In a seismic shift on one of the most profound - and profoundly contentious - Roman Catholic teachings, the Vatican said yesterday that condoms are the lesser of two evils when used to curb the spread of AIDS, even if their use prevents a pregnancy.
The position was an acknowledgment that the church's long-held anti-birth control stance against condoms doesn't justify putting lives at risk.
"This is a game-changer," said the Rev. James Martin, a prominent Jesuit writer and editor.
The new stance was staked out as the Vatican explained Pope Benedict XVI's comments on condoms and HIV in "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times," a book that came out yesterday based on his interview with a German journalist.
The Vatican still holds that condom use is immoral and that church doctrine forbidding artificial birth control remains unchanged. Still, the reassessment on condom use to help prevent disease carries profound significance, particularly in Africa where AIDS is rampant.
"By acknowledging that condoms help prevent the spread of HIV between people in sexual relationships, the pope has completely changed the Catholic discussion on condoms," said Martin, a liberal-leaning author of several books about Catholic teaching.
Benedict drew harsh criticism when in 2009 he told reporters that the AIDS problem couldn't be resolved by distributing condoms. In Africa yesterday, AIDS activists, clerics and ordinary Africans applauded the pope's revised comments.
The Rev. Tim Finnegan, a conservative British blogger, said he thought the pope's comments were unwise. "I'm sorry. I love the Holy Father very much; he is a deeply holy man and has done a great deal for the church," Finnegan said on his blog. "On this particular issue, I disagree with him." - AP