It looks like hell has frozen over, as the Condom Angel has managed to touch the Pope:
Pope Benedict XVI says in a new book that condoms can be justified for male prostitutes seeking to stop HIV, a stunning turnaround for a church that has long opposed condoms and a pontiff who has blamed them for making the AIDS crisis worse.
Catholic Church teaching has opposed condoms because they’re a form of artificial contraception, although the church has never released an explicit policy about condoms and HIV. The Vatican has been harshly criticized in light of the AIDS crisis.
Benedict said that for male prostitutes — for whom contraception isn’t the central issue — condoms are not a moral solution. But he said they could be justified “in the intention of reducing the risk of infection.”
He called it “a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way of living sexuality.”
The Catholic Church has done much to hinder the cause of reproductive rights, and its general view of condoms has likely contributed to the AIDS pandemic. Nevertheless, this is a good move, and credit goes where credit is due.
However, I don’t think this is really that much of a good move. First of all, it applies specifically to male prostitutes engaging in sex with men. In such a case, reproduction is impossible, and hence the Church’s ridiculous doctrine that the One True Purpose™ of sex is procreation. This admission of the potential benefit of condoms does not apply to heterosexual couples. In other words, the Roman Catholic Church still believes that it is more important to be open to reproduction (every sperm is still sacred!) than to take action to prevent the spread of a disease.
I don’t think this will have much impact on Catholic couples using contraception in their marriages. First of all, they already do so (the RCA is one of the least successful institutions in getting its members to follow one of its doctrines). And second, since it does not in any way alter previous church doctrine, it does not in any way permit Catholic couples to suddenly use birth control; there is still no loophole.
In other words, the RCA has an idiotic doctrine, but this improves it slightly.
Update (2010–11–23): The RCA has issued a clarification (h/t to Jen):
VATICAN CITY — Using a condom is a lesser evil than transmitting HIV to a sexual partner — even if that means a woman averts a possible pregnancy, the Vatican said Tuesday, signaling a significant shift in papal teaching as it explained Pope Benedict XVI’s comments.
The Vatican has long been criticized for its patent opposition to condom use, particularly in Africa where AIDS is rampant. But the latest interpretation of Benedict’s comments about condoms and HIV essentially means the Roman Catholic Church is acknowledging that its long-held, anti-birth control stance against condoms doesn’t justify putting someone’s life at risk.
Well, the announcement is now better than it seemed when released. It also provides a loophole allowing couples to use condoms as birth control, while claiming that they are merely using it to prevent the spread of AIDS. This specifically won’t make much as a difference, as Catholic couples already use birth control. This just provides a “justification”. While only referring to AIDS, I have difficulty seeing a relevant distinction between AIDS and other STDs.