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Vatican to Publish Document on Condom Use to Prevent HIV/AIDS, Official Says; Retired Cardinal Calls Condom Use "Lesser Evil"

April 24, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI has asked the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care and other scientists and theologians to study condom use as a means of HIV prevention, and the Vatican will release a document on the subject soon, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, head of the council, said in an interview published on Sunday in Rome's La Repubblica, Reuters reports (Reuters, 4/23). The pope "asked us for a study on this particular aspect of using a condom by those afflicted with AIDS and by those with infectious diseases," Barragan said (Ireland On-line, 4/24). Although some Catholic clergy have suggested that the use of condoms to curb HIV transmission would be the "lesser of two evils," the pope in a June 2005 speech to African bishops said that contraception is one of many trends contributing to a "breakdown of sexual morality." He added that abstinence and fidelity are the only "fail-safe" ways to prevent the spread of HIV (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/1/05). Cardinal Carol Maria Martini, retired archbishop of Milan, Italy, in comments published on Saturday in Italy's L'Espresso, said, "Certainly, the use of condoms can constitute in certain situations a lesser evil." Martini, who was responding to questions from Ignazio Marino -- head of the transplant center at Jefferson Medical College -- also said, "There's ... the unique situation of a married couple, one of whom is afflicted with AIDS. That one is obliged to protect the other, and the other must be able to protect him or herself" (AP/Baltimore Sun, 4/22). He added, "Therefore, using a condom would be considered a minor sin and in particular in the case of married couple where the use of a prophylactic would protect the partner and ultimately themselves" (Laidlaw, Toronto Star, 4/22). Martini said that although condoning condom use in certain circumstances would be a "lesser evil," it would be a completely different situation for the Vatican to promote condom use (AP/Baltimore Sun, 4/22). Barragan said he did not want to comment on Martini's statements, adding, "It is a very difficult and delicate subject which warrants prudence" (Ireland On-Line, 4/24). The Vatican has made no official comment about the potential document, BBC News reports (BBC News, 4/24).

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