A Long Time Coming: Refreshing Words from the Church

We can all breathe easy; Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga are back on Twitter.

The two musicians were among several celebrities who signed off the social networking site until their fans raised a million dollars to support HIV/AIDS research.  Theirs’ was a noble effort – especially as world governments consider austerity initiatives that would cut funding off from areas that need it most.

But there was another story that surfaced around World AIDS Day that will undoubtedly affect millions more people. It doesn’t come from Hollywood or Washington. It comes from Rome.

In his new book, Pope Benedict – the de facto leader of more than a billion Christians – seemed to condone condom use in certain circumstances – specifically when one party has AIDS. From the BBC:

When asked whether the Catholic Church was not opposed in principle to the use of condoms, the Pope replied: “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 risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.”

The Pope gives the example of the use of condoms by male prostitutes as “a first step towards moralisation”, even though condoms are “not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection”.

This is a big deal. Theologians say this is the first time a Pope has spoken of condoms in a positive way as a way to prevent the spread of AIDS. For centuries the Vatican has preached an abstinence only approach, but it wasn’t until 1968 when the Church formally declared condom use as a moral wrong. In the Catholic Church, sex is only meant for procreation.

Progressives shouldn’t rush out and celebrate just yet. The Holy See is simply saying that it is merely preferable to use a condom and prevent HIV/AIDS as opposed to not using one and spreading the virus. The Church is quick to point out that this revelation isn’t the first step in reversing its position on contraception.

But it’s something, right? And in no country do these words hold more weight in Africa – a continent with the largest HIV/AIDS population and highest number of Catholic converts. The Catholic Church is also the largest provider of HIV/AIDS care in the world. According to the AP, members of the Catholic HIV and AIDS network spent about $235 million on assistance in 2008.

Many Catholic relief workers there have been secretly dispensing condoms for years, saying that to do otherwise would violate the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” Thankfully, these workers will no longer have to decide between their conscience and their faith. Thankfully, the Pope’s recent comments will allow them to follow both.

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