21 November, 2010

Condoms May Be Used to Prevent AIDS, Pope Says

A press release by Reuters News yesterday at 1:10 PM EST announced that in a new book-length interview of Benedict XVI by Peter Seewald, that the Pontiff has approved the use of Condoms to prevent AIDS in special circumstances. The full interview will be published as, Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times.
The book is to be published Tuesday 22 November and will be available on Amazon on 24 November, 2010
The Pope does not say that the use of condoms is moral, but that their use is able to be justified in limited circumstances, for example use by prostitutes to prevent AIDS, “as a first step toward moralization” but that they are, “not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection.” The Holy Father says that a focus on condoms is in danger of becoming, “… a sort of a drug that people administer to themselves” and loss of attention to sexuality as an expression of love.
I have not read the full text of the interview or even the entire section on condom use, but the official Vatican newspaper has already published significant excepts of the interview and given direct quotes from the Pope himself. What does all this mean? Why is the Pope’s statement making such a stir? It seems to me that:
  1. The announcement itself signals a development in papal teaching about condom use. Previously the popes have taught that condom use could never, ever be justified. In that teaching, the assumption was made that condom use was essentially a method of “artificial birth control.” The development here relates to the realization that condoms can help prevent AIDS, a fatal disease.
  2. It is interesting that the example of condom use was by prostitutes. (edit: Further investigation shows that the Pope was speaking of male prostitutes, contrary to what I posted yesterday). No mention was made of the use of condoms by a heterosexual married couple where one partner already has AIDS. This may well have been to avoid a facing off of procreative intercourse against against the fact that even when used to prevent AIDS, condoms are considered artificial birth control when used by a married couple.
  3. we can rest assured that confessors and spiritual directors will seek “pastoral solutions” for a wide variety of cases. Although it has nothing to do with sex or disease, Once communion under two forms was allowed only in very limited cases, the custom has grown and is now tolerated or accepted as something to be available at all Masses with a congregation. The gay community that is still plagued by AIDS will believe and realize that it could be possible that the regular use condoms during gay sex might be moral, at least where there is a permanent, monogamous relationship.
  4. It certainly will increase debate over the “new” allowance for use of condoms in special cases to prevent AIDS. There have been years of debate among Catholic moral theologians over whether the justification for the use of condoms can be based on the “principal of double-effect..” This argument never won the day with Church leaders. There was solid teaching, that all use of condoms was always immoral. The late Cardinal O’Connor said that suggesting condoms as a preventative of AIDS was “The Big Lie.” The Holy Father himself, on his trip to Africa said that condom use might help spread AIDS rather than prevent it.
  5. The Popes “new” position can be seen as an instance in which Church leaders are actually taking into account the “historical circumstances” when dealing with personal moral issues. A historicist and personalist approach approach to moral decision-making has grown and been accepted in the area of “Social Ethics.” This may well be another step toward its application in individual / personal ethics (as was recently discussed at a worldwide meeting of 600 theologians in Trent Italy).
  6. Some conservative / traditional / traditionalist theologians and similar-minded laity will be concerned that, “the Church is changing (not developing a deeper understanding); and in a way that appears to damage or destroy the assurance that the Church is always correct in its teachings. There might be a fear that this is just a hole in the dike leading to more secularism. On the other hand liberals or progressives, will be encouraged to press for continued developments in seeking to discern, “the signs of the times” and the search for greater insight into Truth through open dialog with other groups, not the least of whom will be gays, women, and immigrants.
It is no wonder that this apparently simple statement by the Holy Father may, in fact, be a blockbuster statement that will cause ripples through the whole Church and the whole world. But all depends on how this moral declaration is understood and implemented. Personally, I wonder if the the Vatican bureaucracy will desire or attempt to block this meaningful development and implementation of the Holy Fathers insight.
Please note that this post is subject to revision and/or editing once the entire text is available.
The interview / book is published by a conservative press and has been praised by Fr. Fessio, a very well-known conservative priest. Although much of the book will seem conservative to many, I urge all thinking Catholics to read and ponder what is in these pages. I can’t wait to read the entire book.

I encourage you, dear reader, to comment, raise questions, make suggestions or initiate a dialogue over the acceptability or unacceptability of the Pope’s position on condom use and the implications it raises for Church understanding of it’s relationship to this increasingly post-modern world.


