Sometimes condom use is lesser evil, says Pope

By  John Thavis, Catholic News Service
  • November 25, 2010
Light of the worldVATICAN CITY - The use of condoms may be a sign of moral responsibility and acceptable in some specific situations when the intention is to reduce the risk of AIDS, said Pope Benedict XVI in a new book.

The Pope addressed the issue in the book-length interview, Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times. He indicated that condom use in a heterosexual relation is a lesser evil than transmitting disease.


In the book, the Pope repeated what he said during a trip to Africa last year, that “we cannot solve the problem (of AIDS) by distributing condoms.”

Focusing exclusively on condoms damages human sexuality, making it “banal” and turning it into a kind of “drug,” he said.

But the Pope went on to say that in particular cases — he mentioned prostitutes — condom use may be justified as a first step toward taking moral responsibility for one’s actions.

In the book, when  asked whether it was “madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms,” the Pope replied:

“There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward discovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.”

The Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi subsequently clarified that the Pope was not specifically speaking about male prostitutes but intended his comments to apply to men and women.

{sa 1586176064}When asked if the Catholic Church supports in principle the use of condoms, the Pope answered: “She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.”

It was the first time any Pope has said publicly that condom use may be acceptable in some cases.

Lombardi said the Pope was not “reforming or changing” the Church’s teaching on sexual responsibility, but rather considering an “exceptional situation” in which sexual activity places a person’s life at risk.  It would be an exaggeration to call the Pope’s comments “revolutionary,” but Lombardi said they offered a courageous and important contribution to a long-debated question.

The Pope’s remarks underscored a distinction made previously by other Church experts: that the Church’s teaching against condoms as a form of birth control is different from its position on condom use in disease prevention. The comments seemed destined to open a new chapter in the Church’s internal debate on that issue.

In a different section of the new book, the Pope defended the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which taught that, in the context of married love, contraception techniques, including condoms, are immoral because they close off the possibility of the transmission of life.

“The basic lines of Humanae Vitae are still correct. Finding ways to enable people to live the teaching, on the other hand, is a further question,” the Pope said. He indicated that pastors should show some tolerance for Catholics who have difficulty with the teaching on contraception.

“We should not take the failure to live up to this high moral standard as an authoritative objection to the truth. We should try to do as much good as we can and to support and put up with each other” and create conditions for better understanding of the teaching, the Pope said.

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