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Pope says condoms can be used in the fight against Aids

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William Crawley | 18:10 UK time, Saturday, 20 November 2010

Or at least, that's what we think Pope Benedict has said in a book-length interview with a German journalist to be published next week, excerpts from which have been published in the Vatican newspaper. Reuters is reporting on the story here, and the Associated Press report is here.

Pope Benedict appears to have changed the Vatican's official stance on the use of condoms to a moral position that many Catholic theologians have been recommending for quite some time. From what we can tell -- and these caveats are important because we need to seek further clarification from the Vatican -- his position is now that condoms can sometimes be morally legitimate as a lesser of two evils in the fight against Aids. In other words, it remains the case that the Catholic Church's officially opposes the use of condoms as contraception, but the Pope now accepts that the use of condoms may sometimes be justified if the intention if to prevent the spread of HIV rather than to prevent procreation.

Take the case of the Catholic married couple where one partner is HIV-positive and the other HIV-negative. In the recent past, bishops such as Kevin Dowling have argued that condoms should be permissible in such cases. But the Vatican intervened in Bishop Dowling's case to remind him of the church's official position. Which is another way of saying that the papal nuncio to South Africa has more than once rebuked Bishop Dowling for his stance.

Pope Benedict now appears to have changed his own stance, which will come as a surprise to many but not all. Whether his new moral analysis would extend to the case of a marriage mixed-status couple will require clarification, but the example the Pope gives is of a gay prostitute who may use a condom (which, in any case, would have no potential to prevent procreation in this case) in order to protect himself from infection.

Careful analysis of Pope Benedict's previous statements and interviews suggests that he has been wrestling with this moral debate in his own mind for quite some time. Nevertheless, if these reports prove accurate, we can expect that some critics will call on the Pope to apologize for a policy that, they say, has contributed to the Aids death toll, particularly in sub-saharan Africa.

We'll have more on this story on tomorrow's Sunday Sequence.

We now have an English translation of the interview with Pope Benedict. A key quote:

Pope Benedict: "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 moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering 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 humanization of sexuality."

Interviewer: "Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?"

Pope Benedict: "She 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."


  • Comment number 1.

    And the official position against abortion has been overturned too!


  • Comment number 2.

    It should be noted that the example Pope Benedict gives is NOT that of a Catholic married couple, but a male prostitute.

    In Catholic moral theology, the marital act is meant to have both a unitive dimension and a procreative dimension, and condom use is believed to be contrary to both of these. It is contrary to the unitive dimension because the couple are not united as one flesh with a barrier in the way, and of course contrary to the procreative dimension because the procreative powers are not shared.

    Sex outside of marriage is of course viewed as sinful by the Church, and certainly homosexual acts are viewed as gravely disordered. But it is potentially compatible with all these beliefs to stipulate that there is no additional sin or compounding of sin by adding a condom to a nonmarital sex act, and particularly a homosexual act -- in fact, it may even mitigate the sin, though it would remain gravely sinful in Catholic understanding.

    Obviously in a homosexual act there is no procreative dimension to deny in the first place; and in a nonmarital heterosexual act neither the unitive nor the procreative functions should be exercised in the first place. Indeed, the main function of a condom in the case of same-sex acts would seem to be to diminish the health risks, so it would be better to use one than not.

    Even in the case of a nonmarital heterosexual act, since neither the unitive nor the procreative dimension is meant to be shared outside the context of marriage, denying them via condom use is not clearly contrary to the Church's teaching on sexuality. Again, it may even be better than not doing so. Since Catholic teaching holds that every child has a right to be conceived in the context of an act of marital love, preventing a child from being conceived in a nonmarital act may be better than not doing so, although again the Church would still regard such an act as gravely wrong.

    The pope says that condom use in some cases, as in the case of a male prostitute, may be a "first step" toward recognizing that we cannot say "anything goes" when it comes to sex. It may not add a new sin and may even diminish the sinfulness of certain acts, but this is not the same as acknowledging that there could ever be a sex act involving a condom that is actually morally licit, or that condom use could ever have a place in marriage.

  • Comment number 3.

