Vatican lifts its ban on condoms for women and men in HIV fight
Catholic Church believes preventing infection is the lesser of two evils
Women as well as men can use condoms to protect themselves against diseases such as Aids, the Vatican has confirmed at the launch of a new book about the Pope.
Pope Benedict XVI said in a new book that the use of condoms by Catholics would be morally justifiable in "certain cases", citing as an example the responsibility of a male prostitute not to pass on the deadly disease to a client.
The 83-year-old pontiff's initial comment on condoms was contained in the book 'Light of the World', extracts of which were published at the weekend, but they were so ambiguous that the Vatican was yesterday forced to offer clarification.
The Vatican's spokesman said the Pope intended that the change of policy should apply to anybody with HIV/Aids, on the basis that preventing another person from being infected was the lesser of two evils, even if it meant averting a pregnancy.
"This is if you're a woman, a man, or a transsexual. We're at the same point. The point is it's a first step of taking responsibility, of avoiding passing a grave risk on to another," Fr Federico Lombardi said.
Only last year, at the start of a trip to Africa, the Pope said the spread of Aids could not be prevented by condom use and that they could even "aggravate" the crisis.
The Catholic Church has long been criticised for refusing to sanction the use of condoms, particularly in Africa, where the virus has spread to an estimated 22 million people.
Monsignor Jacques Suaudeau, an expert at the Vatican's bioethics advisory board, said the Pope was articulating the idea in Catholic doctrine that there are degrees of evil.
"Contraception is not the worst evil. The church does not see it as good, but the church does not see it as the worst," he said.
"Abortion is far worse. Passing on HIV is criminal. That is absolute irresponsibility," he added.
Michel Sidibe, the head of the UN agency for fighting Aids, said the Pope's words were "a significant and positive step forward."
Elsewhere in the book, Benedict XVI described the paedophile priest scandals which have hit the church as "almost like the crater of a volcano, out of which suddenly a tremendous cloud of filth came, darkening and soiling everything".
He also said he would never have lifted the excommunication of a British bishop had he known that he was a Holocaust denier, conceding that a search on the internet by his aides would have disclosed the views of Bishop Richard Williamson.
The Pope caused controversy in January last year when he lifted the excommunication shortly after the bishop claimed in a television interview that the Nazis did not use gas chambers and killed no more than 300,000 Jews.
Bishop Williamson is facing expulsion from his order. He was convicted in Germany of 'incitement' in April and fined €10,000.
The church had been saying for decades that condoms were not even part of the solution to fighting AIDS, even though no formal policy on this existed in a Vatican document.
The late Cardinal John O'Connor of New York famously branded the use of condoms to stop the spread of AIDS as "The Big Lie".
"The Vatican's acknowledgement that Pope Benedict's acceptance of condom use to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections relates to everybody shows how significant the Pope's comments are," said Jon O'Brien, president of the US-based Catholics for Choice group.
In the book, the Pope says the use of condoms could be seen as "a first step towards moralisation", even though condoms are "not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection".
Through the book and Fr Lombardi's comments, the Pope seemed to be giving a cautious, qualified endorsement of the "ABC principle" (Abstinence-Be faithful-Condom) espoused by many governments and health organisations in preventing AIDS.
Archbishop Rino Fisichella, a Vatican official who presented the book, said Catholics had to "respect" the Pope's words even though they were not made in an official papal pronouncement.
"For the first time, the use of condoms in special circumstances was endorsed by the Vatican, and this is good news and a good beginning for us," said Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organisation. (©Daily Telegraph, London)