Pope’s comments on condoms spark headlines

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict’s latest comments on condoms, made in a book to be released Tuesday, are already sparking headlines.

The short version is that the pope indicated that in some situations, use of condoms in AIDS prevention might be a morally justifiable act. At the same time, he repeated what he said in Africa last year, that condoms are not the answer to the worldwide AIDS pandemic.

In the question-and-answer book, “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times,” the pope repeated his argument that focusing exclusively on condoms damages human sexuality, making it “banal” and turning it into a kind of “drug.” But he went on to say that in specific single cases — he mentioned prostitutes — condom use may be justified as a first step toward taking moral responsibility for one’s actions.

Asked whether this means the church is not opposed in principle to the use of condoms, the pope replied that while condoms are not a “real or moral” solution to AIDS, their use can reveal an intention of reducing the risk of infection and of living sexuality in a more “human” way.

These are nuanced comments, and one should read the passage in full to gauge the pope’s position. The pope’s answer seems to invite follow-up questions. Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that the Vatican has never proclaimed a “ban” on condom use in AIDS prevention; on the contrary, some Vatican theologians and officials have argued that for married couples in which one partner is HIV-infected, use of condoms would be a moral responsibility.

Where Vatican officials appear to agree is that promotion of condoms as the only or best answer to AIDS carries grave risks, mainly by promoting the idea that condoms guarantee “safe sex.” In that sense, the pope said on his flight to Cameroon in 2009 that rather than solve the issue of HIV/AIDS, condoms “increase the problem.” He encouraged campaigns to promote responsible sexuality instead.

Despite journalistic hyperventilation, the pope’s latest comments do not signal a major new shift in Vatican thinking. Under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict — the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation began studying many years ago whether using condoms to prevent AIDS was morally licit in some specific cases, and sources said there were strong arguments in favor of condom use. A few years ago, a document on the subject was considered, but has been back-burnered indefinitely, according to sources.

What the pope has done is to raise the issue publicly, making clear that the church’s teaching against condoms as a form of birth control is different from its position on condom use in disease prevention.

This entry was posted in CNS, Vatican. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Pope’s comments on condoms spark headlines

  1. Ray Marshall says:

    Is this deliberate misrepresentation or incompetence?

    You make no mention that the Pope was referring male prostitutes engaging in sex with men.

  2. John Thavis says:

    The English translation of the pope’s book refers to a male prostitute. The Italian version quoted by the Vatican newspaper refers to “a prostitute,” using the feminine ending. It is unclear whether the original German refers to a male or female prostitute, or both.

  3. H. Daltry says:

    More fruits of Vatican II ripen…

  4. Tim says:

    The pope’s statements are being deliberately misrepresented in the press. He is not saying that the use of condoms by prostitutes is morally justified–aside from the issue of condoms, prostitution can never be morally justified!
    What he’s saying is that the use of a condom in those circumstances might show some sign that the person is not completely morally dead. They have some idea that their actions have repercussions, and they see that they can prevent some harm to others. To use an analogy (not a perfect one by any means), it’s like a person who used to take out his anger by beating his children, but who now takes out his anger by beating his dog. That doesn’t mean that beating your dog is “justified” in any sense. It’s not; it’s still evil. All it means is that this person might being showing a faint, moral pulse. He might be taking a first step towards a real reformation. If this person ever reforms to the point of living a good, moral life, he won’t beat his children or his dogs–neither of those is morally permissible under any circumstances.
    He’s definitely not saying anything at all about the use of condoms by married couples.

  5. Daniel says:

    H. Daltry – please do not spread your venom. Like most Christians you are speaking from emotion.

  6. Brian Cook says:

    I’m patiently waiting to see how this story develops.

  7. Katy says:

    Condom use cannot be justified, even among male prostitutes…because male prostitution cannot be justified.

    And condom use does not help in the fight against sexually transmitted deseases. Only abstinence and monogamy do.

    I certainly hope you are right in your interpretation, Tim, because it certainly seems as if the Church is simply turning out to be another false religion.

