Pope Benedict XVI receives the Roman Curia for the annual Christmas greetings at the Clementina Hall on Monday.
Pope Benedict XVI receives the Roman Curia for the annual Christmas greetings at the Clementina Hall on Monday. Pool/Getty Images
The Vatican released a statement Tuesday that sought to clarify published remarks by Pope Benedict XVI that some had seen as a sign of change in the Roman Catholic Church's teaching on contraception.
In a book-length interview published in November and titled Light of the World, the pope said that condom use by HIV-infected prostitutes could be a step toward a more moral way of life for people living such a lifestyle.
The statement on Tuesday by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stressed that the pope's comments did not in any way alter Church teaching on the use of condoms to prevent human conception:
"As is clear from an attentive reading of the pages in question, the Holy Father was talking neither about conjugal morality nor about the moral norm concerning contraception. This norm belongs to the tradition of the Church and was summarized succinctly by Pope Paul VI in paragraph 14 of his Encyclical Letter Humanae vitae, when he wrote that 'also to be excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means' The idea that anyone could deduce from the words of Benedict XVI that it is somehow legitimate, in certain situations, to use condoms to avoid an unwanted pregnancy is completely arbitrary and is in no way justified either by his words or in his thought. On this issue the Pope proposes instead – and also calls the pastors of the Church to propose more often and more effectively (cf. Light of the World, p. 147) – humanly and ethically acceptable ways of behaving which respect the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative meaning of every conjugal act, through the possible use of natural family planning in view of responsible procreation."
The National Catholic Reporter says that the Vatican seems to be worried that Pope Benedict XVI's HIV-related remarks could be used to define a slippery slope of moral "proportionalism":
"In effect, the doctrinal congregation's concern appears to be that calling condom use a 'lesser evil' could suggest it's morally legitimate, something that can be chosen with a clear conscience. Instead, the congregation appears to be saying, the use of a condom in certain circumstances may be 'less evil' than some alternatives, but it still falls short of the moral ideal."