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Vatican Clarifies Pope's Statement on Condoms

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS Staff Journalist Contrary to what the secular media has been trumpeting all weekend, a Vatican spokesman has clarified that statements made by the Pope in an upcoming book about the use of condoms to avoid transmission of AIDS does not contradict Church teaching, but rather affirms it. The controversy began when the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano published excerpts from the book, "Light of the World", which is scheduled to be released tomorrow, in which the pope responds to questions posed by the book's author, Peter Seewald, about the AIDS epidemic and the use of condoms. When asked about whether it was "madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms", the Holy Father repeated what he said last year during his trip to Africa, that "we cannot solve the problem (of AIDS) by distributing condoms." He then adds: "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 discovering 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. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality," the pope said. Seewald follows-up with the question: "Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?" The pope answers: "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 toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality." These excerpts set off a firestorm in the secular media with headlines such as "Will Pope's Condom Comments Change Church Teaching" and "Pope Okays Condoms." However, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi issued a statement yesterday, which was translated by the Catholic News Service, saying that while the pope's comments were courageous and new, they were not revolutionary. They upheld the Church's teaching on sexuality but also recognized that in some cases the use of condoms may reflect concern not for preventing the transmission of life, but for causing someone physical harm. "In saying this, the pope is not reforming or changing the teaching of the church, but reaffirming it by putting it in the context of the value and dignity of human sexuality as an expression of love and responsibility," Fr. Lombardi said. "At the same time, the pope takes into consideration an exceptional situation in which the exercise of sexuality may represent a real risk to the life of another person. In such a case, the pope does not morally justify the disordered exercise of sexuality, but maintains that the use of the condom to diminish the danger of infection may be 'a first assumption of responsibility,' 'a first step in a movement toward a … more human sexuality,' as opposed to not using the condom and exposing the other person to a fatal risk. "In this statement, the pope’s reasoning certainly cannot be defined as a revolutionary shift," he says. "Numerous moral theologians and authoritative ecclesiastical figures have maintained and still maintain similar positions; however, it is true that until now we had not heard them expressed with such clarity from the mouth of a pope, even if it is in a colloquial, and not magisterial, form. "Benedict XVI therefore courageously gives us an important contribution that clarifies and deepens a long-debated question. It is an original contribution, because on one hand it maintains fidelity to moral principles and demonstrates lucidity in refusing an illusory path like “faith in condoms”; on the other hand, however, it shows a sympathetic and far-sighted vision, attentive to discovering small steps — even if they are only initial and still confused — of a humanity that is often spiritually and culturally impoverished, toward a more human and responsible exercise of sexuality." © All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace®