Pope Benedict XVI has told a German journalist that condom use can be justified in some cases to help stop the spread of AIDS.
News of the Pope’s historic new stance was first posted online on November 20 in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s newspaper.
The Pope insisted that condoms were not “a real or moral solution” to stopping the spread of AIDS. But he said “there may be a basis [for condom use] 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 moralisation, a first assumption of responsibility”.
The change in the papal position is still ambiguous. The Catholic Church’s remains opposed to all forms of birth control.
But the Pope’s statement is significant in that it marks the Vatican’s first exception to its long-held position against condom use.
It comes on the heels of significant protests this year in Ireland, Germany and the US over paedophile priest cover-ups by the Church hierarchy. For the first time, victims of clerical sexual abuse from around the world gathered in protest outside the Vatican on October 31.
The Pope has also faced several protest rallies in Europe this year.
Ten thousand people took to the streets in London against the Pope on September 18. The “Protest the Pope” rally condemned the Church’s stance on condoms, homosexuality, women's rights and the child abuse scandal.
On November 7, Spanish activists held a same-sex kiss-in protest against Pope Benedict’s homophobia.
The Pope’s statement has been interpreted by many as an acknowledgment that condoms do help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS. In the past, the Church has urged against condom use in all circumstances.
Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations executive director Don Baxter told the November 22 Age the Church deserved condemnation for its previous policy, which made the Vatican culpable for the spread of disease in Africa and in countries with a large Catholic population, such as the Philippines.
Sub-Saharan Africa has been hit particularly hard. There, an estimated 22 million people are infected with HIV and access to anti-retroviral drugs is limited.
Baxter told the Age: “This change [in Church doctrine] needs to be articulated and put into effect very quickly.”
Pastor Karl Hand of CRAVE Metropolitan Community Church in Sydney told Green Left Weekly: “We know that eventually, the Catholic hierarchy will have to change or it will die out.
“But it moves so slowly on these issues — most Catholics no longer listen to the Pope about condoms anyway.”
Hand said he was “thrilled about the small changes that happen” but hoped “that soon, the whole system will begin to change and the Pope will listen on other issues too. [Support for] marital contraception, homosexuality, abortion and the equality of women would make a great start.”
[Rachel Evans was a spokesperson for the NSW based NoToPope Coalition, which organised protests to coincide with the Pope’s 2008 visit to Sydney. She is a Socialist Alliance candidate in the upper house for the NSW state elections.]