The Roman Catholic church could be about to relax its ban on the use of condoms in fighting Aids.
A senior cardinal in Rome has disclosed that Pope Benedict XVI has asked that a Vatican council prepare a document on the issue.
Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Workers, declined to reveal the contents of the document.
But in an interview published in Sundayís La Repubblica newspaper, he said that the Pope had asked his department to study the issue.
The former archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, called for a reform of the Catholic Churchís stance on condoms in an interview published in LíEspresso on Friday.
Cardinal Martini, described by the prominent lay Catholic William Rees-Mogg in todayís Times as “the liberal Pope who was never elected,” called for a change in the policy by referring to cases where one partner in a marriage was infected with Aids.
“This person has an obligation to protect the other partner and the other partner also has to protect themselves,” he said.
The Vatican opposes condoms as a form of contraception. The ban was spelled out in Pope Paul VIís encyclical Humanae Vitae, where artificial birth control was described as “evil”.
In the later encyclical, Veritatis Splendour, Pope John Paul II strengthened this to “intrinsically evil”.
Nevertheless, vast numbers of Catholic laity, probably the majority in the West at least, ignore this prohibition, often with the silent acquiescence of their clergy.
Several cardinals have also said in recent years that using condoms is a lesser evil if the alternative is infection HIV.
In Aids-ravaged Africa, the Church has steadfastly maintained its traditional line that chastity and abstinence are the best way to prevent Aids.
But this approach distresses workers on the ground, who regularly see wives who stick by the Catholic teachings of fidelity in marriage infected by their promiscuous husbands. The women and men then die, leaving young children and babies as orphans.
The Church does however run many hospitals and other institutions to help Aids victims. If the ban is not relaxed in the new document, as remains possible, it will be because the Pope still fears that using condoms to fight Aids will merely foster further the immoral and hedonistic lifestyles that contribute to its spread.
In March this year, the Associated Press reported that a Catholic bishop working to combat Aids in Papua New Guinea, where 1.7 of the population or 47,000 people are infected with HIV or have Aids, had questioned the condom ban.
Bishop Gilles Cote, a French Canadian, said that he was in favour of governments providing condoms to communities where extramarital sex and multiple partners were common.
The bishop said this argument was not in conflict with the church as Christian teaching followed the commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.”
The Mexican-born Cardinal Barragan told La Repubblica: “This is a very difficult and delicate subject that requires prudence. My department is studying this closely with scientists and theologians expressly assigned to draft a document that will be issued soon.”
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