Pope praised for condom remarks
But Vatican says the ban remains
VATICAN CITY — Vatican officials insist it is nothing revolutionary, but to many other people Pope Benedict XVI’s recent comments regarding condom use mark an important moment in the battle against AIDS and an effort by the pontiff to burnish his image and legacy.
Just a year after he said condoms could be making the AIDS crisis worse, Benedict said that for some people, such as male prostitutes, using them could represent a first step in assuming moral responsibility “in the intention of reducing the risk of infection.’’
The Vatican’s ban on contraception remains, but Alberto Melloni, an Italian church historian, said Benedict “opened without a doubt a crack that cannot help but have consequences.’’
In Zimbabwe, where roughly 15 percent of adults have the HIV virus, a Catholic priest said he would spread the news.
“I’ve got brothers and sisters and friends who are suffering from HIV because they were not practicing safe sex,’’ said the Rev. Peter Makome, who works in the capital Harare’s Southerton Parish.
“Now the message has come out that they can go ahead and do safe sex; it’s much better for everyone.’’
Benedict stepped where no pope has gone since Paul VI’s famous 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae’’ barred Catholics from using condoms and other artificial contraception.
Pressure to lift the ban has grown with the spread of the HIV virus, which has infected about 60 million people worldwide and led to 25 million AIDS-related deaths over three decades.
The pope chose to make his statement not in an official document but in an interview with a German journalist, Peter Seewald, that will appear this week in the book “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times.’’ L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, published excerpts Saturday.
The pope says in his own writings that he takes personal responsibility for the remarks, meaning they are not official church teaching.
The conservative Benedict previously had given little sign of budging on the issue of condoms.
Last year, while en route to Africa, the continent HIV has hit hardest by far, he drew criticism from many health workers by saying condoms not only did not help stop the spread of AIDS but exacerbated the problem.
The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Holy See’s chief spokesman, issued a statement stressing that the pope’s comment neither “reforms or changes’’ church teaching.
“The reasoning of the pope cannot certainly be defined as a revolutionary turn,’’ he said.
The UN agency tasked with combating AIDS said the pope’s comments were “a significant and positive step.’’