  8. Paul says:

    Perhaps I would have just have to wait for the release of the Pope’s book and read it fully in detail. Tim and Katy are absolutely right. I hope that the Pope will not endorse the use of condoms for prostitutes because this will not solve the problem of the spread of this abominable evil. If he does, then he will make history for proving that the Catholic Church is also a false religion, refuting Christ’s promise that “the gates of hell shall never prevails against it.” Furthermore, it will appear that the Orthodox Church is the true Church of Christ, since it is one of the only 2 remaining pro-morality Chistian Church, the other being the Catholi Church.

  9. Looks like CNS is several steps behind. At a time other Catholic sites are debunking this false claim, CNS reports it as fact.

  10. James Martin, SJ says:

    Dear John,

    Well done as usual. The German translation was male. It was an odd choice for an example.

    While I agree that this is not a major change in policy (and his book makes that clear) I would say that simply having the pope discuss this (something that had been previously confined to bishops and archbishops and many theologians) signals a definite change in the Vatican’s willingness to engage this notion. It is one thing to have this bandied about by an archbishop or a dicastery, it is another, I would think, to have the pope reflect on this publicly.


    PS By the way, there were several other snafus with the translation. In the American version of the book, for example, the presence of gay priests, even those who are celibate, is said by the pope to be a “misery.” In the English (UK) version it is “disturbing.” Interesting to say the least.

  11. John Thavis says:


    The translation issues make me think I should get the book in every language.

    Interesting that they are taking months and months to translate the pope’s second volume on Jesus of Nazareth (to get every word right, they say), but this one seemed to be rushed through.

    Agree with you that this will probably change the Vatican discussion on condoms and AIDS. If nothing else, people here should be less afraid to talk about it.

  12. Ray Marshall says:

    If a condom is OK, would a diaphragm be OK, also?

    Will millians use the “weasel words” start using condoms “for fear of AIDS & HIV?”

  13. Mariap1919 says:

    does anyone know or care that these “teachings’ are not infallible?? they are just that :teachings which must and will evolve as the world evolves.
    Condoms are just one of many issues that need to be DISCUSSED……DISCUSSION is the key…. when we can’t talk about it we are already excluded from the table of plenty. JESUS excluded no one from His table.

  14. It has been over 40 years now that I decided not to believe what anyone says especially a man in a pointed hat who declares himself god on earth.
    His newest comment, is not surprizing given the ever changing rules and ideas of a pagan religion. One that still holds pieces of fingers and bones and hair and burns incense and on and on.
    Here is one quote:
    “VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI says in a new book that the use of condoms can be justified in some cases, such as for male prostitutes seeking to prevent the spread of HIV.”

    Condoms as any expert will tell you does NOT reduce the threat of most diseases. Additionally, this comment tells us that the Pope now condones male prostitution. It would be the same as if he said, If you are going to rob a bank, at least wear a bullet proof vest.

    Let’s not kid ourselves. He is no authority and the only authority is the word of God (Bible)
    “Thou shalt not lay with mankind as with womankind.”
    Also, a married couple would not need a condom to prevent disease unless the Church is now condoning infidelity.
    Let’s start listening to God and not man who tries to make God in his own image.

  15. Jay O says:

    Pastor Jack Wilson, what an untruthful and hateful comment.

    1) You isolated and judged a person based on your fundamentalist and anti-Catholic prejudices.

    2) You didn’t even use his own words, but a couple lines of what a journalist says he said.

    3) The pope isn’t “God on earth”, that’s ridiculous. Read your Bible. It’s pretty clear there that Jesus established an apostolic ministry and that Peter was So, the pope isn’t the successor of Jesus, he’s the successor of Peter who certainly wasn’t God. Even though the expression “vicar of Christ” is used, it is of late origin and hasn’t fallen out of fashion. His actual descriptive title is “servant of the servants of God”. Quite far from what you’re talking about.

