Catholic Doctrine On Condoms Reaches Mid-20th Century

VATICAN CITY—Many adult industry members and fans are too young to remember the 1950s and early ’60s, when condoms generally weren't sold in drug stores, and most young studs got them from vending machines in gas station restrooms—machines which carried the warning, "Sold For Prevention Of Disease Only!"

Well, the good news is, the Catholic Church's philosophy has finally reached that heady plateau.

According to the new book Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times—essentially a book-length interview with Pope Benedict XVI by German journalist Peter Seewald—it's now acceptable for Catholics to use condoms to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Earlier this week, it had been reported that the Pope had stated to Seewald that HIV-positive male prostitutes were allowed to use prophylactics to prevent infecting their clients with the disease, but when later asked by Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi to clarify the statement, the Pope expanded the concept to include all sexes.

"This is if you're a woman, a man or a transsexual," Lombardi explained. "[I]t's the first step of taking responsibility, of taking into consideration the risk of the life of another."

"This is a game-changer," the well-known Jesuit writer/editor Rev. James Martin stated. "By acknowledging that condoms help prevent the spread of HIV between people in sexual relationships, the pope has completely changed the Catholic discussion on condoms."

But it's a sea change in Catholic doctrine that clergy the world over were quick to attempt to walk back or to nuance.

"Contraception is not the worst evil," Monsignor Jacques Suaudeau, an expert on the Vatican's bioethics advisory board, said. "The church does not see it as good, but the church does not see it as the worst. Abortion is far worse. Passing on HIV is criminal. That is absolute irresponsibility."

"The pope did not 'justify' condom use in any circumstances," argued Rev. Joseph Fessio, the Pope's American publisher. "And Church teaching remains the same as it has always been, both before and after the pope's statement."

The contraception ban has only been official Church doctrine since Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical, "Humanae Vitae" ("Of Human Life"), which held that to use contraception was to contradict the "moral order which was established by God."

"The Vatican has been so critical of condoms that it has led some Catholics to think that condoms are somehow intrinsically evil, that there is no conceivable situation where they could be used morally," the Rev. Thomas Reese explained. "The pope's new statement blasts that idea out of the water."

The Pope's new position may be due to the rampant spread of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa where his calls, while en route to a tour of the continent, for abstinence and marital fidelity have generally fallen on deaf ears, leaving health workers—even Catholics—to advise using condoms to prevent the spread of the disease.

"For the first time, the use of condoms in special circumstances was endorsed by the Vatican, and this is good news and a good beginning for us," said Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization—a thought that was echoed by the International AIDS Society as a "step in the right direction."