That is the question. In the usual manner, there’s that tendency for those who like the way a papal statement sounds to make too much of it, and those who don’t, to make too little. And in the case of Benedict’s remarks on the use of condoms to prevent AIDS (“a first step in the movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexually”), GetReligion’s Mollie (Hemingway) has some fun with the former and NCR’s Michael Sean Winters, with the latter,
Ah, but what’s the truth of the matter? No doubt, as Winters says, the papal remark shows a readiness–not always evident in Ratzinger/Benedict–to paint a moral issue in shades of gray. And yet, in articulating a position in line with the viewpoint of mainstream Catholic theologians, the pope does seem to be opening the door to a more liberal approach to contraceptive practice.
Here’s the key paragraph in Austin Ivereigh’s backgrounder on the subject over at In All Things:
The point argued by moral theologians was always this. The Church is
opposed to artificial contraception, not condoms per se. Just as, in
Humanae vitae, the Pill may be used for medical purposes (to prevent
heavy bleeding, say), if the intention of using a condom is to prevent
infection, not pregnancy, then it was not contraceptive in intention.
The point is obvious that–not to put too fine a point on it–a
condom used between two men can hardly be considered contraceptive in
its purpose; and the same would be true if a husband who returns from
the mines infected with HIV uses one to stop his wife getting infected.
Benedict, be it noted, referred only to male prostitutes. But as Ivereigh says, the principle can apply to married couples where one of the partners is HIV-positive. In the context of AIDS in Africa, I’d say that this conversational comment of the pope’s does qualify as a biggie. Especially if followed up with a magisterial pronunciamento.