UPDATE: Full story: Pope’s remarks in book open new chapter in condom debate
VATICAN CITY — Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, issued a statement today regarding Pope Benedict’s comments on condoms in an upcoming book (see below). He called the pope’s remarks couragous and new, but not revolutionary. He said they upheld the church’s teaching on sexuality, but also recognized that in some cases a decision to use condoms may reflect concern for causing harm to others.
Here is a CNS translation of Father Lombardi’s statement:
At the end of Chapter 10 (Chapter 11 in the English edition) in the book, “Light of the World,” the pope responds to two questions about the struggle against AIDS and the use of the condom, questions that refer back to the discussion that followed the pope’s comments on this topic during his trip to Africa in 2009.
The pope underlines clearly that, at that time, he did not want to express a position on the problem of condoms in general, but he wanted to affirm strongly that the problem of AIDS cannot be resolved solely with the distribution of condoms, because much more must be done: prevention, education, assistance, counsel, being close to people, both so that they do not become sick, and also in cases where they are sick.
The pope observes that even in non-church circles a comparable awareness has developed, as is seen in the so-called ABC theory (Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condoms), in which the first two elements (abstinence and fidelity) are much more decisive and fundamental in the struggle against AIDS, while the condom appears as a last resort when the other two are lacking.
It should therefore be clear that the condom is not the solution to the problem.
The pope then takes a wider view and insists on the fact that concentrating only on the condom signifies the “banalization” of sexuality, which loses its meaning as the expression of love between persons and becomes like a “drug.” To fight against the banalization of sexuality is “part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.”
In the light of this ample and profound vision of human sexuality and its modern challenges, the pope reaffirms that the church “of course does not regard (condoms) as a real or moral solution” to the problem of AIDS.
In saying this, the pope is not reforming or changing the teaching of the church, but reaffirming it by putting it in the context of the value and dignity of human sexuality as an expression of love and responsibility.
At the same time, the pope takes into consideration an exceptional situation in which the exercise of sexuality may represent a real risk to the life of another person. In such a case, the pope does not morally justify the disordered exercise of sexuality, but maintains that the use of the condom to diminish the danger of infection may be “a first assumption of responsibility”, “a first step in a movement toward a … more human sexuality”, as opposed to not using the condom and exposing the other person to a fatal risk.
In this statement, the pope’s reasoning certainly cannot be defined as a revolutionary shift.
Numerous moral theologians and authoritative ecclesiastical figures have maintained and still maintain similar positions; however, it is true that until now we had not heard them expressed with such clarity from the mouth of a pope, even if it is in a colloquial, and not magisterial, form.
Benedict XVI therefore courageously gives us an important contribution that clarifies and deepens a long-debated question. It is an original contribution, because on one hand it maintains fidelity to moral principles and demonstrates lucidity in refusing an illusory path like “faith in condoms”; on the other hand, however, it shows a sympathetic and far-sighted vision, attentive to discovering small steps — even if they are only initial and still confused — of a humanity that is often spiritually and culturally impoverished, toward a more human and responsible exercise of sexuality.