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Condoms may be ‘first step’ in moralisation of sexuality, says Pope

By on Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Pope Benedict XVI holds a copy of Light of the World with Peter Seewald, left, and Archbishop Rino Fisichella (Photo: PA)

Pope Benedict XVI holds a copy of Light of the World with Peter Seewald, left, and Archbishop Rino Fisichella (Photo: PA)

Benedict XVI has said that if those with HIV use a condom with “the intention of reducing the risk of infection” it might be the “first step in the direction of a moralisation” of sexuality.

He made the comment in Light of the World, a book-length interview with German journalist Peter Seewald, which was published today. 

Although Pope Benedict used the example of a male prostitute, the Vatican has clarified that his comments applied to both sexes.

In the book Mr Seewald asks the Pope about his statement on the way to Africa in March 2009 that condoms were not the solution to the Aids crisis.

Pope Benedict replies: “Someone had asked me why the Catholic Church adopts an unrealistic and ineffective position on Aids. 

“At that point, I really felt that I was being provoked, because the Church does more than anyone else. And I stand by that claim. Because she is the only institution that assists people up close and concretely, with prevention, education, help, counsel, and accompaniment. And because she is second to none in treating so many Aids victims, especially children with Aids.

He continued: “In my remarks I was not making a general statement about the condom issue, but merely said, and this is what caused such great offense, that we cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms. Much more needs to be done. We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help them; and we must do this both before and after they contract the disease.

“As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. 

“Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work. This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalisation of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. 

“This is why the fight against the banalisation of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.”

He added: “There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralisation, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanisation of sexuality.”

Mr Seewald then asks the Pope whether he is saying that the Church is not opposed in principle to condoms. 

The Pope answers: “She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.”

Today Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said the Pope’s comments on condoms applied to women and transsexuals, not just male prostitutes.

Fr Lombardi told reporters: “I personally asked the Pope if there was a serious, important problem in the choice of the masculine over the feminine. He told me no. The problem is this … It’s the first step of taking responsibility, of taking into consideration the risk of the life of another with whom you have a relationship.

“This is if you’re a woman, a man, or a transsexual. We’re at the same point,” Fr Lombardi said.

At the weekend Dr Janet Smith, a consultor to the Pontifical Council on the Family, said: “[The pope] says that the Church does not find condoms to be a ‘real or moral solution.’ That means the Church does not find condoms either to be moral or an effective way of fighting the transmission of HIV. 

“As the Holy Father indicates in his fuller answer, the most effective portion of programmes designed to reduce the transmission of HIV are calls to abstinence and fidelity. 

“The Holy Father, again, is saying that the intention to reduce the transmission of any infection is a ‘first step’ in a movement towards a more human way of living sexuality.”

Fr Joseph Fessio SJ, editor-in-chief of Ignatius Press and a former student of Benedict XVI, said: “It would be wrong to say, ‘Pope Approves Condoms’. He’s saying it’s immoral but in an individual case the use of a condom could be an awakening to someone that he’s got to be more conscious of his actions.”

Leading Vatican commentator John Allen said: “Pope Benedict XVI has signaled that in some limited cases, where the intent is to prevent the transmission of disease rather than to prevent pregnancy, the use of condoms might be morally justified.

“While that position is hardly new, in the sense that a large number of Catholic theologians and even a special Vatican commission requested by Benedict XVI have endorsed it, this is the first time the Pope himself has publicly espoused such a view.

“The comments do not yet rise to the level of official church teaching, but they do suggest that Benedict might be open to such a development.”

John Thavis, another distinguished Vatican commentator, said: “These are nuanced comments, and one should read the passage in full to gauge the Pope’s position. The Pope’s answer seems to invite follow-up questions. 

“Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that the Vatican has never proclaimed a ‘ban’ on condom use in Aids prevention; on the contrary, some Vatican theologians and officials have argued that for married couples in which one partner is HIV-infected, use of condoms would be a moral responsibility.”

He added that “despite journalistic hyperventilation” the Pope’s comments do not signal a major shift in Vatican thinking on condoms. 

“What the Pope has done is to raise the issue publicly,” he said, “making clear that the Church’s teaching against condoms as a form of birth control is different from its position on condom use in disease prevention.”

In a statement issued on Sunday, translated from the Italian by the National Catholic Reporter, Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said: “The Pope is not reforming or changing the teaching of the Church, but reaffirming it by placing it in the context of the value and the dignity of human sexuality as an expression of love and responsibility.

“At the same time, the Pope considers an exceptional situation in which the exercise of sexuality respresents a true risk to the life of another. In that case, the Pope does not morally justify the disordered exercise of sexuality, but holds that the use of a condom in order to diminish the threat of infection is ‘a first assumption of responsibility’, and ‘a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality’, rather than not using a condom and exposing the other person to a threat to their life.