    4) If this is all about you being an ex-Catholic, then I’m truly sorry for what you think you know about Catholicism that you have learned as a child or young adult. It doesn’t represent actual teachings, and there’s more solid education on the subject out there for you to benefit from.

    5) Your commentary on robbing a bank doesn’t even make logic sense. To tell someone to wear a bullet proof vest, or to take no bullets on your own gun (as a smarter commenter has already put it), just to minimize the risks, certainly isn’t telling you *to* rob the bank. Think of it as a hurting father watching their son making miserable choices but still trying to tell them to be careful.

    6) I pray for the Lord to give you the healing you seem most in need of on this matter.

    Anyway, this piece here on CNS apparently attracts this kind of confusion since it is so poorly written that it misrepresents what the pope has said. Here’s your proof to how Catholics talking about their own stuff can get it wrong. The pope is gladly an exception, speaking of nuances that not everyone will understand, instead simplifying it till it means something different than was said.

  16. Paul says:

    In any case, what is clear here is that pope has sown the seeds of confusion, to which the forces of evil are already feasting upon, but what is apparent is that instead of condemning male prostitution straight and direct to the point in its entirety WITHOUT ANY RESERVATION, he brought up the idea being held by heretic “Catholic” bishops and theologians who teach that the use of condoms will in effect transform male prostitution as a lesser evil, though he did not state these exact terms.

  17. Paul Gordon says:

    Monday, November 22, 2010
    Popes Gone Secular?
    I accept that the Pope did say what he was quoted as saying in regards to specific situations where condom use may be acceptable. The Pope was not pleased afterward when he realized how he was used by this secular German writer.

    Somewhat the same, Archbishop Ambrozic of Toronto felt betrayed by up and coming secular writer, Michael Coren when he felt betrayed by Coren’s use of his relaxed off- the- record comment calling a left wing attention seeking former nun “the bitch” when “nut’ would have at least been more acceptable in my opinion.

    Who sets up these interviews? The same P.R. Prks who thought George Bush needed to meet Ozzy Ozbourn?

    Hopefully, the lesson learned here is that Archbishops and especially Popes should not be granting interviews, especially week-long ones with secular writers no matter if they are of the same nationality. After all, hopefully if Archbishops and Popes have so much down-time it should not be spent granting secular interviews and being easily trapped by the snares of the Devil as the St. Michael Prayer goes.

    Popes are expected to proclaim such important ‘news’ in official statements and encyclicals not with tabloid reporters.

    As for the statement itself, it does not hold up well to the logical ‘Truth’ of Christ at all, but to the secular excuse as with many evils of temporary personal excuse fueled with personal emotion.

    To say condoms are okay in any text is to okay the underlying behaviour, only worse, to add fuel to the underlying behaviour. “Fuel” in the form of many more bodies and souls to the fire than already being burnt up, than would otherwise be ‘taking the chance’ in this case, purely for narcissistic gratification and pleasure.

    Of course, the Pope knows this and realizes now that he made a monumental error under the understandable personal wish to be caring to all, no matter their plight, as he should, but without ever giving the Devil an inch such as was the collapse of the significance of Catholicism in Canada with the Bishops going on their own with the Winnipeg statement that told Canadian women that birth control, free sex, and abortion was okay if their personal conscience was okay with it.

    This was not an inch, but a complete capitulation to the Devil who can now call much of Canada… home.

    As with the Old Testament, there were also very practical reasons for not engaging in immoral behaviour as we can certainly see today. To aim for the top, the Word of Christ, is to lesson pain in death in the long run and it is also to never legitimize immoral behaviour (as in secular law in many instances now) to stir the conscience, and to seek repentance. The conscience indeed is every one’s lifelong moral teacher (some would call it the Holy Ghost).

    Popular modern trend and psychology would have us believe everything we do is ‘okay’ to make us ‘feel’ better.

    Let’s not undermine the Holy Ghost and confuse men into secular acceptance of evil for all our own good.

    Paul Gordon
    Marmora Ont.

