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The Pope, Condoms, and Contraception: Let's Get This Conversation Started

Written by Francis Kissling for - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Last week’s published comments by Pope Benedict regarding the case by case permissibility of condom use to prevent the transmission of the AIDS virus was a welcome, if modest, shift in position.  After some back and forth, the Vatican clarified that--contrary to the hope of conservative supporters of the condom ban--it is applicable not just to “male prostitutes” but also to “a woman, a man or a transsexual.”   

While there is great respect in the AIDS community for the commitment of Catholic health care providers in the developing world to treating people with AIDS and for some aspects of their work on behavior change, as well as among advocates for the just provision of anti-retroviral drugs, questions remain about the extent to which religious beliefs about sexual morality should influence global AIDS policy. Catholic positions against contraception and limiting sexual intimacy to lifelong monogamous heterosexual marriage have been seen as the major reason the Vatican, bishops in various regions of the world, and Catholic AIDS providers have refused to provide condoms as part of the three-tiered AIDS prevention strategy known as "ABC" (abstain, be faithful, use condoms).

There is no doubt that the Pope’s nod to the use of condoms by an HIV-infected person under certain circumstances will lead to significant loosening of the strictures on condom provision, although the rapidity with which the U.S.-based Catholic Relief Services issued a statement saying that their “current policy holds: we do not purchase, distribute or promote the use of condoms" was disappointing.  CRS receives 75 percent of its funding from the U.S. government. Nonetheless, some Catholic workers are already ignoring the ban and doing just that.

Conservative supporters of the ban on artificial contraception immediately responded to the Pope’s comments in an attempt to play them down. George Weigel, who normally is telling Catholics that any statement by the Pope should be taken seriously, painfully explained that an interview does not constitute a really serious statement of church position, it is merely personal opinion by the Pope.

The Vatican seemed to take the Pope’s remarks more seriously. Read more

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