“In that sense, the reasoning of the pope certainly cannot be defined as a revolutionary shift. Numerous moral theologians and authoritative ecclesiastical personalities have sustained, and still sustain, similar positions. 

“Nevertheless, it’s true that until now they have not been heard with such clarity from the mouth of the pope, even if it’s in a colloquial rather than magisterial form.

“Benedict XVI therefore courageously gives us an important contribution of clarification and deepening on a question that has long been debated. It’s an original contribution, because on the one hand it remains faithful to moral principles and demonstrates lucidity in rejecting ‘faith in condoms’ as an illusory path; on the other hand, it shows a comprehensive and far-sighted vision, attentive to discovering the small steps – even if they’re only initial and still confused – of a humanity often spiritually and culturally impoverished, towards a more human and responsible exercise of sexuality.”

  • EditorCT

    The Pope has said that some people (prostitutes and transsexuals) can do something evil (and the Pope is well on record saying use of condoms is evil) so that they can effect something good (spread of infection).

    Can you really not see that that is flouting Catholic doctrine that we may never do evil so that good may come of it? Really?

  • EditorCT

    I want him to do what he did in Africa – repeat the truth that condoms do not help prevent infection, they, in fact, make the problem worse and that he has no authority to condone evil even so that good may come of it. That's what I want. More importantly, that's what God wants.

  • EditorCT

    Sorry, Susan, I must have missed that first time round – at last, two allies (no, three, including Cecilia. We must organise an annual reunion…)

  • Staggered

    My jaw just dropped. You told young couples–abusing your authority as a permanent deacon–that the ycould ue the Pill and now have the brass to claim that young Canadians never consider not using contraceptives. I hope you are talking about 20 years ago, because I can assure you that today many young Catholic Canadian prayerfully read Humanae Vitae and remain open to life.

  • Staggered

    And to burst your bubble, the Pill does cause abortions by making the womb poisonous to a conceptus. It used to prevent conception “better”, but that chemical element was eliminated as it was so obviously bad for women's health. So it operates on both levels: prevention and back-up poisoning.

    It is sad to think of how many people have lost their children at a very early stage without ever having even known of their existence or been told how the Pill worked.

  • Dorothy Cummings McLean

    Hi Deacon Gordon, I'm a columnist for the Toronto Catholic Register, and if you don't mind your take on Humanae Vitae and the Winnipeg Statement being published in Canada with your real name attached, I'd like to interview you for my next column. You can get in touch with me at

  • SS1

    On p.118 of “Light of the World” the Pope says:

    “The media coverage completely ignored the rest of the trip to Africa on account of a single statement. Someone had asked me why the Catholic Church adopts an unrealistic and ineffective position on Aids. At that point, I really felt that I was being provoked, because the Church does more than anyone else. And I stand by that claim.”

    So he has reiterated what he said about condoms potentially aggravating the problem of AIDS.

    He hasn't changed the teaching.
    He hasn't said condoms are ok: he has said they are neither a moral nor a real solution.
    He hasn't said contraception is ok: on pages 145 to 147 he defends and endorses Humanae Vitae.
    He hasn't said it's ok to do evil in order to do good.

    What he has said is that someone's subjective disposition may evidence hopeful signs in them of an awareness that their (immoral) actions could harm others, and a laudable desire (although the means are not laudable) to minimise the harm to the other. The next step might be to desist from those immoral actions altogether, and turn back to God. The Pope is looking for green shoots, a sign of someone's openness to the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. I think we ought to follow his example, because he himself is following the example of Our Lord.

  • SS1

    I think it's pretty clear that the Pope does not care more about Peter Tatchell's opinion of him than God's. This kind of hysterical ranting is unworthy of such a serious topic. The Pope has not said it's ever morally licit to use condoms. He said that they are neither a moral nor a real solution. And that's “end of”.

  • SS1

    Not only does EditorCT think she knows better than the Pope, she also thinks that there could be valid reasons for people to miss Mass on a Sunday if they can't attend Mass in the Extraordinary Rite. Being in the Catholic Church means not making up your own rules.

    I would also caution against the wisdom of promulgating internet rumours about the private revelations of Our Lady in Fatima. Better, I would suggest, to follow the successor of St Peter, because upon this Rock Our Lord built His Church, and the gates of the underworld will not prevail against it.

  • SS1

    He didn't – you have misread the article.

  • SS1

    Taking a “calm look” is highly to be desired. That is what EC has done, and he or she is on the money.

    No new teaching, nothing at variance with the deposit of truth.

    EditorCT, it would be more honest to admit that you have major issues with some aspects of the Church. Your website contains an article “62 reasons why Catholics cannot, in good conscience, attend the new Mass”. You mean the Mass where each day bread and wine are consecrated as the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Sacrifice of Calvary is made present again? It also contains an opportunity for people to vote on whether the Third Secret of Fatima has been revealed. Vote? On what basis? Stuff the read on the internet?