  1. Hi. Seb

    The Vatican released a statement today the policy has not changed. This was not a "moral declaration" I need to get ready for class but I am surprised how the American media picked up on this and twisted it. In Italy, Switzerland, Germany, France this barely made news, didn't look at all news cycles. Think England talked alot about it too. No surprises here. We knew this was only an interview and nothing official. Of course maybe it is telling us something is coming down the pike. But I wouldn't hold your breath. I would not look at this as a doctrine shift as policy. The pope was talking about the AIDS crises in Africa and only mention "male prostitutes". He used words such as "maybe" "some indivduals" "perhaps". We can clearly see this was conditional. And was never meant to be official only an interview..nothing more.

    But does prove two points. The Vatican has a huge PR problem they were he once who released this whole thing in the first place. Also it is clear when the pope speaks everyone listens.

    Who know what will happen. But if the Pope is going to talk more about this or make something "official" we all will know about it.

    Thanks Seb and I enjoyed this article very much. Thank you.

  2. You are very correct that the Holy Father's statement is in no way a public "official" statement nor is it by any stretch of the imagination infallible. On the face of it it is meant to be a very rare exception. The statement as make is not intended to justify the use of condoms for birth control, nor for general homosexual sex. We both agree on this.

    BTW, I will edit the reference to the sex of the prostitutes in question, this evening.

    I agree with you that all this has been reported widely in the press. It IS news as many in the hierarchy are saying. So far I read the main stories in the NYT, the Wash. Post and a few other places. So far I don't think in their REPORTING that they say that the Holy Father's statement is a general change in moral teaching. I think so far they have been accurate (but we won't know until the book is in our hands.

    I would be very surprised to learn that the Pope's statement was intentionally and directly a "message" that a major change is sexual morality is going to be announced.

    To anyone, however, who understands: 1)the nuances of "Vatican lingo" (and I don't mean Italian, 2)the desire of many bishops (especially in Africa)to at least allow married couples where one partner has AIDS to use condoms, and 3) the major theological developments worldwide regarding the methodology and substance of doing moral theology, the interest is in what comes next.

    Conservatives may begin to fear that even this "little exception" offered by the Pope may become like the hole in the dike which can't be plugged so a whole flood of sea-change will occur.

    Moderates and progressives may see this as an opportunity for development (not change) in moral teaching that will allow the Church to maintain its fundamental message in an attempt to deal with the moral quandaries with which we are faced.

    I will say more on some of these issues and ideas in my next post.

  3. Who's knows...you might be right..we shall see. But I did enjoy your article. I am looking forward to this book. In the press over here you can almost read the whole book without buying it..much of it has been released. I am not sure if it will will be available there right away but will be available here tomorrow morning.

    I am reading a fascinating book by G. Bush. I was not a fan but father sent to me. So I read. It is really good and he very funny and personable. Its also fascinating to see the interworkings of government.

    I hope our future discussions will be more productive. I am biting my tongue and holding back. No sense arguing over matters. Got us no where.

    see you

  4. Davide,
    Thank you for your comment. And I do mean thank you! I agree with you, the Holy Father's statement is NOT an official change in the Church's position on the use of condoms. As stated it is to be a rare exception.

    But you have to remember that everything the Pope says is subject to being "news worthy." Although what the Pope says sometimes appears to be "off the cuff," I don't believe that anything that "gets out" where even the Vatican Press reports it as literally true, not intended.

    As I have said and may elaborate on when I post today, what is of interest to me are the potential results or impact this might have down the road.

    I am thankful that this interchange has gone so well so far.

  5. Hi Seb,

    I think we need to sit back and enjoy the ride. I got caught with my pants down this weekend. I posted an article on this subject. Most of it was conjecturing on my part. Since most Catholic news cycles are not updated on the weekend I went with ordinary news cycles.

    Which turned out to be a huge mistake. Most of what was said was taken out of context. The official statement from the Vatican is nothing has changed.

    I talked to my father today and CBS news reports the Pope is opening this up for debate. According to CBS this is by "unnamed sources". umm....

    I will not post anything on this until it is confirmed by the Vatican or a reliable Catholic news source.

    I was surprised to see you consider the New York Times a respectable news source regarding the Church. Considering it's anti-catholic/anti-christian biases of the past. Which every archbishop since O'connor has publicly stated.

    No way in Hell would I as a responsible Catholic blogger would post anything from the NY Times as reliable.

    We must remember condoms is not the only solution in fact I would argue that O'connor and the Pope said on his way to Africa were correct. Condoms will not halt the spreading of AIDS.

    The only thing that will stop the spreading of AIDs is fidelity in marriage and abstinence.

    AIDS in the gay community will continue to spread as long as active gay men continue to use un-safe sex practices. ALL anal intercourse is high risk with or without a condom.

