Condoms, the pope and the church

The pope has justified condom use for male prostitutes, but church policy remains unchanged.

by Julian Switala

Religious texts have almost become obsolete in todayâÄôs world. Secular guidelines in politics, education and the workplace have effectively replaced the rules that millions of religious individuals adhere to and believe.

However, for those who strictly follow the VaticanâÄôs proclamations, Pope Benedict XVIâÄôs recent comments regarding condom use are long overdue.

In an exclusive interview with German journalist Peter Seewald, the pope said that there can be “single justified cases, for example when a prostitute uses a condom, and this can be the first step toward a moralization, a first act of responsibility.”

Last year, when the pope traveled to Africa, he said that condoms actually worsened the spread of AIDS. The popeâÄôs recommendation at the time was that AIDS could only be prevented by abstinence.

These comments revealed a pope largely out of touch with reality. ItâÄôs unfortunate when the common sense of a believer must be overridden by an unwarranted assertion of a religious leader.

Unsurprisingly, the church was challenged and ridiculed for these statements. For people in a public role not shielded by the supreme authority of religion, these comments would have been ignored.

Fortunately, this is exactly what happened after the pope made these comments a year ago. South African Bishop Kevin Dowling, for instance, unilaterally declared that people should use condoms “in order to prevent the transmission of potential death to another.”

This break from papal authority was especially justified given that DowlingâÄôs diocese was experiencing widespread death caused by AIDS. There was nevertheless still strict adherence to the VaticanâÄôs stance on condoms.

While the popeâÄôs recent comments are a step in the right direction, theyâÄôre not enough.

Rather than releasing an official church document, the pope chose to make his statements in an informal interview. This means that former Pope Paul VIâÄôs encyclical “Humanae Vitae” of 1968 still has full authority. Humanae Vitae bans all Catholics from using artificial contraception.

Additionally, the pope never fully clarified the intent of his statement on condoms. While he only explicitly mentioned “male prostitutes,” apparently all individuals are encompassed by his statement.

Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said he spoke with the pope about his comments and discovered that it was insignificant that the pope mentioned the masculine and singled out prostitutes.

In reference to the popeâÄôs statement, Lombardi said, “This is if youâÄôre a woman, a man, or a transsexual. WeâÄôre at the same point. The point is itâÄôs a first step of taking responsibility, of avoiding passing a grave risk onto another.”

Pope Benedict XVIâÄôs comments on condoms may have saved his damaged reputation, yet members of the church will interpret his statement as they wish. While some will now have the courage to advocate and practice what they know is right, others will simply ignore the popeâÄôs informal statements. For the Catholic Church, thatâÄôs monumentally unfortunate.

 

Julian Switala welcomes comments
at [email protected].