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Pope's statement on condom use applies to heterosexuals, spokesman says

November 23, 2010

In a controversial statement on condom use, Pope Benedict XVI intended to include both men and women, homosexuals and heterosexuals, his spokesman has said.

At a Vatican press conference on November 23—called to introduce the Pope’s new book, Light of the World, in which the Pope’s statement appears-- Father Federico Lombardi reported that he had asked the Holy Father to clarify his reference to a hypothetical male prostitute in his discussion of condom use. The Pope, Father Lombardi said, had confirmed that his reasoning could be applied with equal force to a female prostitute.

In his discussion of AIDS prevention in Light of the World, the Pope said that if a male prostitute is carrying the AIDS virus, his use of a condom could be seen as “a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility.” The Pope quickly added, in the interview, that condom use cannot be regarded as “a real or moral solution.”

Father Lombardi explained that the Pope did not attach great significance to his choice of a male rather than female prostitute to illustrate his point. The basic point, he said, is “the first step of taking responsibility, of taking into consideration the risk to the life of another.”

Secular journalists have routinely interpreted the Pope’s statement as an admission that condom use can be justified, although the Pope’s full statement, in context, clearly makes no such claim. Many reports have suggested that the Pope was backing away from earlier statements, in which he said that condom-distribution campaigns are the wrong way to fight AIDS. In fact, in his interview with Seewald, the Pope was defending those earlier statements when he made the remarks that have prompted so many headlines.

In response to questions about whether the Pope’s statement applied to married couples in which one partner is HIV-positive—which it clearly did not—the Catholic bishops’ conference of South Africa issued a statement emphasizing “the primacy of an informed conscience.” Going far beyond the Pope’s statement, the South African bishops said: “Where one spouse is infected with HIV/AIDS they must listen to their consciences. They are the only ones who can choose the appropriate means.”

In a far more accurate statement of the Pope’s intents, Australian Cardinal George Pell and Bishop Anthony Fisher emphasized that the Pontiff had not changed any Church teaching. "He was very clear, as in his previous statements, that he is against condoms altogether," Bishop Fisher said. In the US, Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo made the same observation that the Pope's statement did not represent a change in Catholic moral teaching.


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  • Posted by: Minnesota Mary - Nov. 23, 2010 6:38 PM ET USA

    My Protestant friends are very interested in this story. They see it as the Church reversing itself on moral teaching which of course means that the Pope's infallibility on faith and morals can be called into question. Pope Benedict needs to clarify in unambiguous words exactly what he meant.

  • Posted by: rpp - Nov. 23, 2010 5:46 PM ET USA

    This is becoming very confusing. Please, Holy Father, please make an unequivocal clarification.