America magazine was told that the text of the book of interviews with Pope Benedict XVI, Light of the World, was embargoed until Tuesday, but AP is now reporting that L'Osservatore Romano has run excerpts of what was bound to be the most talked-about remark in his lengthy series of interviews with Peter Seewald.
Pope Benedict XVI says in a new book that the use of condoms can be justified in some cases, such as for male prostitutes seeking to prevent the spread of HIV. The pontiff makes the comments in a book-length interview with a German journalist, "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times." The Vatican newspaper ran excerpts of the book Saturday.
Church teaching has long opposed condoms since they're a form of artificial contraception. The Vatican has been harshly criticized for its position given the AIDS crisis. Benedict said that for male prostitutes — for whom contraception isn't a central issue — condoms are not a moral solution. But he said they could be justified "in the intention of reducing the risk of infection." The AP story is here.
Update: We have just learned that since L'Osservatore broke the embargo the official English translation is now fair game. So here is the English text:
"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 moralization, 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. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.
Interviewer Peter Seewald: Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?
"She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be, nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the infection, a first step in the movement toward a different way, a more human way, of livign sexuality."
Reading the entire text of the Holy Father's response in the English translation of Light of the World supports the conclusion that this exception marks something of a new development in the church's approach to condoms, whose use had previously been ruled out entirely, in every case. If this is so, it is a case of the ecclesia audiens, the listening church, which listens to the experience of the faithful, of theologians and of experts in various fields. Of course, the pope is speaking of an exception, and an exceedingly rare one at that. And the rest of his answer to Mr. Seewald's question inveighs against the wholesale use of condoms. Nonetheless, it is an exception, which is something not seen before in this arena, as far as I know, and something we have certainly not seen at this level of authority. (Other bishops and archbishops have advanced, tentatively, these thoughts, as have several theologians, but they have not gained currency within the Vatican.) That is, even discussing exceptions is a change. As such, it seems an encouraging example of the church's willingness to listen to the Holy Spirit wherever it may speak.
The updated AP story has this comment by a Vatican official: "Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, the Vatican's longtime top official on bioethics and sexuality, elaborated on the pontiff's comments, stressing that it was imperative to 'make certain that this is the only way to save a life.' Sgreccia told the Italian news agency ANSA that that is why the pope on the condom issue "dealt with it in the realm of the exceptional." Finally, here is an article in America from 2000, by Jon Fuller, S.J., MD., on the topic, which speaks of an earlier comment by a Vatican official, called "The Vatican's New Insights on Condoms for AIDS Prevention."