Pope still in a pickle over condoms and AIDS comments

By staff writers
March 19, 2009

The Vatican has amended comments made about condoms by Pope Benedict XVI, but the moderation of tone is unlikely to satisfy critics who say his dogmatic stance against contraception is seriously damaging the fight against HIV-AIDS and endangering the lives of millions.

Though Benedict's initial remarks are a matter of record as far as the media is concerned, from the Catholic Church's perspective it is the final version authorised by the Vatican that is deemed to be the official record.

The main change appears to be that instead of stating unequivocally that condoms aggravate or increase the problem of AIDS, the Vatican now has the Pope saying that condoms "risk" aggravating the problem.

Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, has welcomed the climbdown which has been almost as swift as the international condemnation that greeted the original statement.

"The Pope has now admitted that he is unsure as to whether condoms will help alleviate the spread of HIV," says O'Brien. "Where there is doubt there is freedom and Catholics can now make up their own minds as to whether they can use them or not."

He continued: "The vast majority of Catholics have already made this call and use condoms to protect themselves and their partners against STIs, including HIV.

"We call on the Pope to revisit the teachings on condoms with a view to lifting the ban at the earliest possible moment. In his review, we want him to include experts who are unequivocal that condoms do in fact help prevent the spread off HIV, like UNAIDS, the World Health Organization and HIV/AIDS advocacy organizations around the world.

"Papal spokesman Father Federico Lombardi noted that the pontiff was merely continuing the line taken by his predecessors. In 1990, Pope John Paul II had said that using condoms was a sin in any circumstances. It took the church hierarchy 359 years to stop continuing the line taken by their predecessors on Galileo. We hope that this error does not take so long to change," concluded O'Brien.

Some 22 million people are infected with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, according to UN figures for 2007. This is around two-thirds of the global total.

Several European leaders have openly condemned the Pope's claim that condoms are harmful to health, saying that it flies in the face of research, science and reason.

France's foreign ministry said condoms were fundamental to HIV-AIDS prevention strategies. German government ministers said it was irresponsible to withhold family planning from the poorest of the poor.

Dutch Development Minister Bert Koenders said it was "extremely harmful and very serious" that the Pope was "forbidding people from protecting themselves".

"There is an enormous stigma surrounding the subject of Aids and Aids sufferers face serious discrimination," he added. "The Pope is making matters worse."

Other Christian traditions and denominations reject the Catholic Church's teaching that contraception is anti-life.

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