    Of course the policy of denouncing the use of condoms by the Pope has contributed to the AIDS death toll. It is estimated that over 75 per cent of all AIDS deaths have occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, and this figure includes hundreds of thousands of children.

    If the Catholic Church were truly interested in the health and well-being of people it would be involved in the distribution of condoms: getting sub-Saharan Africans to eat wafers and believe in all sorts of mumbo-jumbo will not stop children dying of AIDS.

  • Comment number 4.

    The usual disgusting crock we've come to expect from Newlach.

    If people think this is some great reversal of position by the Holy Father and the Church they can't read. In no way is he retreating from his previous position that the condoms policy has contributed to the development of Aids. What he's talking about is the moral intention of someone, and how it might be a sign that they give a damn and might be open to movement towards some form of morality.

  • Comment number 5.

    Forgot to add this link to Janet E. Smith, well known moral theologian who explains things with more patience than I can muster: http://catholicworldreport.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=220:pope-benedict-on-condoms-in-qlight-of-the-worldq&catid=53:cwr2010&Itemid=70

  • Comment number 6.


    "in this or that case,

  • Comment number 7.


    "In this or that case, there can be none the less, in the intention of reducing infection, a first step in the movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality." - Pope Benedict.

    MCC you were on here months ago arguing emphatically that condoms cause the spread of AIDS. Had I made the above statement you would have slaughtered me.

    This is not just "the first step in the movement towards a different way" in respect to the use of condoms, its the first step in a complete U-turn by Benny who was humiliated across the world when his callous comments on his trip to Africa were reported.

    He hated the fact that he personally was being blamed for the deaths of millions of sub-Saharan Africans and now he's trying to squirm out of it. The former official teaching of the Catholic Church re barrier contraception was that it is absolutely forbidden in all cases and that abstinence or 'the rythm method" was to be used.

    You'll be on here in a few months telling us all what a great guy Benedict is because he was the one who moved us away from the intransigence of Paul VIth on this matter. (Just exactly what you did with Benny as regards child abuse i.e. he did nothing for 25 years as head of the CDF and then suddenly because he met with a few victims he was the man who did more than anyone else to address the subject, according to you, and 25 years of culpable innaction was conveniently forgotten.)

  • Comment number 8.


    It wasn't long ago that you wrote the following on a thread concerning HIV:

    "The risk of catching the virus from someone over an extended period is significant with or without the use of condoms. The reduction in risk is not sufficient to justify it. My experience of umbrellas is they nearly always break after a short time and in many instances you forget to bring it when you need it."

    Do you still hold the view that the use of condoms cannot be justified? You may wish to make light of HIV infection with umbrellas, but when I see pictures of little babies born with HIV infection I think we should do everything we can to prevent its spread.

    Condoms help reduce the spread of HIV infection; prayer is a waste of time.

  • Comment number 9.

    It's certainly a step in the right direction

  • Comment number 10.

    The Holy Father hasn't changed his position at all, it's just that some of you people find it difficult to understand English. The Pope was saying someone's intention, to lessen the risk of death, was a good thing and may indicatate a willingness or an opening in their moral position away from a position of "I'll do whatever I want". It in no away affects the general position that the promotion of condoms in place of morality has contributed to the spread of Aids.

    I put this little piece of satire on my blog http://mccamley.org/blog/holy-father-tells-terrorists-how-to-plant-bombs - might help some of you understand:

    The Holy Father was asked in a recent interview to comment on the behaviour of terrorists who plant no warning bombs in heavily populated areas of cities, close to schools and nurseries. He said it was a bad thing.

    He was then asked if it was better if the terrorist telephoned in bomb warnings so that buildings could be evacuated.

    The Holy Father said that while engaging in such acts of terrorism was always morally wrong, telephoning a warning "can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering 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 political issues or demands for justice".

    Media: "So you're saying it's okay to plant bombs so long as you use phone warnings?"

    Holy Father: "No, of course not, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of serious injury or death to an innocent person, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of policital action".

  • Comment number 11.

    Mccamley "the intention of reducing the risk of serious injury or death to an innocent person "

    Yes, finally you get the point. Everything else is peripheral.

