In a book to be published this week, 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 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.
I wonder about a female prostitute who has aids or any other STD!
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. Just more confusion.
While the Pope restates Catholicism’s objections to contraception and stresses its emphasis on abstinence as the best policy to fight Aids, he says that using a condom could be a responsible act if it is intended to prevent the spread of the virus. What about the spread of unwanted children with no chance for a decent life?
The pontiff’s comments are made in a book to be published by the Vatican this week, which has been the subject of increasing anticipation. The publicists were not exaggerating when they sent out an email last week saying the Pope delivers “answers that will surprise and impress both critics and his fans”.
“Benedict XVI has shown himself time and again to be the ‘Pope of surprises’,” it said. After decades of staunch opposition from the Catholic Church to the use of condoms, his comments are likely to cause astonishment.
Not only does it represent a hugely significant shift in the Church’s teaching, but the softening in its position is coming from a Pope who took office with a reputation for being hardline and fundamentalist. Perceived as the Vatican’s enforcer after heading its Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – formerly known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition, he is challenging this image by showing himself willing to embrace change.
The Pope’s reluctant support for condom use in certain circumstances is likely to dismay the most conservative Catholics who believe it is impossible to distinguish the use of condoms as contraceptives and their use as preventers of the transmission of Aids.
Yet it reflects a growing consensus amongst theologians that the stance now adopted by the Pope can be morally justified.
Cardinals, such as Godfried Danneels and Lozano Barragan, have argued that it must be better for an infected man to use a condom if the intention is not to avoid life but to prevent death. But what if a man is using a condom for both reasons? Will he go to hell?
Earlier this year, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, indicated he was sympathetic to a more tolerant approach to condom use, saying he could see “why, in the short term, [the] means that give women protection are attractive”.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, his predecessor, was told by Pope Benedict XVI – who was then Cardinal Ratzinger – that the Church needed to reach an agreed position on the morality of the use of condoms. How pathetic! when we consider all the really significant problems the world has to deal with at present; rampant paedophilia, terrorism, brutal wars, aids, dying children etc etc.
Although they acknowledged that there was a need to clarify the Church’s teaching on the use of condoms, cardinals and senior figures in Rome were ultimately too concerned that it was impossible to do so without being misinterpreted.
These concerns appeared to be well founded after Pope Benedict was fiercely criticised for his comments in Africa, which were effectively no more than repeating a well-established Church view that condoms are not the solution to Aids. Forget about the solution to Aids – what about the reality of children infected with Aids suffering and dying in their millions?
Rather than promulgate an edict he has chosen to do it in an interview with Peter Seewald, a German journalist whom he trusts and knows well from his time as Cardinal Ratzinger. Speaking at the Frankfurt Book Fair earlier this year, Mr Seewald said: “The events in the news around the abuse scandals and the wider situation of the Church naturally give this conversation an incredible explosiveness and I can only reveal to you now that you are expecting a very exciting, very extensive book.”
While the Pope tackles many controversial subjects in the book, from the sex abuse crisis to the Church’s teaching on clerical celibacy, his comments on condoms are likely to cause the greatest shock. They may not go far enough to appease Catholics such as Cherie Blair, who argue for a total acceptance of contraception.
His stance will help to distance the Church from some of its more embarrassing statements, such as the claim by a cardinal that the HIV virus can pass through tiny holes in the rubber of condoms. What on earth can these cloistered, brain washed men, possibly know about pregnancy, giving birth and the hardships of life in the real world! And then there is the hypocrisy; The Catholic Church has financial interests in the manufacturing of contraceptives through the all-powerful Vatican Empire.
Crucially, it may go further in ensuring the Church’s relevance in public debate, presenting it as more humane and more flexible – even at the risk of people thinking the Church has changed its mind on the issue. This desire to secure the Church’s place in the public square is at the heart of Pope Benedict’s thinking and no doubt the guiding reason behind such a brave move.
What does he mean by these statements? …….”I was, naturally, not always simply against things, exclusively and as a matter of principle” ……………….. “Ultimately someone who is in opposition could probably not endure life at all”, quotes the Pope in the book.