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Pope Says Condoms Are Justified In Some Cases To Prevent HIV Infection

“Pope Benedict XVI says in a new book that condoms can be justified for male prostitutes seeking to stop the spread of HIV, a stunning comment for a church criticized for its opposition to condoms and for a pontiff who has blamed them for making the AIDS crisis worse,” the Associated Press/Washington Post reports. The pope’s comments were made public on Saturday, when a Vatican newspaper ran excerpts from Benedict’s book-length interview with German Journalist Peter Seewald for “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times,” due out Tuesday, the news service writes (D’Emilio/Winfield, 11/21).

The AP/MSNBC.com: “Church teaching has long opposed condoms because they are a form of artificial contraception, although the Vatican has never released an explicit policy about condoms and HIV. The Vatican has been harshly criticized for its position” (11/20).

“The comments appeared to be a departure, given that the pope spoke out against condom use as recently as March 2009 during a trip to Africa, when he said that the use of condoms could actually make the AIDS epidemic worse,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “That statement drew worldwide condemnation and, in the months since, some Catholic bishops seemingly have broken with the Vatican to call for the use of condoms to combat HIV, the virus that causes AIDS,” the newspaper adds (Landsberg, 11/21).

Though “Benedict said that condoms are not a moral solution,” he acknowledged “that in some cases they could be justified ‘with the intent of reducing the risk of infection,'” the AP/Washington Post continues. “He used as an example male prostitutes, for whom contraception is not an issue, as opposed to married couples where one spouse is infected,” the newspaper writes (11/21).

“In the case of a male prostitute, says Benedict [in the interview], using a condom to reduce the risk of HIV infection ‘can be a first step in the direction of moralisation, 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’,” the Guardian writes (Kington/Quinn, 11/21).

The Los Angeles Times reports that “Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, ran excerpts Saturday, in which the pope was quoted as saying condoms could be acceptable in some circumstances ‘for a prostitute.’ Those excerpts were published in Italian, and used a feminine form of the word ‘prostitute.’ … It was not possible to immediately reconcile the two translations” (11/21).

“Asked whether ‘the Catholic Church is not fundamentally against the use of condoms,’ [Benedict] replied: ‘It of course does not see it as a real and moral solution. 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 Telegraph reports (Wynne-Jones, 11/20).

Benedict’s comments, “while limited in scope and not changing the Roman Catholic ban on contraception,” were welcomed by “[l]iberal Catholics, AIDS activists and health officials on Sunday,” Reuters writes. “This is a significant and positive step forward taken by the Vatican,” UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe said, according to the news service. “This move recognizes that responsible sexual behavior and the use of condoms have important roles in HIV prevention,” he added (Pullella, 11/21).

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, said pointing to the pope’s statements in the book, “[t]he pope maintains that condom use to lessen the danger of infection is a ‘first assumption of responsibility,'” the BBC reports. “The reasoning of the pope cannot certainly be defined as a revolutionary turn,” Lombardi said. The article details the history of the Catholic Church’s teachings on contraception (11/21).

Meanwhile, the Guardian, in a separate article, examines public reaction to the pope’s statements on condoms by a groups attending evening mass at a church in Johannesburg (Smith, 11/21).