Caution urged over interpreting Pope's remarks on condoms

By staff writers
November 21, 2010

Claims that Pope Benedict XVI has "changed his view on condoms" appear to be wide of the mark, say close observers of the Vatican scene.

Newspapers, including the Sunday Times in the UK, have this morning (Sunday 21 November 2010) run with dramatic headlines such as 'Pope relaxes Vatican ban on condoms'.

However, excerpts from a lengthy interview with the pontiff by a German journalist, whose book was previewed in a Vatican newspaper on 20 November, makes it clear that the Pope still opposes artificial contraception and does not see the use of condoms as "a moral solution" to the AIDS crisis.

What he does countenance - rather than encourage - is their use in "single instances", such as male prostitution. Their use could represent a first step in assuming moral responsibility "in the intention of reducing the risk of infection", said Benedict.

Such rare cases will not change the overall Papal line however, and moral theologians and other Vatican-watchers are cautioning journalists and campaigners to read the full text of Benedict's remarks with greater care.

Nonetheless, reaction has been swift across the globe.

Reforming priest Fr Shay Cullen, a Columban missionary who has helped sexually abused children in the Philippines, praised what he said was a crucial modification in the Pope's stand.

"We welcome the Pope's change of opinion because it is meant to save life and to protect people," Cullen declared. "We see here an enlightened Pope putting his concern over human life as a priority first."

But Philippine Catholic businessman George Gueco said the pope's remarks did not amount to any change in the Catholic Church's long-standing stance against contraceptives, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, UK-based human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell commented: "The Pope's concession that condoms may be morally justified to prevent the spread of HIV is a significant modification of the Vatican's traditional, hardline stance against all condom use."

He continued: "[The] seems to be admitting, for the first time, that using condoms can be morally responsible if they help save lives.

"Until now, Benedict XVI has always insisted that the church's opposition to condom use was a fundamental, non-negotiable moral absolute that could never be changed.

"It appears to be a response to the widespread criticism of the previous Papal policy, including criticisms from many Catholic clergy and lay people. Most ordinary Catholics have long rejected the Pope's dogmatic, unyielding rejection of condoms. They realise that using condoms can help protect people against HIV.

"Benedict seems to realise that his unrelenting, blanket opposition to condoms has damaged his own authority and that of the church.

"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?", asked Tatchell.

However, sources in the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales were telling journalists this morning (21 November) that the papal modification did not mean a major change in Vatican policy.

One told Associated Press: "What [Benedict] is not saying is that this is a change in institutional thinking or that condoms are a solution to HIV/Aids. He is speaking very specifically on this point of moral theology."

Jack Valero, an Opus Dei member and co-ordinator of Catholic Voices, an official PR group for the Church, said the Pope's comments did not amount to a change in Vatican doctrine on sexuality.


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