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CONDOMS-DOCUMENT (UPDATED) Apr-26-2006 (710 words) xxxi

Vatican officials say condom-AIDS study still in consultation stage

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Vatican officials said a study on condoms and AIDS protection was still in the consultation stage and that Pope Benedict XVI had yet to decide whether a document would be issued on the topic.

The sources said there were strong arguments for allowing married couples in which one spouse is infected with HIV, which causes AIDS, to use condoms as a disease-preventing measure, when it overrides any contraceptive intent.

On the other hand, the sources said, the Vatican is hesitant to make any move that would be seen as an endorsement of condoms as a method of disease prevention, because condoms do not offer 100 percent protection from AIDS and could encourage sexual promiscuity.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to Catholic News Service April 26, after several days of speculative reports on what the Vatican planned to say on the subject.

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, the head of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, prompted the reports when he said in a newspaper interview April 23 that the pope had asked a commission of scientific and theological experts to prepare a document on condom use and AIDS prevention. He said the document would be made public soon.

Speaking to Vatican Radio April 25, the cardinal clarified his remarks, saying his council had undertaken a study that would find its way through usual Vatican channels to the pope, who would decide how to use it.

The Vatican sources said Cardinal Lozano's office had been asked to study one aspect of the wider question of condoms and AIDS, which has been under quiet examination at the Vatican for at least 10 years.

"No document has been prepared yet. Cardinal (Lozano) Barragan was asked to respond to a particular question concerning use of condoms to prevent transmission of the disease between a husband and wife," one source said.

"(Cardinal Lozano) gave his input. Now we have to hear what the competent Vatican agencies have to say," he said.

"From this consultation of officials of Vatican departments that are directly involved in the question, the Holy Father will draw material for his own decision," the source said.

The pope will probably have one of the Vatican agencies issue a document of some type, the source said. There are two possibilities: a broad document on condoms and disease prevention, or a more limited pastoral note that focuses on the situation of married couples in which one partner is infected. Both have potential problems, in the eyes of the Vatican.

"A broad document risks becoming a source of polemics. The briefer response risks being incomprehensible without a lot of explanation," the source said.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has been examining the doctrinal issues related to condom use for many years. It has done so quietly, the sources said, because the subject is sensitive and because, in the Vatican's view, the media often fail to report the nuances involved in the discussion.

One source said there was considerable agreement among theological experts that, from a moral point of view, the use of condoms to avoid contracting or transmitting a deadly disease is not the same as contraception and would therefore not fall under the church's teaching against contraceptive methods in marriage.

There are two different intentions involved, and that makes all the difference, a doctrinal expert said. He said it was not a question of a "lesser evil" that can be tolerated, but of a completely different use of an essentially neutral device.

"There's not much to say on a doctrinal level. The problem is that, on the other hand, the church cannot really declare, 'Go ahead and use condoms,' when condoms don't offer real protection," the source said.

"If the church does that, it would be an accomplice to a lie that is killing people," he said. It would also tend to overshadow the church's own emphasis on what it considers the only true protection against AIDS: chastity and marital fidelity.

Another Vatican official said that was the central dilemma, not the birth control question.

"You cannot discount the suffering of all these people (with HIV/AIDS). But condoms are not fail-safe. They're a form of Russian roulette," he said.


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