Pope says condoms can be used in the fight against Aids
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."