The newest book about the Roman Catholic Church and her leader, Pope Benedict XVI, is a bit of a sensation even through it had yet to be released. The 219 page read is titled “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times” and is the result of six one-hour interviews with the pontiff. Its author is the German-born journalist Peter Seewald, a man who has worked with both the Roman Catholic church and Joseph Ratzinger in the past.
Among the topics tackled in this marathon interview was the use of condoms. The Church’s position against the condom as contraception was outlined in the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae. This encyclical has been harshly criticized in the past for roundly declaring that the use barrier methods of birth control is a sin no matter what the circumstances, including the control of sexually-transmitted diseases. In 1990 Pope John Paul II gave a now famous speech in Mwanza (northern Tanzania) where he affirmed this teaching. Africa hosts the fastest growing segment of Roman Catholicism, as well as the world’s worst epidemic of AIDS infections.
Pope Benedict, in this most recent interview, seems to be willing to entertain that his predecessors, including the almost universally-loved John Paul II, could be wrong on this matter. In a carefully constructed statement the pope intimated that condom use could be viewed, in very specific circumstances, as acceptable by the Roman Catholic Church. The specific example he used concerned homosexual prostitution and the spread of the AIDS virus. Since such sexual intercourse is in no way a procreative act, the ban on use of a condom is not, strictly-speaking, applicable. In this situation the use of a condom “can be a first step in the direction of 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.”