Condoms can be 'pro-life'
In an interview with journalist Peter Seewald, Pope Benedict XVI said that condom use may be acceptable under "exceptional circumstances" such as use by a male prostitute in order to prevent the spread of HIV/ AIDS.
Interpretation of the pope's pronouncement has varied. Many insist that the church's teaching, which bans birth control, has not changed, but others see the pope's statement as opening the door to a broader conversation about human sexuality in the modern world.
What are the implications of Pope Benedict's statement on condoms in terms of AIDS policy, the church's teaching on sex and its view of women?
Recently we hosted two evangelical Christian medical missionaries on our campus. In their work in Africa they are deeply involved in the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS. I was fascinated - as were our students - to hear their description of the extent of the epidemic, the cultural, religious, and personal hurdles that must be dealt with in responding to the situation, and the progress that has been made in recent years.
But what amazed me the most was the sense I got from them of how they have had to wrestle with their own belief systems as they've witnessed the medical crisis in Africa over the past 25 years. They have had to question clear conflicts between standard interpretations of the Bible and their own experience; they have had to recognize the insufficiency of their own personal sexual ethics in combating the epidemic. And they have seen how other people of faith have had to do the same. Before I heard it in the news, they informed us that Catholic leaders were already quietly approving of the use of condoms when the direct purpose was to prevent the spread of disease.
Our most cherished sacred cows often get gored by reality. Holy cow! And now it seems that the Catholic Church, too, is recognizing that a pattern of Christian behavior that has been its standard for so many years may, in fact, be insufficient in preventing the loss of life. I applaud the pope for being willing to recognize that "pro-life" may sometimes mean prophylactics.