Benedict allows for limited use of condoms

 

IN MUCH debated remarks this weekend, Pope Benedict appeared to signal a softening of the Catholic Church’s hitherto uncompromising ban on the use of condoms when he suggested that “in certain cases” in the fight against the HIV Aids pandemic their use can be “justified”.

The pope’s remarks, which have inevitably sparked off a huge worldwide debate, are to be found in his forthcoming new book, Light Of The World, extracts of which were published in Saturday’s edition of the Vatican daily, L’Osservatore Romano.

Based on a series of interviews with German journalist Peter Seewald, the new book, which is due to be formally launched at a Vatican news conference tomorrow, the pope answers questions on a wide range of topics, including the clerical sex abuse crisis, the Holocaust, Pope Pius XII, the use of the burka and even his favourite TV viewing.

Inevitably, however, it is his observations on the use of condoms which have prompted most controversy. Although he says that to focus on the condom is to trivialise sexuality, he adds with regard to HIV: “There can be particular cases [where they are] justified, for example when a prostitute uses a condom, and this can be a first step towards moral behaviour, the first act of responsibility in the realisation that not everything is permissible and that you cannot do whatever you want.

“Of course, this is not the only true way to defeat the HIV virus. To do so, we need a real humanisation of sexuality.”

United Nations officials, Aids workers and gay rights activists were just some of the groups to immediately react positively to the pope’s words.

UN Aids director Michel Sidibé in Geneva said: “This is a significant and positive step forward by the Vatican today . . . this move recognises that responsible sexual behaviour and the use of condoms have important roles in HIV prevention.”

Philippines-based Irish Columban missionary, Fr Shay Cullen, also reacted positively: “We welcome the pope’s change of opinion because it is meant to save life and to protect people . . . see here an enlightened pope making concern over human life his first priority.”

British gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell called the pope’s words a “volte face”, adding: “He seems to be admitting , for the first time, that using condoms can be morally responsible if they help save lives . . . If the pope can change his stance on condoms, why can’t he also modify the Vatican’s harsh, intolerant opposition to women’s rights, gay equality, fertility treatment and embryonic stem cell research?”

Although the Vatican’s senior spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi, yesterday issued a statement in which he claimed the pope’s words “certainly cannot be defined as a revolutionary change”, most commentators begged to differ.

Many recalled that on the way to Cameroon in March of last year, the pope said that “you cannot overcome the problem (of HIV/Aids) just by the distribution of condoms, which on the contrary exacerbate the problem . . .”