At a minimum, he's opened the door on the use of condoms and their part in reducing the spread of AIDS.
But ever since the Vatican’s official newspaper published highlights on Saturday, the book has created the opposite effect: widespread confusion, most notably over the pope’s comments that in select cases, such as those involving male prostitutes, condom use might be a step toward acting responsibly to reduce “the risk of infection.”The Church is so tied to the abstinence doctrine that it has meant that a reliable means of reducing the spread of AIDS has not gained even wider acceptance.
AIDS activists are calling the pope’s comments a breakthrough, while members of the church hierarchy and some Catholic commentators say the comments have been misconstrued. The Vatican itself has furiously played down Benedict’s words, or rather contextualized them, noting that the pope was not changing church doctrine banning contraception, or justifying condom use — even though the Vatican newspaper clearly used the phrase “justified in some cases.”
On Sunday, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, added to the confusion. He called Benedict’s remarks unprecedented, the first time such comments had come “from the mouth of a pope,” but he added that they were “not a revolutionary turn,” as they echoed the stance of other moral theologians — and had been offered “colloquially,” not as part of official church teaching.
As is often the case with the Vatican, the clarification yielded more ambiguity. Was Benedict, in his book of interviews with the German journalist, Peter Seewald, opening up a conversation on condom use — albeit in specific cases to prevent AIDS between male sex partners — or wasn’t he? And how is the world supposed to consider remarks by the pope that are not official church teaching?
“It’s not very easy to define the difference,” said Sandro Magister, a veteran Vatican reporter in Italy. In the “graduated spectrum of authority” between official church teachings — encyclicals, laws, homilies — and Benedict’s conversational remarks, “I’d say this is an inferior grade,” Mr. Magister added.
“The important thing is that he said it,” he added. “Said by a cardinal it’s one thing, but said by the pope, it’s another.”
At a minimum, the Pope has opened the door on giving Church approval for a useful tool in fighting the spread of AIDS along with engaging in a discussion over condom usage. One could only hope that the Pope takes a more forceful stand to bring about a change in the Church's attitude towards birth control and condom usage in particular. The inability of the Church to consider condom usage as appropriate has gone against the public health for far too long and has meant that millions of people have been exposed to the perils of sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS for far too long over Church doctrine and teachings that prohibit such use.