• Pope asks commission to study 'delicate' question • Cardinal Martini interview reopens controversy
BY FREDDY GRAY
POPE Benedict XVI has ordered a commission of scientists and theologians to prepare a statement on condom use and the spread of Aids, a senior Vatican official has said.
Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, head of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, said that the document would focus in part on the morality of condom use by married couples when one spouse is infected with HIV/Aids.
The cardinal said that the statement would be published soon, but refused to give any details of its conclusions. "It is a very difficult and delicate theme that requires prudence," he said.
Cardinal Lozano was responding to the uproar that surrounded a recent newspaper interview with Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the Archbishop Emeritus of Milan.
The retired prelate said that "condoms can constitute a lesser evil in some circumstances", which prompted numerous media reports that the Church was on the verge of dropping its opposition to condom use. The Vatican has so far not made an official pronouncement regarding condom use and Aids but Cardinal Lozano said that his Council had been "expressly charged with preparing a document on the subject".
He added: "lt was Pope Benedict who asked us to make a study on this particular aspect of the use of condoms by those with Aids and other infectious diseases."
As well as dealing with the problem of married Aids sufferers, the Vatican document on condom use is also expected to challenge the widely held opinion that the Church's opposition to condoms is heavily responsible for the world's Aids crisis. In recent years the College of Cardinals has sent out mixed messages on the problem of Aids transmission and sexual morality.
Several leading prelates, including Cardinal Lozano himself and the spiritual leader of Catholics in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, have pronounced that it would be morally "lice, or allowable, for a married man to wear a condom during sexual intercourse if he or his wife suffered from Aids. Cardinal Lozano even suggested that it was a woman's right to use prophylactics if her husband had contracted the HIV virus.
However, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, said that condoms should never be used because they are not guaranteed to protect against HIV.
In comments published in the Italian news weekly L'Espresso, Cardinal Martini said that everything possible must be done to oppose Aids.
"Then there is the particular situation of spouses, one of whom is infected with Aids," he said. "The infected one is obligated to protect the other partner, who should also be able to take protective measures."
Cardinal Martini, while supporting the "lesser evil" argument, said that religious leaders should not publicly support condom use and thereby "risk promoting irresponsible behaviour".
He said: "The question of lesser evil — which is applicable in all cases provided for by ethical doctrine — is one thing, while the matter of who should express such things in public is another. I believe that prudence and the consideration of the different particular situation will permit everyone to contribute effectively to the fight against Aids."
Mgr Angel Rodriguez Lull°, an Opus Del priest and an adviser to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, agreed that the Vatican's pronouncements were easily misinterpreted.
"The problem is, anytime we try to give a nuanced response, we see headlines that say, 'Vatican approves condoms'," he told the Washington Post. "The issue is more complicated than that. From a moral point of view, we cannot condone contraception. We cannot tell a classroom of 16-year-olds they should use condoms. But if we are dealing with someone or a situation in which persons are clearly going to act in harmful ways — a prostitute who is going to continue her activities — then one might say, 'Stop. But if you are not going to, at least do this.' " As well as making headlines about condoms, Cardinal Martini also upset the pro-life lobby with comments about abortion and in vitro fertilisation.
"Abortion in most cases is wrong because it takes a human life," he said. "However, life is not the ultimate value, rather human dignity is more important. The state should allow and even provide abortion to women who are determined to go ahead in order to prevent backstreet abortions and the possibility of harm coming to such women."
When asked about IVE. the catdi nal replied: "It is a grey area so it is proper to avoid dogmatic judgments."
Josephine Quintavalle of the ProLife Alliance, a leadi ng pro-life group in Britain, said that the cardinal was being "extremely liberal and provocative, with very little acceptance of the wisdom of Church teaching. particularly in relation to IVF'.
On the subject of embryonic stem cell research, however, Cardinal Martini reasserted Church teaching. "I find it unthinkable," he said.
After Pope John Paul II died last year, Cardinal Martini was mooted as a strong candidate for the papacy. He was presented as the favoured "liberal alternative" to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
However, reports from the conclave suggest otherwise. After an interview with an anonymous Latin American cardinal, an Italian journal claimed that Cardinal Martini had won only nine votes in the first ballot, while Cardinal Ratzinger won 47.
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