BY SIMON CALDWELL
A SENIOR VATICAN cardinal has dismissed claims that the Catholic Church is about to drop its objection to the use of condoms by Aids victims and people suffering from other infectious diseases.
In what many commentators have hailed as a possible dramatic U-turn by the Vatican, a study into the use of condoms .to prevent the transmission of diseases between spouses is underway following a request by Pope Benedict XVI.
But one of the 80-year-old German Pontiff's closest aides said that the study was not likely to signal a change in the Church's teaching.
Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo said there was huge opposition to the move in the Magisterium, the Church's highest teaching authority which is made up of the Pope and the bishops together.
"So far, it sees absolutely no way of accepting condoms," said the President of the Pontifical Council for the Family. "No Pontiff has opened this possibility. It wasn't done by Paul VI. it wasn't done by John Paul II in the space of 27 years, and it hasn't been done by this Pope who is speaking out very much for the family and for life."
The Colombian cardinal is the most senior Vatican official to speak publicly on the issue of condom use since retired Milan Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, a one-time papal contender, told the Italian newsweekly L'Espresso that it was the "lesser evil" in combating the spread of Aids, particularly in Africa, where an estimated 25.8 million people have the disease.
Cardinal Martini, 79, joined a small but growing number of high-profile Catholic leaders who argue that the use of condoms may be justified as a means of preventing infection.
They include Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor. the leader of the Catholics of England and Wales and Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the Archbishop of Brussels.
Last week Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow stopped short of throwing his full support behind the campaign to approve condom use for HIV-infected married couples, but said that the moral issues raised "a legitimate question".
In an interview with the Spanish daily El Pais. Cardinal Lopez Trujillo said that Cardinal Martini was speaking only in a personal capacity.
"It is his own opinion and is not one which is recognised by the Magisterium," he said. "However, some cases will be studied by competent people and by the competent dicasteries."
The 70-year-old cardinal added that it was "curious" that the question of condom use arose now when dangerous and easilytransmissible illnesses like syphilis had existed for so long.
He said that when one spouse had an infection the couple simply had to abstain from intercourse since condoms, he said, offered only limited protection.
"The World Health Organisation knows that in reality it (the condom) is a danger," he said.
The Vatican has been examining the question of limited condom use for at least 10 years before Pope Benedict took the initiative to commission the study to clarify the Church's teaching.
The study will begin with the Pontifical Council for Health Care, which is headed by Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, a man openly sympathetic to Cardinal Martini's opinions.
However. it will then pass to other departments, including the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Pontifical Council for Life and Cardinal Lopez Trujillo's Council for the Family, all of which are less likely to favour a change in the present position of the Church.
The contributions will be collected into a report which will be presented to the Pope to help him to make a final decision.
In a clear indication of his own staunch opposition to change, Cardinal Lopez Trujillo said that he believed condom use was a contributing factor to the Aids pandemic. He said studies in Africa revealed that Aids was most prevalent in the areas where the teaching of the Church was most ignored. In countries which had huge stockpiles of prophylactics, he said. the rates of infection continued to rise as sexual habits were relaxed and people began to pursue hedonism "at any price".
The cardinal was also sharply critical of Cardinal Martini's comments in favour of abortion when the mother's life was in danger, saying that he could only imagine that they had been misreported.
"I believe that in these sentiments the cardinal was misinterpreted, because a person so important with such a vast range of knowledge knows very well that the moral teaching of the Church has never said anything else," he said. "I have a great appreciation of Cardinal Martini. When I have the opportunity to see him, we will talk. And surely he will give me the good news that some of his declarations have been taken the wrong way."