    You are using this issue, and the non-controversy about the lack of any new teaching in this interview (but merely the recognition by the Pope of the possible germ of goodness in people engaged in gravely immoral and sinful acts) as a stick to beat Pope Benedict with. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  • paulpriest

    Staff reporter?

    On secondment from the Ministry of Truth I take it?

    I'm embarrassed for you…

  • EditorCT

    What about prostitutes and transexuals?

    I've been out most of the day, SS1 and will be again tomorrow, but I will respond to your various posts as soon as possible, if not tomorrow at some point, then Sunday.

  • Stephen Mc Elligott

    The Pope is not advocating condoms. He is basically saying that if someone decides to use them, God will eventually draw the good out of the evil action and give them the grace which will awaken them to a more humane sexuality as planned by God.

  • paulpriest

    Sigh! do I need to repeat myself ?
    In no way did His Holiness say condom use was a first step to morality – that is a Lie editorCT – I suggest you immediately retract it.

    His Holiness opined in a pastoral paradigm that the 'intention' of considering another human being during such an action MAY be a first step in moralisation – NOT CONDOM USE – Motive – Not the means from the motive [the means are actually an irrelevance in determining the moral 'ordering' of the intention]

    Yet again you impose the objective evil category upon condom use – something we are forbidden from doing in that it is intrinsically morally disordered – i.e. normatively gravely sinful – always objectively sinful when directed towards its own end – BUT permissible within moral dilemma to prevent an objective evil occurring.

    BUT you fail automatically by ignoring the fundamental principle of humanae vitae – that the UNITIVE and procreative aspects are inseparable without intrinsic moral disorder.

    Prostitution, masturbation, adultery , all extra-marital sex ,wilful procreation-denying mutual masturbation of artificial contraceptive sex, homosexual acts – are all contra-unitive !
    They automatically default BEFORE considering their procreative aspect. They are all ivariably directed towards grave sin BUT as there are critical moral dilemma exceptions [e.g. one can submit to a rape or a homosexual act if the alternative is one's death] they are classified as intrinsic moral disorders.

    Rape – an objective evil – the supremely contra-unitive act does not have its gravity aggravated or diminished with the use or non-use of artificial contraception.

    BUT – Within an intrinsic moral disorder utilised within or even outside moral dilemma such moral precepts CAN be applied – how one kills in self defence, how one actuates a just war, how one submits to a rape to save one's life, whether one uses a condom as a prostitute – DOES matter !

    The condom use is an irrelevance – if it was an hiv+ rapist who used a condom there would be no moral value to any consideration towards the care of the individual – no first step in moralising.
    BUT in the case of a prostitute or anyone who engaged in extra-marital sex who made the extra act of concern – the spark of human decency in motive [i.e. to use a condom] then the MOTIVE may be considered as potentially morally ordering – the MEANS ARE IRRELEVANT – the condom is not what's at issue – especially in acts which are already intrinsically morally disordered and unless countered will lead to grave objective sin.

    The spark of human decency is NOT EVIL – so please stop saying it is !
    …and stop lying about what the Pope said!

  • SamTASTIC!

    Neither I nor Janet Smith say that robbing with an empty gun is good. I say it's just not quite as sinful, and may point to a better understanding of morality. The pope is only saying that this is a small step in the right direction, not that the ends of protection justify the means of contraception. To use contraception to prevent disease, though still gravely sinful, is a small step toward realizing the immorality of a freewheeling sexuality. Isn't it better for the criminal's soul, even if only slightly, that he choose to rob without the potential to kill rather than go in with the “assurance” of a bullet in the barrel?

    Note well that the Pope says not that prostitutes are allowed to use condoms to prevent disease. He says that

    “…There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.

    SEEWALD: Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

    BENEDICT: She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.”

    In no way does the pope here say that condoms are morally good. He instead says quite plainly that the Church does not regard them as a moral solution. But the first step to moralization is not repentance–one must first see that the action is wrong before one can repent, and to see that it is wrong, one must first realize that the action has evil consequences–in this case, the spread of venereal disease.

    Also, intent is certainly important in any moral action–example, manslaughter. One may hit and kill a pedestrian with a car. If the intent was to kill, then God and the courts would find him guilty of murder. If, however, the driver did not intend death, then he would be found guilty only of manslaughter. The matter is the same–a drive-by killing–but the intention, and thus the overall morality of the act, is fundamentally different. The same difference is found even between 1st and 2nd degree murder–a murder is much more culpable if it is premeditated.

