In a bizarre (and totally maddening) move, Pope Benedict XVI announced in a book-length interview with a German journalist that condom use, which has been long condemned by the Catholic Church, is permissible for male prostitutes seeking to stop the spread of HIV. Benedict, who has been criticized for making breathtakingly offensive comments about the AIDS crisis (in spring 2009, for example, he told audiences in Cameroon that condoms actually make the crisis worse), tried to fit his claim into Church teachings by saying that although condom use is not a “moral” choice, it can be acceptable if the intent is to “reduce the risk of infection.”
Benedict went on to say that this signals “a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way of living sexuality.” However, women are still not permitted to use condoms during heterosexual sex, because the purpose of heterosexual sex is procreation – therefore even if the intent is to stop infection, the result is still a destruction of the sacred nature of sex. Which is of course a huge problem for couples where one spouse is infected, not to mention a hugely sexist policy.
He made it clear that he still doesn’t think condoms are a solution to the AIDS crisis, and that contraception continues to destroy the intrinsic beauty of sex, explaining that “becoming simply fixated on the issue of condoms makes sexuality more banal and exactly this is the reason why so many people no longer find sexuality to be an expression of their love, but a type of self-administered drug.”
The Church’s views on contraception are problematic because of their role as healthcare providers in the developing world – by refusing to provide contraceptives or abortion, they make it far more difficult for their patients to assume reproductive freedom or make healthy sexual decisions. So if this means Catholic hospitals will start giving male prostitutes (who I assume are having sex with men…? The pope doesn’t make it clear) condoms, that’s a tiny, tiny step in the right direction.
The rest of the pope’s comments will be available in “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times,” a book due out on Tuesday. The Vatican released excerpts today. Needless to say, I can’t imagine what will be in the rest of the book.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.