    Condoms by no means are full-proof. Many persons have contacted and spread AIDS and other diseases with proper condom use. However Condoms may cut down the risk, but will never halt the risk.

    If we take the official pronouncement that came out of the Vatican today then the issue is over. There is no change in anything. The issue is dead.

    Alot of this is because it only came out in Italian not any other language I think there was some errors in translation. But this is speculation.

    Perhaps the Holy Father is opening up the idea this should be debated. But final authority rest with him alone. Thanks

    No matters what he says in the book this will never be considered "official".

    thank you ken and take care ...ciao

  6. Davide,
    I am not of a mind right now to comment on everything you have.

    Yes, my original post was based on the Reuters News post from Vatican City which was available before the U.S.sources said anything. As to the NYT, I take everything that it says at face value. If I report using it I say, "the NYT says." Sometimes I agree with it sometimes, I do not. But just the fact that it says anything is worthy of note.

    As I've said at least twice before, I do not believe that the Holy Father intended to state any change or give any new understanding to the teaching about condom use. What he did say, is that there might be individual cases where condom use could be justified. That's it. Period.

    My point is, that regardless of whether or not Benedict intended to tolerate, permit, accept or support any significant open dialogue or debate about condom use or any other area of sexuality, the dialogue and debate will, in fact, occur. As the old saying goes, "Once the horse is out, it's too late to close the barn doors."

    At this moment I am less interested in the content of what the Holy Father said, than in the dynamics of what has, is, and will be going on as a result of his statement. I will maybe quickly pass into history. It may just sit there like a dormant animal. Or it may become a contentious issue.

    All I can say is that even though there has been pressure to terminate discussion and debate about birth control, women's ordination, gay marriage, etc. that it continues. Will the Pope's statement contribute to new debates and, possibly new insights into sexuality?

  7. The issue regarding homosexuality, women priestesses, birth control, gay marriage in the eyes of the Church are dead. Non-issues. This is infallible teaching of the Church and never will change, ever. This has been the teaching of the Church since the times of Christ. Either you accept Cathoic doctrine or you don't. There is no discussion no debate regarding these issues. It is like debating if murder is okay or screwing farm animals is okay. The issue is dead will never change. There is no hope for those wanting change. NONE.

    If you think otherwise I would love to know why do you feel the Church is wrong regarding these issues and why you are correct? Or why these issues should even be debated? Not on science, not on theology but solely on feelings, nothing more.

    On my blog I wrote of a man named Arius who denied Christ was God. He was a moderate, progressive, liberal of his day. Then I wrote of Luther and King Henry VIII. Then I wrote of the "age of enlightenment" next I will write on on "modernism" All these eras got us to the place we are now.

    The Church does not find that condoms are the moral solution to the spreading of AIDS. This has not changed will never change.

    I have posted a article from Dr. Janet Smith, a highly respected moral and Catholic theologian.

    If you want you can check it out on my blog. Worth a look.

    I would like to say Ken you ask for people to comment on this blog. Which I have. By the tone of your last comment I can see that maybe you are angry with me.

    I think you are reading much more into this than actually is. I don't know we shall see.

    Tell me Seb am I welcome here or am I not? If I am then great. If not then I understand. But we will disagree.

    I am not a threat to you or am I your enemy. Thanks if you wish me to leave you then I will and not return. Thanks

  8. I've never really understood the argument regarding condom use (considered "artificial birth control") and any other form of birth control. I mean, I understand the stretch that is being made to call it that — but then, so too is "abstinence" (a form of birth control). Personally, I know that people are sexual beings and it doesn't really matter whether the Pope approves of it or not; most will do what they feel is natural for them to do — and expressing one's love for another human being through sex is a part of that. There may have been a time when the argument could have been made that any form of birth control would present a negative for continuing the species (of mankind) but in this day and age, there are so many [people] inhabiting the earth that we really don't need to be so concerned with that anymore. (In fact, quite the opposite is true.)

    I do not condemn the Catholic church for its religious beliefs, as they relate to matters of the spirit (though I certainly don't agree with a lot of what they're given credit for, as it's presented in the news or over the Internet). However, I do believe the Church either needs to get with the times or simply step back and quit trying to influence public opinion whereas the health and physical well-being of people is concerned. The Vatican has [thankfully] shown some progress with this latest statement but, sadly, it is still far from reasonable and has done far more harm (I feel) with regards to this issue than can ever (imo) be easily forgiven.

