Vatican press officer addresses pope’s comment about condom use in battle against AIDS

By Vatican Information Service

VATICAN CITY—Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s press office director, issued a Nov. 21 statement concerning remarks made by Pope Benedict XVI on the use of condoms in the battle against HIV-AIDS, which appear the new book “Light of the World” by Peter Seewald.

Father Lombardi addressed the pope’s response to two questions at the end of chapter 11, questions that reconnect with the discussions that arose in the wake of statements the pontiff made on this subject during his 2009 trip to Africa.

“The pope again makes it clear that his intention was not to take up a position on the problem of condoms in general; his aim, rather was to reaffirm with force that the problem of AIDS cannot be solved simply by distributing condoms, because much more needs to be done: prevention, education, help, advice, accompaniment, both to prevent people from falling ill and to help them if they do,” Father Lombardi stated.

He said the pope observed that even in the non-ecclesial context a similar awareness has developed, as is apparent in the ABC theory (Abstinence – Be Faithful – Condom), in which the first two elements (abstinence and fidelity) are more decisive and fundamental in the battle against AIDS, while condoms take last place, as a way out when the other two are absent.

“It should thus be clear that condoms are not the solution to the problem,” Father Lombardi stated. “The pope then broadens his perspective and insists that focusing only on condoms is equivalent to trivializing sexuality, which thus loses its meaning as an expression of love between persons and becomes a ‘drug.’ This struggle against the trivialization of sexuality is ‘part of the great effort to ensure that sexuality is positively valued and is able to exercise a positive effect on man in his entirety.’”

Father Lombardi said that in the light of this broad and profound vision of human sexuality and the problems it currently faces, the pope reaffirmed that “the church does not of course consider condoms to be the authentic and moral solution” to the problem of AIDS.

“In this the pope does not reform or change church teaching, but reaffirms it, placing it in the perspective of the value and dignity of human sexuality as an expression of love and responsibility,” Father Lombardi stated.

“At the same time the pope considers an exceptional circumstance in which the exercise of sexuality represents a real threat to another person’s life,” he said in the statement. “In such a case, the pope does not morally justify the disordered practice of sexuality but maintains that the use of a condom to reduce the danger of infection can be ‘a first act of responsibility,’ ‘a first step on the road toward a more human sexuality,’ rather than not using it and exposing the other person to a mortal risk.”

The pope’s reasoning cannot be defined as a revolutionary change, the Vatican press officer said.

“Many moral theologians and authoritative ecclesiastical figures have supported and support similar positions; it is nevertheless true that we have not heard this with such clarity from the mouth of the pope, even in an informal and non-magisterial form,” Father Lombardi said in the statement. “Thus Benedict XVI courageously makes an important contribution to help us clarify and more deeply understand a long-debated question. His is an original contribution, because, on the one hand, it remains faithful to moral principles and transparently refutes illusory paths such as that of ‘faith in condoms;’ on the other hand, however, it manifests a comprehensive and farsighted vision, attentive to recognizing the small steps (though only initial and still confused) of an often spiritually — and culturally-impoverished humanity, toward a more human and responsible exercise of sexuality.”