  • Comment number 12.


    I think it is you who needs to brush up on your English. For the first time ever a Pope has stated that in certain circumstances it is the morally responsible thing to do to wear a condom.

    Even Lombardi states, "Never the less, its true that they have not been heard with such clarity until now from the mouth of the Pope, even if its in colloquial rather than magesterial form."

    I'm sorry if this exposes your previous rantings on the subject to have been ill-considered, triumphalistic and silly, but maybe it'll be a lesson to you to actually think out moral problems for yourself and to stop lazily handing over your capacity to reason to someone else.

  • Comment number 13.

    You know, for once these discussions might actually lead somewhere and clarify something.

    The misreading which is going on, in some cases wilfully misreading, is that that the Pope has said that a good intention (to save life) can justify a bad act (using a condom). That's been the standard line of a certain school of moral theology since pussy was a kitten. And they think the Pope has fallen for it.

    But he hasn't said that at all. He's said that the indication of a good intention might be a good sign or moral hope for someone. It's better to do something bad with a good intention than with a bad intention.

    But essentially a good intention doesnt' make a bad act good.

    Anyone involved in spiritual direction, counselling, hearing confessions, knows that you start with where the person is and try to move them to somewhere better. You look for indications of development of their moral position. So you might say that's it's better if someone using the morning after pill decides to use condoms because they don't cause abortions. But while you welcome improvements you never condone the steps along the journey. You have to continue holding before the person the holiness to which we must all tend.

    Lombardi's an ass who tends to make things worse.

    Question is, who was behind the selective leak of that particular segment and decision to publish in L'Osservatore

  • Comment number 14.

    Come on, McCamley, I could have quoted you any amount of journalists but I gave you Lombardi, Benedict's mouthpiece. And now he's an ass too?

    L'Osservatore says exactly what the Vatican wants it to say. Are you trying to suggest there is now a secret campaign to undermine Ratzinger?

    L'Osservatore also included a large section on the Pope's attitude to the media. Its clear from his words that the Pope knew exactly how the media would report his comments regarding condoms.

    The fact remains - lest you cloud the issue with all your jumping through hoops above - that for the first time the Pope has stated that in certain circumstances using a condom is the morally responsible thing to do. And that drives a bus through much of what you have argued on here in the past.

  • Comment number 15.

    So if I understand you MCC, the pope is saying that using a condom in some circumstances, where the intention is to prevent damage to another, can be a morally superior position to not using one but conveys no mitigation to the act itself.

    This is the same as saying if you lot are going to do these things we do not like, then it can be morally responsible to use barrier protection.

    He uses the example of a male prostitute but surely the activities of a male prostitute are no graver a sin than a female prostitute or an adulterer or a fornicator so what the pope has said is applicable to them as well. That really only leaves the issue of married couples (and only catholic ones anyway as contraception is only immoral for them).

    One thing you night explain is why, if the pope is actually trying to say something does he not actually say what he means in clear and unambiguous way instead of this dancing on the head of a pin which according to you means one thing, Lombardi another, RJB something else and the media able to take whatever slant they want. It would almost seem that he wanted to say something in such a way that he could defend himself against any accusation of change or lack of it. He does seem to have pleased everyone for different and opposing reasons.

    PeterKlaver @ #1 I did read that satirical piece on the reversal of the doctrine on abortion, interestingly on another site yesterday I saw a comment that perhaps this current measure has more to do with protecting Vatican employees given the recent rent boy scandals.

  • Comment number 16.

    "Question is, who was behind the selective leak of that particular segment and decision to publish in L'Osservatore"

    Oh, it's the darn liberal media again! Even inside the Vatican, they still manage to give the Vatican such a bad press!

    They must be very clever. :)

  • Comment number 17.

    Jellybean - I think I am on record as saying the Holy Father has been badly served by the secretariat of state, including Bertone and Lombardi. His failure is in not getting rid of them pronto.

    PeterK - do you not think it is curious that the newspaper which broke the embargo on publication of the book and which published that specific segment, was L'Osservatore? It's at least worthy of comment.

    The reference to male prostitute is, I think, important, because there can be no question of the act being any more contraceptive through the use of the condom than without.