    All this being said, I realize that the tone of my comment here seems somewhat overly critical (of the Vatican/RCC) and does not give enough credit for what I'm perceiving as a "positive, albeit small step." I suppose I should just be content that "some" progress seems to have been made on this front. I just wish that Church leaders would truly realize how much harm they have done in the past by discouraging the use of condoms. For me, their past actions have been deplorable and very, very irresponsible whereas this matter is concerned.

    Thanks for writing about this.


  9. Michael, Thank you for your comment on this post.

    No one can understand the Catholic reality without understanding its essential connectedness to history. Because the Roman (Western)part of the Church places so much theological emphasis on the Incarnation of Christ (He became truly human and like us in all things but sin--- he could experience every temptation the we do, but would decide to maintain the Jesus and the Father.

    The earliest Christians were very influenced by the Jewish emphasis of procreation/family and the very negative view of sex held by the Stoic philosophers (E.g. that the body imprisoned the soul). Influenced by some of these notions, St. Paul taught the celibacy was THE Christian way to live (marriage was a distant second, but allowable). St. Augustine (354-430), who had been a Manichean, is said to have "established anew the ancient faith." As a youth he engaged in a profligate lustful life. When he joined the Manicheans, he learned from them that the Original Sin was lust and sexual. He believed that the ONLY thing that justified sexual behavior was procreation (by a hetero married couple) and bearing babies to people heaven.

    The entire official position on all forms of sexuality is based on this belief: that the only justification for intercourse (and what we call "foreplay") is the openness to procreation of children during every act of intercourse. Period!

    Therefore any erotic or sexual behavior not "open to procreation" is sinful. This includes masturbation and all gay sex.

    Every form of "artificial birth control" (E.g. condoms, the pill, IUDs and even withdrawal and anal intercourse) is always prohibited because it prevents conception. This reasoning depends on a particular definition and understanding of "Natural Law" as developed out of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy. Most contemporary people can't really understand this idea of human nature because they are not steeped in the whole philosophical worldview.

    "Natural birth control within or outside of marriage is best exemplified by abstinence. Pope Pius XII, in the 1950s, did say that the "Rhythm Method" should be considered "natural" but could only be used by married couples in extreme circumstances and not as a regular part of married life.....In pastoral practice a little more lenient position has developed.

    Because of the emphasis on sex from the legal and objective point of view (Ie., The sinfulness of sex, the position that every single sexual sin is a mortal sin, just thinking about sex included), there is no way to see how love can play a role in sex. For example, it was only with the 1983 Code of Canon Law that enhancement of mutual love was part of the purpose of marriage. Before that (1918 Code)procreation was the purpose and "sex" between spouses was seen as dealing with the male's lust and keeping him in the marriage.

    Although it is not accepted by the hierarchy as official, a strong position in Catholic moral theology based on previous theological thinking and using, what we have learned --from, natural science (biology, medicine) and the social sciences (psychology, sociology, and anthropology-- begins with acceptance of human beings and "human nature" as actually lived, the importance of relationships between human beings with each other and with God. Laws have a role, but their role is within this context. Love is absolutely central in this view.

    [NOTE: A very good example of what is happening in this area is a meeting this year of 600 theologians, including Archbishops and bishops, from all over in Trent, Italy].

    (Have just a little more to add re the last part of your comment, but must join family for Thanksgiving Dinner.)

  10. Davide, Thank you for the Thanksgiving greetings. I will get back to your last comment and finish the one to Michael after the weekend. 14 of the 16 immediate family members, including 6 kids aged 3-15, creating joyful noise are keeping things very lively.

  11. Seb,

    I just bought the Pope's new book. Fascinating read. I am unsure if available in English yet or even if u can get in USA.

    I have the sneaky suspicion you will not like what he has to say....okay get it when you can..take care.

  12. Davide,
    Yes, the Pope's book is available in the U.S. It is published by Ignatius Press.

    I have put it on my Christmas list and someone in the family will give it to me as a gift. As I mentioned today on Michael's blog, I purchased and have read the first 6 chapters of Podles' book based on your recommendation. You see, I do try to read "both sides" of controversial issues. Do you read much by the "liberal side" on issues?

    Why do you suppose I will not like his book. I suspect there will be parts that I'm not thrilled with, some (like what he said on condom use) I will agree with, as I've already said both in this post and in response to your comments.

    I have agreed with you and the Holy Father that what he said about condom use is not intended to change current Church moral teaching. I also agree that Vatican officials have announced "no change," although sometimes when officials in the Vatican don't like things popes say, they make statements contrary to what the Pope really means.

