VATICAN CITY — When Pope Benedict commented in a new book that using condoms to reduce the risk of disease could, in some circumstances, be a step toward moral responsibility, he used the example of a male prostitute.
That raised the question: Was the pope deliberately limiting his observations to this particular group?
The answer is no, according to Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, who presented the pope’s book today at the Vatican press office.
Father Lombardi acknowledged confusion over the gender question. He said the Italian version of the book, which translated the pope’s example as “prostitute” using the feminine gender, was an error. The original German used the masculine noun for prostitute, but there was debate over whether the word was being used generically or specifically.
So Father Lombardi took the question to the pope.
“I asked the pope personally if there was a serious or important problem in the choice of the masculine gender rather than the feminine, and he said no, that is, the main point — and this is why I didn’t refer to masculine or feminine in (my earlier) communiqué — is the first step of responsibility in taking into account the risk to the life of another person with whom one has relations,” Father Lombardi said.
“Whether a man or a woman or a transsexual does this, we’re at the same point. The point is the first step toward responsibility, to avoid posing a grave risk to another person,” Father Lombardi said.
For his part, Peter Seewald, the German journalist who posed the questions in the book, said at the press conference today that “there is no difference between male prostitute and female prostitute” in the pope’s remarks, despite all the controversy over the translations. He added: “The pope indicates that, in addition to the case he cited, there may be other cases in which one may imagine that use of a condom could be a step toward responsible sexuality in this area, and to prevent further infection.”
Here once again is the key passage on the subject in the book, “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times,” when Seewald asks the pope whether it was “madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms.”
Pope Benedict: As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work. This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a 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.
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, on the way toward discovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.
Seewald: Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?
Pope Benedict: She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.