpretation of the Pope’s comments. “While the use of condoms do not provide a moral solution to the AIDS epidemic, he [the Pope] reflects that in certain exceptional circumstances the use of a condom to reduce the risk of infection could represent the first step in a move towards a more human and responsible way of living sexuality.”
Dr Janet Smith, an adviser to the Pontifical Council for the Family, said in an interview with the Zenit News Agency: “He [the Pope] is not speaking to the morality of the use of a condom, but to something that may be true about the psychological state of those who use them. If such individuals are using condoms to avoid harming another, they may eventually realise that sexual acts between members of the same sex are inherently harmful, since they are not in accord with human nature.”
Progressio, the Roman Catholic Development Agency, said the Pope’s comments were “a sign of compassion and understanding of the situation faced by so many around the world”.
Peter Tatchell, the human-rights campaigner, who campaigned against the Pope during his visit to Britain in September, said: “The Pope’s concession that condoms may be morally justified to prevent the spread of HIV is a significant modification of the Vatican’s traditional, hardline stance against all condom use. He seems to be admitting, for the first time, that using condoms can be morally responsible if they help save lives.”