To date, Pope Benedict XVI's stance has been that condoms could be making the AIDS epidemic worse by encouraging casual sex. Now, in a potentially significant shift, the pope has told a German interviewer that condom use by certain people, such as male prostitutes, could be morally justified as a way to reduce the risk of infection. Vatican officials say there's nothing "revolutionary" about the remarks, but church historians disagree. Is the pope really easing Catholic opposition to condom use? (Watch an al Jazeera discussion about the pope's stance)
This is no big deal: "Benedict's so-called condom concession was not a huge one," says Howard Chua-Eoan at Time. He is merely saying that male prostitutes — whose actions the church, of course, condemns — should use condoms to prevent HIV, because making such a conscious choice at least constitutes a step out of darkness and toward morality. But the pope still proscribes using condoms as birth control.
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Actually, the pope has opened the door to significant change: Conservative Catholics may not like it, says Damian Thompson at Britain's Telegraph, but the Holy Father is now on record saying that using a condom is "a lesser evil than the transmission of the virus." Sure, Pope Benedict says that only applies in extreme cases, such as male prostitution. But, come on, the same "lesser-of-two-evils argument" obviously applies to sex between infected men and women.
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A moderate change in Vatican policy could have a big effect: Maybe allowing condoms only for homosexual sex — which can't produce a baby — isn't a big change in Vatican policy, says Bryan Cones at U.S. Catholic, but "anyone who wants to tame the HIV epidemic will be happy to hear this news." Catholic agencies provide some 30 percent of medical care in developing parts of the world. Now that Pope Benedict has opened the door to using condoms solely in the name of fighting AIDS, these groups "will be freer to employ the ABC model (abstinence, being faithful, condoms) that many see as the gold standard."
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