Vatican set to OK condoms for disease prevention

A forthcoming Vatican document is set to approve the use of condoms in a marriage where one partner is infected with HIV/AIDS and the other is not.

National Catholic Reporter reports that according its sources the document will insist that this position does not mark a break with the church's traditional ban on birth control, expressed in Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae. What would be approved is not contraception, they say, but disease prevention.

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragŕn (pictured), president of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, confirmed in a recent interview with the Roman newspaper La Repubblica that his office was asked by Benedict XVI to prepare a document on the subject.

Speaking on background, an official in Lozano Barragŕn's office told the National Catholic Reporter that the document will sanction the use of condoms to halt the spread of the disease "inside marriage and the family, not outside of it."

The official said the document has been approved by the consultors of the Council for Health Pastoral Care, and is now awaiting review from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He said it should appear shortly.

The document caps a wide public discussion among senior church officials on condoms and AIDS.

Among those who have publicly spoken in favour of condoms where one partner in a marriage is HIV-positive include Italian Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the former archbishop of Milan; Swiss Cardinal George Cottier, theologian of the papal household under John Paul II; Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium; Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster, England; and Bishop Kevin Dowling of South Africa.

"If an infected husband wants to have sex with his wife who isn't infected, then she must defend herself by whatever means necessary," Barragŕn said in October 2004. This position, he said, is consistent with the tenets of traditional Catholic moral theology, which teaches that acts of self-defence can extend to killing in order to not be killed.

"If a wife can defend herself from having sex by whatever means necessary, why not with a condom?" he said.

On the other hand, Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, has spoken vigorously in favour of a more rigid stance. In a 2004 interview with the BBC, López Trujillo, a Colombian, claimed the HIV virus is small enough to "easily pass through" latex. Lopez also asserted that condoms encourage promiscuity, which he deemed among the root causes of the pandemic.

The new document "goes a little bit against López Trujillo," the official from the Council for Health Pastoral Care said.

"Even if they're not foolproof, most studies show condoms can make a difference in stopping the spread of the disease," he said.

Moral theologians caution that until the precise reasoning in the document is known, how sweeping a statement it represents cannot be assessed.

Meanwhile Papua New Guinea's The National newspaper reported yesterday that the Melbourne-based Australian AIDS Fund has made an appeal to PNG's bishops to "take heed" of the call last week by Cardinal Carlo Martini's for married people with HIV-infected partners to use condoms to protect themselves against AIDS.

"Given the frightful HIV plight of PNG, we urge you bishops to follow Cardinal Martini's example," the letter said.

The fund also called on Catholic aid agency, Caritas, to make an "immediate and significant financial response to help meet the critical needs of people living with AIDS in PNG."

The Australian AIDS Fund, which operates independently of the Catholic Church was founded as an outreach work of that Archdiocese of Melbourne.

Vatican OKs condoms for disease prevention: Traditional ban on birth control still stands (National Catholic Reporter 25/4/06)
Bishops urged to support calls for use of condoms (The National 25/4/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care
Humanae Vitae
The Australian AIDS Fund

Cardinal backs limited condom use (CathNews 24/4/06)
PNG bishops argue condoms OK for some (CathNews 30/3/06)
PNG Bishop objects to condom call (CathNews 15/3/06)
Martini says Church should be more democratic (CathNews 8/4/06)

The Church & AIDS in Africa (Commonweal 21/4/06)
Vatican 'may relax condom rules' (BBC 25/4/06)
Cardinal sparks fury over claims about use of condoms (The Scotsman 22/4/06)
Vatican preparing statement on condoms and AIDS (Reuters 25/4/06)
Vatican preparing document on condom use and AIDS, official says (Catholic News Service 25/4/06)
Vatican office clarifies: teaching on condoms and AIDS will not change (Catholic News Agency 25/4/06)
Outspoken cardinal upsets Vatican on bioethics (Catholic Information Service for Africa 25/4/06)
Vatican preparing study on condom use (Catholic World News 24/4/06)
Vatican may allow condoms (The Advertiser 25/4/06)
William Rees-Mogg: Doctrine must favour the lesser evil (The Australian 26/4/06)
Editorial: Innocents abroad (The Australian 26/4/06)
Pope reviews guidance on use of condoms (London Times 24/4/06)

26 Apr 2006