There’s much talk about the ‘historic’ nature of the Pope’s remarks on condoms. Most HIV and sex campaigners seem to be welcoming the Papal acceptance that condoms are not “always wrong”. The comments are indeed historic for moving, as Peter Tatchell has noted, beyond church dogma that has appeared immovable. The comments come in the form of a book interview to be published this week. Benedict commented:
‘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. Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work.
This means that the sheer fixation on the condom 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. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection.’
Historic indeed. Not only does Benedict accept that condoms can be used but he also chooses the example of a male prostitute. His choice of a male sex worker over a female lays open the possibility he may be engaging in a homosexual act as well as recognising that men are sex workers as well as women.
That said, let’s not get too carried away. This is a “last resort”. There is also an implicit idea in Benedict’s comments that condom usage is a persona turning point – a moment when one turns a life around. The choice of a male sex worker is therefore significant for another reason – this is in Benedicts the most wretched of individuals. A homosexual (bad), having sex (v.bad), for money (vv.bad) who has HIV (a consequence of his ‘evil’ activity) who now stops that activity and begins to set his life on a different track.
Put in terms of orthodox Papal thinking, the comments are therefore entirely logic, and perhaps offer less hope to liberal minded members of the church and church-watchers than might first seem to be the case.