Yesterday (1 December 2006) British Prime Minister Tony Blair, an Anglican widely canvassed as a possible Catholic convert when he leaves office, risked the wrath of Roman Catholic leaders by saying that religious groups need to face the reality of HIV and AIDS in their teaching and practices regarding the use of condoms.
More and more Catholic health promoters, priests and even bishops and cardinals are questioning or defying the Vaticanís blanket line against contraception, and the Church is officially considering a document which may recommend a modification of its stance in AIDS-affected areas.
Among those pushing for change is Cardinal Martini of Milan, a scripture scholar and academic who was a progressive candidate for the papacy, but lost out to Josef Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.
In what will be seen as a direct criticism of the Vatican's stance on contraception, Mr Blair used a television interview on World Aids Day to insist that preaching sexual abstinence was not enough.
Speaking to MTV, the PM declared: "The danger is if we have a sort of blanket ban from the religious hierarchy saying it's wrong to do it, then you discourage people from doing it in circumstances where they need to protect their lives."
He continued: "I think that the real key to it is education. That is about two things: educating people about sex when they are young, but also making sure that if people are sexually active, then they are taking protection. There is a big debate about this; how far are you going by saying to people, 'take protection with you'? Are you encouraging young people to have sex?"
Mr Blair said that it was ìsillyî to suggest that people should not take precautions, adding: "You should try to encourage people to be responsible, but you should recognise that, if you are sexually active, it's better to be sexually active and responsibly so."
But the message is not getting through everywhere. Church leaders in Kenya demanded an end to what they accused of being "massive indiscriminate distribution of condoms" during global celebrations to mark the World AIDS Day.
"What we are opposing is indiscriminate distribution in public places," said Kenya's Anglican Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi. Leaders like Nzimbi said they were arguing that such distribution of contraceptives would encourage promiscuity and thereby further increase HIV/AIDS, according to Ecumenical News International.
But researchers say that there is no evidence that contraception encourages irresponsible sexual activity. On the contrary, when accompanied by education and community development, it enables people to make better and safer choices.
Critics say that the Catholic Churchís official teaching is not preserving family life, it is killing family members and is theologically, practically and morally mistaken. That is the view of many Catholics, and an increasing number are now coming out to voice it.