Aids campaigners have said the Pope’s shift on the use of condoms could “save lives” in African countries ravaged by the epidemic.
In an interview Pope Benedict XVI said that using condoms may sometimes be justified to stop the spread of HIV, a remark interpreted as a shift in one of the Vatican’s most controversial positions.
He said: “There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralisation, a first assumption of responsibility on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants.”
When pressed on whether this meant the Church was not opposed to the use of condoms, he said they were not “a real or moral solution” but could be justified in some cases.
Jason Warriner, clinical director for sexual health charity the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “We often find that people from a religious background may not want to use condoms because of their faith. The Pope’s statement is a way of opening the conversation and having increased dialogue around HIV and sexual health.
“If those conversations stop people from becoming infected with HIV then this is a major step forward and will save lives in the HIV epidemic.”
Simon Wright, head of health and HIV at Save the Children, said: “This could be a significant step. We have known about HIV for 30 years now and in all that time the Church has never publicly said condoms prevent its spread. The Pope has now acknowledged that.”
He said: “If this is done clearly and communicated throughout the Church, and if some of the qualifications and reservations are removed, then it could save lives. If the Church had said this 25 years ago it would have saved a lot of lives. This is a small but hopefully important step for the Church to make.”
Sources in the Catholic Church in England and Wales warned that the Pope’s comments did not mean a major shift in Vatican policy and that the Church would not become a public advocate of using condoms.
One said: “What he is not saying is that this is a change in institutional thinking or that condoms are a solution to HIV/Aids. He’s speaking very specifically on this point of moral theology.”