VATICAN CITY – The Vatican is studying whether condoms can be condoned to help stem the tide of AIDS, but it has given no indication that a pronouncement is expected, officials said Tuesday.
Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, who heads the Vatican office for health care, was quoted over the weekend in La Repubblica daily as saying his office was preparing a document on the question of condoms and AIDS, and that it would be released soon.
But on Tuesday, he clarified that his office was merely studying the issue at the request of Pope Benedict XVI as part of a broader "dialogue" with other Vatican departments.
He said the study would be presented to the pope.
While the Vatican has no specific policy concerning condoms and AIDS, the Roman Catholic Church opposes the use of condoms as part of its overall teaching against contraception. It advocates sexual abstinence as the best way to combat the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
The issue was reignited last week when a one-time papal contender, retired Milan Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, said in comments published in the news weekly L'Espresso that condoms were the "lesser evil" in combatting AIDS.
Other cardinals and prelates have made similar comments, arguing that when confronted with the possibility that within a married couple, an HIV-positive spouse could transmit the virus to the other, it was a "lesser evil" to condone the couple's use of condoms.
Other cardinals, however, have flatly rejected their argument.
Two officials said Tuesday that the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — which was headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he became pope — had for some time been gathering information on a host of bioethical issues, including AIDS and condoms.
Lozano Barragan's office and the Pontifical Academy for Life, a Vatican think tank that focuses on bioethical issues like artificial procreation, end-of-life care and stem cell research, have contributed to the congregation's study, the Vatican officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the study.
The officials said there was no indication that the congregation was actively preparing a document on the issue, much less about when a pronouncement might emerge.
Rome daily Il Messagero reported that, when the congregation does release the document, it would restate church teaching on condoms and reject any opening on the question of condoning them for married couples when one partner has AIDS. It said the Vatican would reject Martini's argument that condoms were the "lesser evil."
Several cardinals and churchmen have spoken out on the issue in recent years as the Vatican has come under increasing criticism for its position.
Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, for example, has said it would be a sin for an HIV-positive person to have sex without a condom, since he or she would be violating the Fifth Commandment, "you shall not kill."
Lozano Barragan himself has suggested that condoms could sometimes be condoned, such as when a woman cannot refuse her HIV-positive husband's sexual advances, since she has a right to defend herself.
However, another Vatican cardinal, Alfonso Lopez Trujillo of Colombia, made headlines in 2003 when he said condoms did not prevent AIDS and may help spread it by creating a false sense of security. Lopez Trujillo heads the Vatican's office for the family.