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Papal theologian weighs condom use against AIDS

Papal household theologian, Cardinal Georges Cottier, has admitted that condoms can be used in the battle against AIDS, but only under highly limited circumstances.

Cardinal Cottier is the highest-ranking official at the Vatican to suggest that the use of condoms could be justified. But he stressed that he was giving his own "strictly personal" opinion, and not speaking for the Holy See.

Catholic World News reports that the Swiss cardinal said that the use of condoms "could be considered legitimate" when people are "prisoners" of unusual circumstances, and the condoms are used solely for the purpose of preventing the spread of disease.

Cardinal Cottier emphasised that only the presence of these unusual conditions would justify condom use. In ordinary circumstances, he said, the only morally acceptable means of fighting AIDS are through sexual continence. He also argued that the promotion of condom use "contributes to the risk of contagion" by encouraging promiscuous behavior.

The cardinal said that condom use is legitimate when it is a means of avoiding the transfer of the HIV virus during sexual intercourse. He observed that "along with life, there is the risk of also transmitting death" when one sexual partner is HIV-positive.

In those circumstances, he said, "one must respect the defense of life," and heed the command, "Thou shalt not kill."

Cardinal Cottier noted that many theologians take the same view, although there is a considerable difference of opinion among Catholic moralists on the topic. He took pains to clarify that he was not suggesting the use of condoms under ordinary circumstances, but only by those who are HIV-positive and sexually active.

Meanwhile National Catholic Reporter Rome correspondent John Allen has written a note reflecting on the see-sawing of determinations from Rome regarding the morality of condom use in HIV-AIDS prevention.

"What came as a shock in some circles was that many church officials also realize that in some situations, condoms may be a lesser evil to prevent the spread of disease," he said. "It arises, at least in part, from reluctance among some officials to speak too openly about the "lesser evil" clause, for fear of creating a slippery-slope towards promiscuous sexual behaviour."

Allen quotes Monsignor Angel Rodriguez Luņo, an Opus Dei priest and consultor for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who told the Washington Post: "The problem is, anytime we try to give a nuanced response, we see headlines that say, 'Vatican approves condoms'."

Papal theologian weighs condom use against AIDS (Catholic World News 1/2/05)
John L Allen: Condom discussion takes nuance and clarity (National Catholic Reporter 28/1/05)

Georges Marie Martin Cardinal Cottier, O.P. (

Pell holds hard line on condoms (Online Catholics 2/2/05)
Cardinal says condoms ban due to implied sexual immorality (CathNews 25/1/05)
Pope calls attention to AIDS in developing world (CathNews 24/1/05)
Condom controversy continues (CathNews 21/1/05)
Spanish Church acknowledges role of condoms in AIDS fight (CathNews 20/1/05)
Priest says AIDS fight must tackle 'sex object' culture (CathNews 1/12/04)

Vatican cleric fuels condom row (BBC 1/2/05)
Cardinal says condoms could help to stop Aids (The Guardian 1/2/05)
Catholic cardinal's condoms message under fire (Business Day 26/1/05)
UK Bishops support Spanish Bishops on condoms (Online Catholics 26/1/05)
South African church attacks condom promotion (Reuters/swissinfo 26/1/05)

2 Feb 2005