After Condom Remarks, Vatican Confirms Shift
After Condom Remarks, Vatican Confirms Shift
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI clearly acknowledged on Tuesday that the need to prevent diseases like AIDS could outweigh the church’s long opposition to the use of birth-control devices, including condoms.
It was a significant and stunning personal pronouncement from the conservative pope after more than two decades of heated debate inside the Roman Catholic Church and condemnation by health workers who said the church’s ban on prophylactics was morally indefensible during the AIDS crisis.
Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s spokesman, said that for Benedict, the use of condoms by people infected with HIV could be “the first step of responsibility, of taking into consideration the risk to the life of the person with whom there are relations.”
“Whether it’s a man or woman or a transsexual,” he added.
Though Benedict did not change official church teaching — which still strongly opposes contraceptives — his words ricocheted around the globe, greeted with anger from some conservative Catholics and enthusiasm from clerics and health workers in Africa, where the AIDS problem is worst. The pope also considers the continent to be a major area of growth for the church.
“We’re in a new world,” said the Rev. Jon Fuller, a Jesuit priest and a physician at the Center for HIV/AIDS Care and Research at Boston Medical Center.
The pope is “implicitly” saying, he said, “that you cannot anymore raise the objection that any use of the condom is an intrinsic evil.”
Catholic conservatives who believed Catholic teaching against contraception to be inviolable were reeling. “This is really shaking things up big time,” said Dr. John M. Haas, the president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, who serves on the governing council of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life.
Dr. Haas, a moral theologian, said he had seen an embargoed copy of the new book in which the pope conceded there might be extreme cases in which there were grounds for the use of condoms.“I told the publisher, ‘Don’t publish this; it’s going to create such a mess,’ ” he added.
In the book, “Light of the World,” which was released on Tuesday, Benedict said that in some cases condom use could be “a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility.”
But his words left room for ambiguity.In the book’s German and English editions, the text cited the example of a male prostitute, implying homosexual sex, in which a condom would not be a form of contraception. The church opposes contraception on the grounds that every sexual act should be open to procreation.
But questions emerged when the book’s Italian edition, excerpted by the Vatican newspaper on Saturday, used the feminine form of prostitute.
On Tuesday, Father Lombardi said the Italian translation was an error, and that the pope had specifically told him that the issue was not procreation but disease prevention — regardless of gender.
“I personally asked the pope if there was a serious, important problem in the choice of the masculine over the feminine,” Father Lombardi said. “He told me no.” Father Lombardi said that he had spoken directly with the pope at least twice since Sunday and that Benedict had personally approved the statement he released on the condom question, indicating how adamant he was.
Benedict’s papacy has suffered from frequent communications missteps. But his time, it appeared that the pope was sending an intentional message. Father Lombardi said he had asked Benedict if he had recognized the risk in publishing a book of interviews in a complex media landscape where his words might be “misunderstood.”
“The pope smiled,” Father Lombardi said.
Benedict’s comments on condoms seem in some ways to be a profound provocation, indicating that although he is not changing church doctrine, he is insisting that condoms can be a responsible option in preventing disease.
In the book, which is a wide-ranging series of interviews with the German journalist Peter Seewald, the pope was responding to a question about a controversy last year, when while on his way to Africa, he said that condoms worsened the spread of AIDS. The disease, he added, could be prevented only by abstinence and responsibility.
In expressing his views on the male prostitute scenario — words remarkable in themselves coming from a pope — Benedict showed himself to be at once strictly doctrinaire but never entirely predictable.