  18. limapie says:

    There is still freedom surrounding if a person uses or not uses. If a person is Catholic and wishes to follow the Church teaching not to use condoms, this person can still follow if he wants to. Civil (cultural) law has not demanded condom use. Will there be a day when a citizen of a Western country will not be able to say no to condom use?

    Religious freedom is a thorny issue. When cultures put demands on their members that directly conflict with religious teaching, oppression begins. Yet, the church needs to be extremely careful because freedom works two ways. If the church demands the ability to say no (especially in western cultures), this may set up the very real possibility that the door is open to yeses, as well.
    If a religious law of a certain religion demands that a cheating wife be stoned to death, and cultural law has been leveraged so much to allow for religious freedom, what is to stop such a horrible thing?

    The cardinals and bishops have got to tread carefully so that this angle of religious freedom is not a reality.

  19. This is for Jay O. I never received notice of a rebuttal but let me rebut your statement.
    You say my statement was untruthful and hateful. Truth is based on fact and what I gave you is fact and you gave note. As far as hateful, that is a word from a liberal that means nothing. I hate no one. It is not in me to hate. Most of my relatives are Catholic and I love them. I don’t know the Pope so how can I hate him? It’s a cheap word to try to put you in a loving position and me in the seat of the scornful. Also, you use the word Fundamentalist. You using it, has a derogatory meaning when in fact it means based on the facts. Fundamentalists use the bible for their source of truth. MOST Catholics do not read the bible and are encouraged not to as the “priests” or mother Church is only capable of interpretation. This rule is so serious the Priests are taught just to read the “works of the fathers” not the bible because even they can not interpret the bible. The dogma of the church is no individual should believe anything unless it has the Imprimatur of the church. Such as when they invented Mary being born without sin and floating up to heaven like Jesus did. None of this was true but people were told if they doubted the church it would be sin for them. On the other hand God, through the Bible encourages us all to study the word of God so we will “find Him”.

    As for your suggestion of my “reading my Bible” as a Pastor and one who has studied the Bible for forty years, that is a silly request.
    You sir, need to read it. Read it in Greek. Read about Peter being the “little stone” but his statement, “Thou art the Christ the son of the Living God” was what Christ was building His church on. Remember Christ’s words? I will build my church. Not Peter. By the way, Paul would have been the likely Pope if we were indeed making up this story. Peter was the Pastor at Jerusalem. Paul was in Rome. Paul was sharper. Jesus said get behind me Satan to Peter as he said that Christ should not go to the cross.

    The Catholic Church began with Constantine when he “declared” all Christian. That is when they brought their pieces of bone and flesh and Statues and beads and scapulars and more Statues and all the other Pagan paraphernalia to pagan-ize the Church.

    You are more than welcome to contact me at pastorjack@payatasmissionoutreach.org and I will gladly speak with you about it.

  20. Xavier says:

    I agree with Jay O ,
    Pastor Jack Wilson comment is hateful and untruthful.
    The point is that one should discuss truth in their arguments, and back it with valid sources. otherwise, it carries only the weight of your opinion. this is why i stated earlier that your arguments are not based on anything factual, but some discontent you feel towards a church. you have not proven any of the attacks you made against the catholic church. this leads to the conclusion that this is really not about discussing truth, but an emotional discharge from you.

    When i speak of ‘tradition’ , I’m referring to the teachings the apostles handed on to their successors. these traditions are seen either in the writings of the apostles, or in their immediate successors. catholic teaching is passed from the very same people who not only gave us Written tradition, called scripture, but also the oral tradition of the catholic church. Crazy is making up other churches 1500 years after Christ already established His.

  21. Please don’t confuse truthful with hateful. Most of my family is Catholic and I love them all. Christianity did not start 1500 years after Christ. They were called Christians in Antioch.

    It wasn’t until the time of Constantine when he “declared ” all Christian, did the Pagans flood into the Church with their beads and scapulars, pieces of bone and hair calling them relics, as well as Statues which God commanded against in the second commandment. That commandment was removed from the catholic bible.

    Just the facts, don’t read anything else into it.

Comments are closed.