    Let's look at this scenario. A serial rapist decides to begin using condoms to lessen the likelihood of his victims getting pregnant or catching a disease. His intention is clearly a good one. One may even see an improvement in his moral position, the first indication that he may be seeing his victims as persons. But is anyone going to say that we should have a publicly policy to encourage rapists to use condoms. Is anyone going to argue publicly that condom wearing rapists are better than the standard rapist? No, for all sorts of reasons. But people are trying to draw more conclusions from the Pope's remarks that are warranted.

  • Comment number 18.

    One small step for a celibate old man; one giant leap for mankind.

  • Comment number 19.


    The reference to male prostitute is, I think, important, because there can be no question of the act being any more contraceptive through the use of the condom than without,

    So would homosexuals, infertile married couples, married couples where the female is post menopausal be covered as there can be no question of the act being any more contraceptive through the use of the condom than without and in the case of the married couples the act of sex is not even sinful.

  • Comment number 20.

    Women and children, the ones harmed by promiscuous males, aren't offered protection. Since the press statement forgive 'male prostitutes' it seems to clearly be a move by the Vatican to stop the bleeding of priest shortage compounded by the men dying of AIDS.

    "Roman Catholic priests in the United States are dying from Aids at least four times as fast as the general population, largely as a result of homosexual contact that the church hierarchy has anxiously sought to hush up, according to an extensive study published in the Kansas City Star."

    Man oh man, the opener on this can of sardines winds the lid back way to slowly.

  • Comment number 21.

    Mccamley, yes you would do a much better job as the Holy Father's secretariat of state, and yes everything that comes out of the Vatican that doesn't conform to your whiter than white image is a conspiracy- even all those Priests who have contracted HIV/AIDs.They're supposed to be celibate?! It just shows you cannot expect human beings to be celibate and deny the sexual side of yourself otherwise it will come back to haunt you

    Face it Mccamley, the Catholic Church and its ailments are no different from the rest of Society- except that it's an undemocratic Institution, that hides its problems and covers them up in hypocritical dogma. LSV said in another thread "It's as if this blog is a place detached from the rest of reality, where we can come and analyse the universe, while imagining that our comments are immune from the same analysis" The same applies to the Catholic Church and is an unfortunate bi-product of thinkers separating their Utopian ideal world from the Actual real world.

    Mccamley, it would be really nice to see you try and think independently for a change. I know it's scary and it's easier not to confront your real self when you cover and hide who you are in somebody else's cloak, but try, it might not be so bad :)

  • Comment number 22.

    I was quite surprised to read that Roman Catholic priests in the US are 4 times more likely to die of AIDS than other Americans (see no. 20). For the sake of Roman Catholic priests as well as people generally the Catholic Church should back the use of condoms.

  • Comment number 23.

    The mission of the catholic church is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is not a healthcare organization. Overwhelming research confirms that the use of condoms will stop the spread of AIDS. Sex outside of marriage happens; does anyone really believe it can be eliminated. It hasn’t been achieved in the last 2000 years, so it’s unlikely to be an effective countermeasure to the spread of AIDS.

    Clearly if we want to effectively fight AIDS we need to support the efforts of health care organizations.

    The church, by both actively campaigning against and not supporting the use of condoms, has helped more people to become infected with AIDS.

    Perhaps it believes that its morality trumps the health of humanity, I don’t know and I really don’t care.

    In my opinion the churches stance is unforgivable, and un-defendable to any rational human being.

  • Comment number 24.

    The Humanist blog (link on the right) quotes a translated excerpt from L’Osservatore. The Pope says, the true solution involves 'humanizing sexuality'. I wonder if he'll eventually grasp that humanizing sexuality means taking onboard the broad spectrum of sexuality and the inate dignity of love between 2 human beings, without reference to gender.

    Maybe once he,his Church and others around the world recognise that "humanazing sexuality" is a common goal for all, human beings won't be so content settling for elements of sexual intimacy that lead many to de-sensitize the need for love and emotional connection and replace that with a soley mechanical function. Every human being needs a healthy balance between all levels of intimacy and connection.

