In the News 2010

Confusion reigns following Pope’s ‘U-turn’ on condoms


The Pope last night faced calls to clarify his stance on condoms as confusion reigned over exactly what he meant when he said that they could be used by Catholics in “certain cases”.

In a book to be published tomorrow, Benedict XVI said there could be “justified individual cases” in which condoms could be used, softening Rome’s blanket ban on contraception, one of the most controversial issues facing the Catholic Church.

“In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality,” the head of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics said, giving as an example a male prostitute having sex with a client.

But he gave no guidance on the long-standing moral and religious question of whether it would be permissible for a married couple, in which one partner is HIV-positive, to use condoms in order to prevent the other partner from becoming infected.

Nor was it even clear whether the liberalisation applied only to male sex workers.

The fact that last year the Pope, during a trip to Africa, said that condoms could “aggravate” the problem of AIDS, only added to the confusion.

While the shift was welcomed by AIDS campaigners around the world, some theologians said it threw a spotlight on the confusion over the Church’s stance on condom use.

They said the ambiguity of the Pope’s declaration could be a Pandora’s Box, convincing Catholics that condom use was now permissible in a much wider range of circumstances.

“It will from now on be harder than ever to justify the idea that condoms may not be used by married couples with discordant HIV status,” said Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith, a British priest and leading moral theologian.

“The central point here is that such couples are not using condoms as a method of contraception, but rather as a means of preventing the virus spreading.”

He said that confusion on the question already existed in the Church and called for a “long-overdue” statement from Rome.

The Vatican insisted yesterday that the use of condoms was only permissible in “exceptional” cases, but did little to clarify the apparent volte-face.

But Jon O’Brien, president of the US-based Catholics for Choice campaign, said the confusion had been created by traditionalists attempting to “control and contain” the Pope’s message.

Michel Sidibe, of United Nations agency UNAIDS, said the comments were a “significant step forward”.

Meanwhile, a leading Irish missionary priest last night predicted the Pope’s relaxing of the ban on condoms would have little impact on the spread of AIDS in Africa. Fr Eamon Aylward, the head of the Irish Missionary Union which represents more than 60 missionary groups, described “the whole thing as a red herring”.

This article originally appeared in the Belfast Telegraph.

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