Male Prostitute Using a Condom ‘Not Really the Way to Deal with the Evil of HIV Infection,’ Says Pope Benedict

By Michael W. Chapman | November 22, 2010 | 6:29 PM EST

Pope Benedict XVI

( – While a gay male prostitute who uses a condom to potentially reduce the risk of spreading the AIDS virus is taking “a first step assumption of responsibility” against doing more harm to his partner or to himself, this “is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection,” says Pope Benedict XVI in a new book to be released on Tuesday.

Further, the Pope’s remarks in this particular type of case do not mean the Catholic Church’s moral teaching on condoms has changed, according to the Vatican.

The new book, Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times, is a compilation of interviews granted over the summer by the Pope to German journalist Peter Seewald. A short excerpt was published Sunday in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, including the Pope’s remarks about condoms, which sparked extensive media coverage.

In the book, however, the Pope is asked about AIDS in Africa and condoms and he provides a lengthy response. It is towards the end of his answer that the Pope explains why using condoms could be possible in certain extreme cases involving male homosexual prostitutes.

When asked by Seewald about AIDS in Africa and whether he thinks “it is madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms,” given the Church’s teaching against condoms as a form of birth control, Pope Benedict first defends the Church’s extensive help and care of AIDS patients there and then explains why condoms are not the solution to AIDS.

“The Church does more than anyone else, because she does not speak from the tribunal of newspapers, but helps her brothers and sisters where they are actually suffering,” says Benedict. “As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen.”

“The sheer fixation on the condom,” he says, “implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.”

“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, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants,” said Benedict. “But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.”

Seewald then asked the Pope, “Are you saying then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?” and he answered, “She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution but, in this case or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexually.”

In other words, if a homosexual prostitute chooses to use a condom to lessen the risk of either transmitting or acquiring the AIDS virus (HIV), this could be a first step towards a realization that the sexual activity involved is morally wrong.

“The Pope wasn’t taking a position on condoms in general, said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi in a statement released on Sunday, adding that the Pope “wanted to forcefully affirm that the problem of AIDS can’t be resolved merely through the distribution of condoms.”

Pope Benedict’s remarks as quoted by most newspapers were “a small part of a much larger section on condoms,” said Janet E. Smith, a professor of moral theology who holds the Fr. Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Mich. “These weren’t meant to be any kind of proclamation or formal teaching. He nowhere changes Church teaching at all.”

“What the Holy Father is saying is that when a homosexual prostitute uses a condom – and one can try to reconstruct the thinking process here, ‘Oh, I can use a condom here because I don’t want to receive or transmit HIV’ – and the Pope is saying, that’s proper thinking, why don’t you follow that a little further?” said Prof. Smith. “Why would you be engaging in an act that might transmit to yourself or to someone else HIV? Why would you want to do that?”

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In relation to the point raised by the Pope, Prof. Smith explained that the Church does not have a moral teaching on whether homosexual prostitutes should use condoms. The Church’s teaching on condoms relates to sexual activity among heterosexuals and procreation.

“The Church is not going to tell you how to do that act [homosexual intercourse] more safely,” she said.  “The Church doesn’t consider that when a homosexual uses a condom that that person is contracepting – the Church is opposed to condoms qua contraceptive. There’s no contracepting in a homosexual act.”

Furthermore, said Prof. Smith, “the Church will not have a teaching on this anymore than it will have a teaching on whether bank robbers should use guns that have bullets in them or don’t have bullets in them. It won’t have a teaching on that. It is true that a gun that doesn’t have bullets in it can do less harm than the one that has bullets in it. It is possibly true that a homosexual who uses a condom will do less harm. But it doesn’t mean that the Church has any teaching on this.”

The Catholic Church does not talk about how to reduce the harm of an intrinsically evil action, she said.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2357) says, “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which represents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

"The Pope was addressing the psychological state of male prostitutes using condoms,” Human Life International Executive Director Jenn Giroux said in a statement.  “He is not speaking to the morality of the use of condoms.  The Church's position on condoms as it relates to the possible interruption of the transmission of life remains unchanged.”

"The pope's message was one of hope, that even in the darkest depths of intrinsically evil acts, such as prostitution, there can be signs of hope in an individual to recognize the truth and make a full conversion,” said Giroux. “But to be clear, under no circumstances would the Pope or the Church condone homosexual relations. Nor does he present condoms as the answer to AIDS.  It is a grave situation for the media to signal anything to the contrary."

Michael W. Chapman
Michael W. Chapman
Michael W. Chapman