YAOUNDE, Cameroon (CNS): Pope Benedict XVI’s declaration that distribution of condoms only increases the problem of AIDS is the latest and one of the strongest statements in a simmering debate inside the Church.
The Pope was speaking to journalists aboard his flight to Cameroon on March 17, and he was asked whether the Church’s approach to AIDS prevention – which focuses primarily on sexual responsibility and rejects condom campaigns – was unrealistic and ineffective.
The Pope framed his answer in terms of the Church’s service to those with AIDS and its efforts to promote what he called a “humanisation of sexuality” that includes the elements of fidelity and self-sacrifice.
The Pope did not get into the specific question of whether in certain circumstances condom use was morally licit or illicit in AIDS prevention, an issue that is still under study by Vatican theologians.
In the exchange that took place on the Pope’s plane, the question’s premise was “The Catholic Church’s position on the way to fight against AIDS is often considered unrealistic and ineffective”, and the Pope responded:
“I would say the opposite. I think that the reality that is most effective, the most present and the strongest in the fight against AIDS, is precisely that of the Catholic Church, with its programs and its diversity. I think of the Sant’Egidio Community, which does so much visibly and invisibly in the fight against AIDS … and of all the sisters at the service of the sick.
“I would say that one cannot overcome this problem of AIDS only with money – which is important, but if there is no soul, no people who know how to use it, (money) doesn’t help.
“One cannot overcome the problem with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, they increase the problem.
“The solution can only be a double one: first, a humanisation of sexuality, that is, a spiritual human renewal that brings with it a new way of behaving with one another; second, a true friendship even and especially with those who suffer, and a willingness to make personal sacrifices and to be with the suffering. And these are factors that help and that result in real and visible progress.
“Therefore I would say this is our double strength – to renew the human being from the inside, to give him spiritual human strength for proper behaviour regarding one’s own body and toward the other person, and the capacity to suffer with the suffering. … I think this is the proper response and the Church is doing this, and so it offers a great and important contribution. I thank all those who are doing this.”
The following day, the Vatican spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi returned to the subject of condoms and AIDS in a briefing for reporters in Cameroon.
He said the Pope’s comments on the plane were in line with the Church’s basic position on AIDS, which had never had “excessive or absolute trust in condom distribution” as a way to stop the spread of the disease.
The spokesman said the Church’s approach was based largely on education toward sexual responsibility, and over-emphasis on condoms “does not allow for an adequate concentration of attention on this formation and sense of responsibility”.