In a stunning change of direction, Pope Benedict XVI says in a new book that condoms can be justified for male prostitutes seeking to stop the spread of HIV. The Catholic church have been criticized for an opposition to condoms and for a pontiff who has blamed them for making the AIDS crisis worse.
The new comments were made by Benedict in a book-length interview with a German journalist, "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times," being released on Tuesday. The Vatican newspaper ran excerpts on Saturday.
Church teaching has opposed condoms because they're a form of artificial contraception, although it has never released an explicit policy about condoms and HIV. The Vatican has been harshly criticized in light of the AIDS crisis.
Benedict said that for male prostitutes — for whom contraception isn't the central issue — condoms are not a moral solution. But he said they could be justified "in the intention of reducing the risk of infection."
He called it "a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way of living sexuality."
Benedict drew the wrath of the United Nations, European governments and AIDS activists when he told reporters en route to Africa in 2009 that the AIDS problem on the continent couldn't be resolved by distributing condoms.
"On the contrary, it increases the problem," he said then.
Journalist Peter Seewald, who interviewed Benedict over the course of six days this summer, revisited those comments and asked Benedict if it wasn't "madness" for the Vatican to forbid a high risk population to use condoms.
"There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility," Benedict said.
But he stressed that it wasn't the way to deal with the evil of HIV, noting the church's position that abstinence and marital fidelity is the only sure way.
Christian Weisner, of the pro-reform group “We Are Church” in the pope's native Germany, said it was "surprising and if that's the case, one can be happy about the pope's ability to learn.”
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.