Church in the World
Pope says use of condoms can be justified in certain circumstancesTom Heneghan - 27 November 2010
Pope Benedict XVI has used a book-length interview with a trusted Catholic journalist to clarify the church position on using condoms to prevent Aids, saying they could be justified in limited circumstances such as prostitution if their use was a first step towards a more responsible and moral approach to sexuality.
His comments to fellow German Peter Seewald in Light of the World: the Pope, the Church and the signs of the times made headlines worldwide when the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano broke the embargo and ran excerpts on Saturday 20 November rather than wait for the official presentation the following Tuesday.
The book also shows a personal side, as the Pope, 83, mentions his diminishing strength and says he would like to attend the World Youth Days in Madrid next August “if, God willing, I am still alive”.
He also described the circumstances under which he could resign. “If a Pope clearly realises that he is no longer physically, psychologically and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation, to resign,” he said. The last pope to resign voluntarily was Celestine V in 1294.
The Pope regretted that his statement while en route to Africa last year that condoms worsen the Aids problem overshadowed the whole trip and diverted attention from all the Church did there to combat the disease. He said “the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalisation of sexuality”.
He then said condom use could be justified in some cases, “as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom” as a “first step in the direction of moralisation, a first assumption of responsibility”. Seewald, who wrote two previous interview books with the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, asked about condom use again to be sure he had heard right.
“She [the Catholic Church] 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 in a movement towards a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality,” Pope Benedict answered.
The Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi SJ said at the official launch of the book on Tuesday that the Pope had confirmed to him that the example was valid in the case of all prostitutes. The point of the example, he said, “was not the sex of the prostitute but the process of growing awareness of the risk [to] the life of the other person … If it is a man, a woman or a transsexual who does it, we are always at the same point, which is the first step in responsibly avoiding passing on a grave risk to the other.”
The Pope made it clear he was not changing church teaching on contraception, by reaffirming his support for Humanae Vitae, the 1968 encyclical that forbids artificial contraception. He also repeated his opposition to ordaining women or gay men.
Pope Benedict said the extent of the sexual abuse scandals revealed this year came as “an unprecedented shock” even though he had followed the issue for several years. He added he could understand why people would quit the Church in protest. His outspoken defence of Pope Pius XII, whom he called “one of the great righteous men” who had “saved more Jews than anyone else”, prompted strong criticism from Jewish leaders who accused him of not doing enough during the Holocaust.
Bishop Richard Williamson would not have been readmitted to the Church with three other excommunicated bishops from the ultra-traditionalist Society of St Pius X (SSPX), the Pope said, if the Vatican had known about his statements denying the Holocaust. He blamed that on a failure to consult available information on the Internet.
Williamson was “never Catholic in the proper sense”, he said, because he converted from Anglicanism directly to the SSPX, which did not accept papal primacy. Vatican communications did not prepare for the lifting of the excommunications, he said, and then went into “total meltdown” when the controversy exploded.
On other religions, Pope Benedict said prospects for unity were best with the Orthodox Churches and a meeting with Russian Patriarch Kirill could take place in the not-too-distant future. Protestant Churches had moved away from Catholic positions and the Vatican could seek common positions with them only on major issues.
His offer of ordinariates for disaffected Anglicans aimed not at creating new uniate churches but bringing another tradition into Catholicism, he said, adding this was a “sign of the flexibility of the Catholic Church”.
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