Pope Benedict XVI in a statement on the use of condoms, reported in a book to be published this week, had suggested the consideration of condom use in certain, limited circumstances. The Vatican immediately provided a “clarification” of the remarks, insisting he had “not reformed or changed the [Roman Catholic] church’s teaching”.
In the pope’s interview Benedict accepted that condoms reduced the risk of infection from HIV/AIDS. According to his spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, the Pontiff’s view was that “AIDS cannot be solved only by the distribution of condoms”. Fr Lombardi added, “At the same time, the Pope considered an exceptional situation in which the exercise of sexuality represents a real risk to the lives of others. In this case, the Pope does not morally justify the exercise of disordered sexuality, but believes that the use of condoms to reduce the risk of infection is a ‘first step on the road to a more human sexuality’, rather than not to use it and risking the lives of others.”
There was a public surprise when Benedict cited an example of a male prostitute who used a condom to protect his client. But in so doing he avoided breaching his church’s opposition to artificial contraception: birth control not being an issue in male homosexual relations. It was speculated whether the Pope was allowing the use of condoms in heterosexual relations, if only by couples in which one partner was HIV-positive.
Many theologians have argued that the Pope’s remarks on condoms did not represent a change of position, let alone of doctrine. But many ordinary Catholics took them as a green light for “safe sex” and they were welcomed by AIDS campaigners. According to a spokesman for the United Nations’ joint programme on HIV/AIDS, this is “a significant and positive step forward.” He added, “This move recognizes that responsible sexual behaviour and the use of condoms have important roles in HIV prevention.”
In Zimbabwe, a Catholic priest Father Peter Makome said, “Now the message has come out that [men and women] can go ahead and do safe sex, it’s much better for everyone.”
“Light of the World”, to be published on Wednesday, is the latest of three book-length interviews with Benedict XVI by Peter Seewald, a German journalist. It is the first of his books to be published since Joseph Ratzinger became Pope five years ago.
The Vatican maintains that the Pope’s remarks were made in a “colloquial and not magisterial” form. In other words, they represented his private opinions rather than official teaching.