    Post script–don't be so quick to dismiss someone who's solidly pro-life and anti-contraception, simply because they have a seemingly differing viewpoint. Ms. Smith is a trustworthy Catholic source, “theologian” or no.

  • Steven

    to this point I dont believe if Pope can allow the use of condoms. I ams he has wrongly quoted

  • EditorCT


    I thought I'd posted the Dici link yesterday – perhaps not, but if I thought it had been removed, I would not be a happy girl at all. Have posted it in my response to Stephen below. I will be shocked if it is removed – it is easily the best, clearest and most theologically literate commentary on this matter to date. Easily.

  • EditorCT

    The pope said there could be an occasion when it was licit to use condoms. End of. He's wrong. End of.

    Read the SSPX statement on this – they're the only theologically literate priests around today.

    Thanks to God’s Providence, we have the SSPX. As we can see, they are the lone prophetic voice speaking the truth in the midst of this turmoil, caused by the Pope, while everyone else is idiotically trying to pretend either that the Pope didn’t say what he said OR that he didn’t mean what he said OR (this is the favourite) that the media have twisted his words to suit their own agenda. Poppycock.

    The Pope spoke error and thank God we have the clearest statement yet and the only one calling on the Pope to reverse his error, from the priests established by God to see us through this crisis. Anyone who can’t see that now, needs help.

  • Philomena Carolan

    It is a totally crazy idea, the use of condoms no matter what the “purpose” is.

    If a prostitute is to prostitute, they are not thinking with a moral mind so, it is not responsible, and certainly not respectful and further more it is just NOT the Catholic teaching as everyone knows.

    It is not respecting their spouse either, the Pope marries couples as in Till death as do part but, it is alright if one member of the spouse to sleep with a prostitute as long as they use condoms, how on earth can that show you are being respectful and responsible, it is showing down right immoral, disrespectful, cheating, the list is endless and he has the audacity to say the celibacy is a “Gift from God”, an “Act of Spiritual Faith”, is that right.

    Okay, then priests can remain celibate-that may include the ones who have sexually abused children but, married couples and prostitutes can use who you want, what you don’t know won’t hurt, just carry on by using condoms because they are being responsible Oh! Under certain circumstances yes of cause, we must remember that part ….of cause we must.

  • Philomena Carolan

    Here, here.

    I really think this Pope should resign, he says he will if his health prevents him from continuing, I think his health is, I say he is “Sick”.

  • Philomena Carolan

    I disagree with you, the Pope is showing irrisposibility from the Catholic teaching, not love and respect from the Catholic church, the teaching for the use of condoms is TOTALLY irrisposible, disrespectful, unfaithfullness, they show everything the Catholic church is NOT TEACHING.

    It is also showing that abusive priests are able to get away with abusing children…..more cover-up’s. the Pope needs to solve this problem or resign.

  • Philomena Carolan

    You are talking a load of rubbish, the use of condoms is totally disresepctful.

    If you slept with a prostitute, using a condom and then went back to your spouse, would you feel happy thinking you have been “responsible”, but it does not matter that you have been dishonest and betrayed them, how nice you are if you do think that way, shows what a nice and respectful person you are, and how much you love your spouse. If that is the case, why did you marry that person? That is just an act of selfishness on your part, you don’t care about other peoples feelings.

  • Philomena Carolan

    Is he?

  • Philomena Carolan

    What is moral about using condoms? I think it is down right cheap.

    It doesn’t matter how you dress it up, using condoms is not moral and never will be, why would it be! The only thing condoms prove is anyone can have sex with anyone without being found out, as far as I am concerned they are only for people who cheat and don’t care who they hurt, a respectable person would not need to think about using as condom, especially if they love someone and they are the only person they sleep with (as in their spouse). That is moral, condom use is immoral. Can you not notice the difference. There is a huge difference between being respectful and disrespectful and, being responsible an respectful is NOT by using condoms, no matter what the desar Pope says, he’s always talking through his spupid hat anyway, no one in the right mind can agree with him. He has everything for his own ends anyway. I think a lot of people have worked that one out, he doesn’t care, he ;s proved that often enough, we can’t get rid of him…..we wish.

  • SamTASTIC!

    Your second point first: Non sequitur…I’m not sure how this follows at all from the matter at hand.
    Your first point: NOWHERE did the Pope say that it was morally legitimate to use condoms. Nowhere. As has been stated in several places elsewhere, the use of a condom only points to the user approaching toward the light–not that the light has been reached. Using a condom in order to protect a partner from disease, though still morally wrong and (rightfully) denounced as contraception by the Church, still is better than showing no concern for one’s partner (licit or no). Example: It is better, a bit less evil, to rob a bank with an unloaded pistol rather than a loaded one, because the chance that someone will die in the encounter is greatly diminished. The concern for others’ lives is good. But it is still evil to rob the bank in the first place.