    Considering the population of the planet is increasing by over 200,000 a day- Often In parts of the world where the increases put strain on natural resources and the quality of life of those already needing food, water, jobs- a sensible, coherant approach contraception needs to be taken-globally.

  • Comment number 25.

    LucyQ, here is another story for you, absolutely explosive. CNN reports that a priest had been accused of abusing a boy, then while out on bail, tried to have his accuser murdered:


    So we've had buy victims off to stay silent, blame gays, Jews, victims, media, etc., downplay the scale of it. But 'arrange to have your accuser murdered' is new.

    I wonder how mccamleyc is going to put a mitigating spin on this one. Hands up those who think it will be the darn liberal media again, who are always trying to show the catholic church in a bad light.

  • Comment number 26.


    There are far more sinister goings on than one individual priest allegedly attempting to 'take out' his accuser.

    There is presently a huge scandal in the States where a man was brutally stabbed to death (over thirty stab wounds.) He was allegedly going to blow the whistle on a priest paedophile ring.

    The local Bishop mysteriously turned up first at the scene of the crime and cant or wont explain to the police how he came to be there.

  • Comment number 27.


    You may also like to read the following article. Ages ago I wrote an extended piece on here about Cardinal Levada who was appointed head of the CDF by Ratzinger two days after he was made Pope.

    It makes for shocking reading. Levada actually appointed a priest whom he knew to be an abuser to a committee he set up to investigate abuse in his own diocese. He also sacked a priest who blew the whistle on another abuser priest.

    Its no surprise at all that the crime of murder or attempted murder is involved. Some people have a lot to lose if the real truth emerges.


  • Comment number 28.

    The priesthood and hierarchy of the catholic church, or at least powerful sections of it, are acting like a Mafia above the law.

    It's like a code of honour to protect the church and to protect each other from scandal whatever the cost.

    Use whatever means necessary - intimidation, murder, attempted murder, lying, cover up, obfuscation, press manipulation to ensure that people do what they are told and no information which could negatively impact on the reputation or doctrine of the church ever gets out or gains credence no matter how true it is.

    Crimes, however heinous, are tolerated (even accepted) and people moved or promoted to avoid discover by 'outsiders' because the perpetrators are family and so more important than those outside the priesthood.

    Pressure (via threats of excommunication or hell) is brought to bear on law enforcement and political representatives to to intimidate them into following the wishes of the family sorry church.

    It is ironic that the catholic church and the Mafia are both seen as synonymous with Italy.

    Please note: this is not an anti religious rant but an observation of the operational activities and protectionism of the catholic church not its beliefs.

  • Comment number 29.

    Well it's pretty clear many Catholic Priests & hierachy are more likely to be heading to Hell than Heaven- if there is such a place, maybe many of these priests will be hoping and praying there really is nothing after you die. Do they think God is sanctioning their behaviour in the same deranged way suicide bombers do? I would like to think they miss the point & it's more about independent decisions we make under difficult circumstances- in essense to show the content of our souls.

    If this is what these people are reduced to then they could probably learn more about peace, gentleness and humility from an Orangutan than from their pact with the Catholic Church

  • Comment number 30.

    Love the mafia analogy. Maybe we should start wiretapping Don Benedict and his capos...sorry, cardinals!

    What's difficult about the church is that what they do is hidden in plain sight, unlike the mafia, whom we know to seek for in the shadows. They have all the power and political skills of a government but none of the accountability.

    From a moral point of view, I think the real problems come from the moral certainty they broadcast and utilise. It leads to an inflexibility that compounds error. To declare absolute certainty to the point of infallibility is totally contrary to the humility that Jesus preached. No man may claim to know the mind of God, if there be such a thing.

    The Catholic Church has survived greater scandals than this though. It has too much power for any of this to have anything other than a minorly detrimental effect. The real way to bring the power structure down is from the bottom up. This means educating people to be able to recognise the dangers inherent in the very core of Catholic dogma. It can be done as well. That's why the Catholic Church fights tooth and nail to maintain its own separate education system; because it sees this as the best innoculation against external critical thought infiltrating the ranks in large enough numbers to affect the power structure.



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