Catholic development agency Progressio has welcomed the Pope’s comments that the use of condoms might be justified in certain circumstances to prevent the spread of AIDS.
Christine Allen, Progressio's executive director, said: "The Pope’s comments are a sign of compassion and understanding of the situation faced by so many around the world, especially by many in the poor communities that we work amongst, who live with the reality of HIV in their lives. It is a long awaited signal that will be welcomed by many church workers on the ‘front line’ who seek to respond to the pastoral needs of people with compassion and reality whilst seeking to remain true to the church's teaching.”
Ms Allen cited the example of Maria, a Zimbabwean woman in her 30s who is jobless and in dire poverty. She was beaten by her husband so for the sake of herself and her children, she left him. She has now had to turn to sex work in order to feed her family.
“Maria's situation illustrates exactly the sort of circumstance that needs compassion and understanding. She needs practical advice and support on a range of things, not least avoiding infection,” said Ms Allen.
She said a focus solely on the ‘mechanics’ of HIV transmission “risks losing sight of underlying issues of violence, gender inequality, poverty and powerlessness that, along with fear and stigma, are central to addressing the causes of the pandemic - so we welcome the fact that Pope Benedict refers to the wider context in his remarks."
Greater clarity regarding church teaching on HIV was long overdue, and Progressio saw the Pope’s comments as “an opportunity for a mature discussion about how a holistic and comprehensive approach to HIV can be taken forward.”
Ms Allen concluded: “We hope this marks an important point in the church's engagement on HIV, and one that will only strengthen the witness and service given around the world by so many dedicated church people to address the AIDS pandemic.”
Progressio (www.progressio.org.uk ) is an international charity with Catholic roots that enables poor communities to solve their own problems through support from skilled workers.
It also lobbies decision-makers to change policies that keep people poor. Progressio was formerly the Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR).