By Elizabeth Tenety
A leaked excerpt from Pope Benedict XVI’s book-length interview with journalist Peter Seewald in which the pope talks about condom use has attracted major media attention over the past few days. Did he really say it was okay to use condoms?
From the Washington Post’s report on the pope’s statement:
“Benedict said that condoms are not a moral solution but that in some cases [such as use by a male prostitute to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS] they could be justified ‘with the intent of reducing the risk of infection.'”
On Tuesday, the Vatican’s spokesman, Rev. Frederico Lombardi, elaborated that the pontiff was not limiting his comments to homosexuals. Michelle Boorstein and William Warn reported that Lombardi said the pope “‘was speaking of men, women and even transsexuals’ . . . ‘taking into consideration the risk of life of another with whom you have a relationship.'”
Boorstein and Wan wrote:
Some saw Benedict’s remarks as a deliberate effort to open the door to more frank talk about the use of condoms to help prevent the spread of HIV infection, talks that more-liberal Catholics hope would eventually lead to greater church acceptance of birth control. Others saw it as a casual comment being overblown by wishful progressives.
So did Pope Benedict’s statement crack open the door to condom use?
Here are the pontiff’s original remarks:
Pope Benedict: 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 recovering 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.
Pope Benedict: That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.
Peter Seewald: Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?
Pope Benedict: 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 in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.
For a concise explainer of the condom comments, watch British Catholic journalist Austin Ivereigy, who clarifies in the video below that “the church’s ban on contraception remains.”
Catholic reporter John Allen further emphasized:
“Pope Benedict XVI has signaled that in some limited cases, where the intent is to prevent the transmission of disease rather than to prevent pregnancy, the use of condoms might be morally justified.
The Catholic Church teaches that sex is reserved for married, heterosexual couples, and that artificial contraception violates the natural order, and thus is not permitted. Any sex outside of marriage, including homosexual sex, is considered sinful.
Catholic News Service’s John Thavis reported Sunday:
The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said Nov. 21 that 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. While the pope was not morally justifying disordered sexual activity, he was saying that use of a condom to reduce the risk of transmitting the disease may be an act of moral responsibility, Father Lombardi said.
But some who work on HIV/ AIDS programs have already signaled that they see Pope Benedict’s comments as major progress in global health: UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé said “This is a significant and positive step forward taken by the Vatican,” and added “This move recognizes that responsible sexual behaviour and the use of condoms have important roles in HIV prevention.”
Benedict previously said that using condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS “aggravates the problems,” a comment that unleashed worldwide criticism of the Catholic church.
But the pope’s nuanced approach to sexual morality in the Seewald interview –Vatican spokesman Lombardi above cited “exceptional situations” to justify condom use– may represent a new engagement with the spectrum of human sexuality.
Andrew Sullivan, who is gay and Catholic, wrote Saturday that “what this exception to the rule suggests is that sexual morality is not always black and white.”