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Vatican statement: no change on condoms

Pope Benedict’s remarks in Light of the World do not represent a change in the Church’s teaching regarding the use of condoms, the Vatican has confirmed.

A December 21 statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) warns against “a number of erroneous interpretations” that have arisen from the Pope’s words. The statement charges that “the thought of the Pope has been repeatedly manipulated for ends and interests which are entirely foreign to the meaning of his words – a meaning which is evident to anyone who reads the entire chapters in which human sexuality is treated.”

“In reality, the words of the Pope-– which specifically concern a gravely disordered type of human behaviour, namely prostitution (cf. Light of the World, pp. 117-119)-– do not signify a change in Catholic moral teaching or in the pastoral practice of the Church,” the CDF says.

The statement notes that in the passage that has provoked a worldwide controversy, the Pontiff “was talking neither about conjugal morality nor about the moral norm concerning contraception.” Therefore, the CDF reasons: “The idea that anyone could deduce from the words of Benedict XVI that it is somehow legitimate, in certain situations, to use condoms to avoid an unwanted pregnancy is completely arbitrary and is in no way justified either by his words or in his thought.”

Pope Benedict was actually speaking about a hypothetical case involving prostitution, “a type of behavior which Christian morality has always considered gravely immoral,” the CDF continues. The AIDS epidemic has made prostitution an even more serious issue, the statement notes, because those who indulge in prostitution while carrying the HIV virus “are consciously putting the lives of others at risk through behavior which has repercussions on public health.”

Even in this case, the CDF notes, Pope Benedict said clearly that condom distribution does not offer “the real or moral solution” to the problem. In fact, the Pontiff complained that in the public reaction to the AIDS epidemic, “the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality." The only true solution to the problem, the Pope said—and the CDF repeats—lies in changing behavior.

Nevertheless, the CDF concedes, “it cannot be denied that anyone who uses a condom in order to diminish the risk posed to another person is intending to reduce the evil connected with his or her immoral activity.” That observation, the statement says, “is clearly compatible” with the Pope’s message that condom distribution is “not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection."

The CDF statement directly confronts the analysis that Pope Benedict was prepared to accept condom use as the “lesser of two evils.” Such a “proportionalistic misinterpretation” is at odds with the teaching of the Church, the CDF says: “An which is objectively evil, even if a lesser evil, can never be licitly willed.”

The Vatican statement underlines that prostitution can never be accepted, and condom use does nothing to make the practice morally acceptable.

The CDF concludes that those who wish to fight against AIDS “should care for the sick and should encourage all people to live abstinence before and fidelity within marriage.” It is particularly important, the Vatican statement notes, “to condemn any behavior which cheapens sexuality.”

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