Pope approves use of condoms after historic shift
Published 21/11/2010 | 05:00
POPE Benedict will this week signal a historic shift in the position of the Roman Catholic Church by saying condoms can be morally justified.
After decades of fierce opposition to the use of all contraception, the Pontiff will end the Church's absolute ban on the use of condoms.
He will say that it is acceptable to use a prophylactic when the sole intention is to "reduce the risk of infection" from Aids.
While he will restate the Catholic Church's staunch objections to contraception because it believes it interferes with the creation of life, he will argue that using a condom to preserve life and avoid death can be a responsible act -- even outside of marriage.
Asked whether "the Catholic Church is not fundamentally against the use of condoms," he replies: "It of course does not see it as a real and moral solution. 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."
He will stress that abstinence is the best policy in fighting the disease but in some circumstances it is better for a condom to be used if it protects human life.
"There may be justified individual cases, for example when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be . . . a first bit of responsibility, to redevelop the understanding that not everything is permitted and that one may not do everything one wishes.
"But it is not the proper way to deal with the horror of HIV infection."
The announcement is in a book to be published by the Vatican next week based on the first face-to-face interview given by a pope.
In the interview, he admits he was stunned by the sex abuse scandal that has engulfed the Catholic Church and raises the possibility of the circumstances under which he would consider resigning. The 83-year-old Pontiff says in passages published exclusively in the Sunday Telegraph today that he is aware his "forces are diminishing". However, he appears determined to fight for the place of faith in the public domain.
His language in attacking the use of recreational drugs in the West and its impact on the rest of the world is particularly striking.
He describes drug trafficking as an "evil monster" that stems from the "boredom and the false freedom of the Western world." Most significant, however, are his comments on condoms, which represent the first official relaxation in the Church's attitude on the issue after rising calls for the Vatican to adopt a more humane approach to stopping the spread of HIV.
The Pope's ruling is aimed specifically to stop people infecting their partners, particularly in Africa where the disease is most prevalent.
However, it will inevitably be seized upon by liberal Catholics who oppose the Church's stance against contraception.
The Pope's comments are surprising because he caused controversy last year by suggesting condom use could actually worsen the problem of Aids in Africa.
He described the epidemic in the continent as "a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems".
The Vatican amended an official version of the remarks to indicate that he said merely that condoms "risk" aggravating the problem.
However, there have been growing calls for the Church to clarify its position with a more humane response.
Theologians suggest that condoms are not a contraceptive if they are intended to prevent death rather than avoid life.
The Pope's comments in the book, Light of the World, are likely to be welcomed by Catholic leaders in the West who have struggled to explain its current teaching.
Asked last year whether a married Catholic couple should use condoms where one of them had Aids, one archbishop disclosed the confusion over the issue. "Obviously that's a sensitive point and obviously there are different views on that," he said.
There has been great anticipation before the book's release, heightened by its author, Peter Seewald.
"It is the first time that a pope gives an account of himself in this form," he said.
Sources in Rome say he gives his most personal account of the distress caused to him by the clerical sex abuse scandal, with particular reference to the cases in Ireland and his German homeland.
He says he did not consider resigning over the crisis, but does raise the possibility of a pope resigning if he were to lose his mental capacities.
He tells of the last time he saw Pope John Paul II, his predecessor; talks of his reluctance to be Pope; and speaks of his increasing frailty.
"I had been so sure that this office was not my calling, but that God would now grant me some peace and quiet after strenuous years," he says.
"I trust that our dear Lord will give me as much strength as I need to be able to do what is necessary. But I also notice my forces are diminishing."