Is the Pope giving condoms his blessing? Hardly. But Benedict XVI sent eyebrows sky-high – and heartened health experts who see condoms as a key weapon in the global fight against AIDS – by remarking that condom use might be acceptable under certain circumstances.
One year after saying that condoms could be worsening the AIDS crisis, the 83-year-old pope said that for some people, condom use could represent a first step in assuming moral responsibility “in the intention of reducing the risk of infection.”
What sorts of people was Benedict talking about? Single people infected with HIV? Married couples in which one partner is infected?
No, he was talking about male prostitutes.
“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,” the pope said in an interview with German journalist Peter Seewald.
Benedict stepped where no pope has gone since Paul VI’s famous 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae” barred Catholics from using condoms and other artificial contraception. Pressure to lift the ban has grown with the spread of HIV, which has infected some 60 million people worldwide and led to 25 million AIDS-related deaths over three decades.
Benedict previously had given little sign of budging on the issue of condoms. Last year while en route to Africa, the continent HIV has hit hardest, he drew criticism from many health workers by saying condoms not only did not help stop the spread of AIDS but exacerbated the problem.
Some Catholics saw the remarks as a signal that the Vatican is softening its stance on condom use.
In Zimbabwe, where roughly 15 percent of adults have HIV, a Catholic priest said he would spread the news.
“I’ve got brothers and sisters and friends who are suffering from HIV because they were not practicing safe sex,” said Rev. Peter Makome, who works in the capital Harare’s Southerton Parish. “Now the message has come out that they can go ahead and do safe sex; it’s much better for everyone.”
The U.N. agency tasked with combating AIDS said the pope’s comments were “a significant and positive step” but noted that while more than 80 percent of HIV infections are caused through sexual transmission, only 4 percent to 10 percent result from sex between men.
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