Vatican 'may relax condom rules'

Posted: 3 May 2006

The Vatican is preparing to publish a statement on the use of condoms by people who have Aids, a senior Roman Catholic official is reported to have said. However, later reports have thrown cold water on the idea that the church might relax its strict teaching on the use of 'artificial contraception' when condoms are used to prevent the spread of the Aids virus.

According to a BBC report, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan told La Repubblica newspaper that Pope Benedict XVI asked the Vatican's council for health care to study the issue.

The Vatican says abstinence is the best way to tackle HIV/Aids.

But last week, a retired archbishop backed the use of condoms for married couples to prevent Aids transmission.

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, who used to be Archbishop of Milan, said that in couples where one partner had HIV/Aids, the use of condoms was "a lesser evil".

'Delicate subject'

There are signs that the document could be a major revision of Vatican policy, says the BBC's Robert Pigott.

The issue is one of the most controversial among Catholics, and the Church has been strongly criticised for its current position, especially in African countries stricken by HIV/Aids, our correspondent says.

In his interview with the newspaper, Cardinal Barragan said: "Soon the Vatican will issue a document about the use of condoms by persons who have grave diseases, starting with Aids."

He said his department was studying the document, along with the scientists and theologians who wrote it.

"It is Benedict XVI who asked us for a study on this particular aspect of using a condom by those afflicted with Aids, and by those with infectious diseases," he added.

Asked whether he agreed with Cardinal Martini's views, Cardinal Barragan said: "It is a very difficult and delicate subject which warrants prudence."

He said he preferred not to comment on Cardinal Martini's remarks, so as "to not anticipate the study".

It is not clear when the document will be published.

The Vatican has made no official comment.

Cardinal backtracks

In a later report in Time magazine Jeff Israely reported Vatican sources as saying the church's position has not changed - and will not change soon.

"Officials flatly dismiss reports that the Vatican is about to release a document that will condone any condom use - even in cases in which one spouse has HIV. And [Cardinal] Barragán backtracked, saying his office was producing only an internal "study" of the issue. 'This is something that has been studied for years,' a well-placed Vatican source told Time. 'But there's no sign at all that a document is set to come out.' The official didn't rule out a possible policy tweak, but any change will be 'years away.'

"This episode seems mostly to reflect wishful thinking by church progressives. 'Let's not forget that Martini's camp was essentially the loser in last year's conclave,' a Vatican official says. The conservatives won, and contraception does not seem to be high on Pope Benedict XVI's agenda. In late November, he listed several ways to combat the spread of HIV, including chastity, fidelity in marriage and antipoverty efforts. He did not mention condoms."

Sources: BBC (April 24,2006) and Time magazine (April 30, 2006)