Pope Benedict XVI’s suggestion that the use of condoms may be acceptable in certain circumstances does not reverse the Catholic Church’s long-standing ban on contraception, says the head of France's leading Catholic daily.
Pope Benedict XVI’s apparent U-turn on the use of condoms is not a sea change in the Catholic Church’s stance on contraception, according to the head of France’s leading Catholic daily newspaper.
Dominique Quinio, editor-in-chief of popular Catholic daily La Croix, said Benedict’s comments – condoning condom use in some circumstances to prevent the spread of disease – should not be interpreted as a change in the Church’s anti-contraception dogma.
“His comments are very much linked to the AIDS issue,” she told FRANCE 24. “He is saying that while it’s not the solution to the AIDS problem, wearing a condom can be a responsible act.”
Benedict’s comments, she said, were a response to criticism of the Church after the pontiff told reporters on a trip to Africa in 2009 that trying to stem the spread of AIDS with condoms alone would aggravate the situation.
The widely-reported comments outraged health agencies trying to halt the spread of HIV and AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, where an estimated 22 million people are infected.
“The pope was very unhappy with the reaction to what he said,” Dominique Quinio said. “He was wounded that the Church had been made to look like an uncaring monster.”
Example of a male prostitute
In a series of interviews to be published in a book this week, Benedict insisted that the use of condoms was not a “moral solution” to the HIV/AIDS issue.
But he said that “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 Pope’s comments, which are just six lines in transcripts of over 20 hours of taped interviews, avoided linking condoms with heterosexual sex within marriage.
"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 re-develop the understanding that not everything is permitted and that one may not do everything one wishes," Benedict was quoted as saying.
Until now, the Vatican had prohibited the use of any form of contraception – other than abstinence – even as a guard against sexually transmitted disease.
Condoms ‘must be used’
Benedict’s comments were criticised by Act Up Paris, an anti-AIDS organization.
“The Pope does specify that it’s only for very exceptional cases. We wonder what he means by that,” Act Up’s Jonas le Bail told FRANCE 24.
But one of the leaders of the French Christians and AIDS association (which provides support and information to AIDS sufferers) welcomed what he described as a highly significant break with the past.
"The breach is now open and I totally accept what he has said," Gerard Guerin told AFP.
The head of the UN agency leading the international campaign against AIDS said Benedict's comments were a "significant and positive step forward".
"This move recognizes that responsible sexual behaviour and the use of condoms have important roles in HIV prevention," UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibe said in a statement.
"Condoms must be allowed to halt the virus. They are not simply useful, they must be used."