    My major concern, as stated a number of times above, is that debate about condom use and what it means for the Church will continue and it will continue no matter what the Pope or Vatican Congregations say. Even with all the statements made by Church leaders to the contrary, birth control has been discussed since 1968, so too women priests, gay marriage, and abortion.

    As a social scientist and educated Catholic, my interest here remains to understand the effect of the Pope's statement on this issue. For example, as mentioned above Pius XII modified the birth control teaching to allow use of the rhythm method by married couples UNDER VERY STRICT CONDITIONS. Since then IN PRACTICE the Vatican and hierarchies of nations have interpreted the "conditions" much more generously than originally stated.

    I just wonder what will happen down the road with respect to condom use by others than male prostitutes. Will it be allowed with in a marriage where one spouse has AIDS as many African bishops have requested? I know that you think every statement by the Pope must be followed literally, but, in this, case only history will tell.

    My interest here is less in the morality of condom use than is what happens (pro or con) when the Pope says anything in an open and controversial area.

    Although this interchange has been quite fragile, at least there has been some civility between us. I'm very thankful.

  13. What the pope said regarding condoms if very simple even a child would understand it. He said 'condoms' MIGHT...AGAIN MIGHT MIGHT MIGHT be less of a mortal sin. Like robbing a bank it might be less of a sin to rob the bank than kill everyone inside the bank. The pope was talking about homosexuals when he was talking about male prostitutes. This is widely accepted. It MIGHT be less of a mortal sin (still a mortal sin) if they not spreading AIDs and using condoms. The Church position has not changed. This is not a change.

    He also stated on Saturday this was only his 'personal opinion' and was not the magistrate teaching of the Church. Only his 'opinion' and not to be taken further than this.

    I agree there is a lot of discussion in the church especially among laity about certain issues. But this matters very little. The Church does not need radical change it is us who need change. We need conversion back to the truth.

    I am sure you think but sadly mistaken that things will change...they will not change.

    Absolute truths and divine and natural laws do not change. Only man through sin change.

    As far as reading liberal things I do not know what you mean? Reading things that advocate murdering of unborn children, fornication and homosexual sex, same-sex marriages, the pagan concept of women priestesses? No I will never read these things. If I want to read a book on fiction I will read a Stephen King novel.

    Progessive and liberal ideology in the church is evil. pure evil...I want nothing to do with it. The church and God wants nothing to do with it. Read up on scripture, CCC and Canon law you are an 'educated man'

    we are never going to agree and I see no need whatsoever to continue any discussion regarding the Catholic faith. It leads us to nowhere and I am wasting my time. I wont even read from a protestant bible and never walk again into a non-catholic church.

    If you want to talk about other things unrelated to God, Jesus, The Catholic faith, politics than yes we can....there is always the weather...see you

  14. Ken,

    Let's skip over same-sex marriages, and pagan concept of women priestesses. I am trouble about one thing. Are you pro-choice? I am confused.

    I think certain things can not be discussed. You rarely answer my questions. So I not ask so many. but I would like to know if you are pro-choice?
    and when was the last time you been to confession? just wondering...thanks

  15. Ken,

    I just noticed you asked a question sorry. In regards to women and men in africa and one has aids. Well I think since condoms are not 100 percent effective..i think it could be a death sentence if the church actually says its okay for married couples to use a condom if one has AIDs. all the church needs is someone saying" the pope said I could, I didn't know I could still get AIDs".

    No the real and only true solution in a married relationship is abstinence. Would you have sex with someone you knew who had AIDS even if they used a rubbber? Would you still have sex with your wife if you had AIDS with rubber? No I don't hardly think so..I never would....so no that is not a valid solution.

    those who have HIV/AIDs must never again have sexual intercourse. This is just careless if they do. And could be murder. rubber or not it does not matter

  16. Davide,
    I again found out that we cannot dialogue. Hearing you say that you do not read other than conservative materials and hearing you repeat over and over your interpretation of what you think the Church's teachings are, I understand why you can't or won't discuss issues of fact and actually dialogue with me, and possibly with others who understand some things differently than you do.

    I am an optimistic person and always work and hope for the best, but I give up on the possibility of dialogue with you, Davide.

    As a human being I wish only the best for you and your family. In that vein, take care

  17. Davide,
    I do not have a current email address for you so I cannot send you the information you requested.

    The only email address I can get regarding you is the blogger "no reply" address.

    Since neither of us want to publish our address here, if you really want to get a message to me ask Michael M to give you my email address in a private direct email between the two of you


Comments most welcome.