VATICAN OFFICIALS have said that the widely anticipated study on condoms and Aids protection is still only in the consultation phase and Pope Benedict XVI is yet-to decide whether a document would be issued on the subject.
Unnamed sources inside the Church said that there are strong arguments for allowing a married Aids sufferer to use condoms in order to avoid infecting his spouse. with the I-11V virus.
On the other hand, the sources said, the Vatican is hesitant to be seen as promoting irresponsible sexual behaviour or endorsing condom to prevent the disease spreading. because prophylactics do not offer 100 per cent protection from Aids.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to Catholic News Service after several days of speculative reports on what the Vatican planned to say on the subject.
Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, head of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, said in a newspaper interview on April 23 that the Pope had ordered 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 two days later, the cardinal clarified his remarks, saying that his Council had undertaken a study that would find its way through usual Vatican channels to the Pope, who would then 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," said one source.
"[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.
Pope Benedict 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 doctrinal issues related to condom use for many years.
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 artificial contraception and would therefore not fall under the Church's teaching against condom use in marriage.
There arc 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.
Another Vatican official added that the Vatican would not support condoms because they were not guaranteed to prevent HIV infection. "They're a form of Russian roulette," he said.
In Austria last week there was an example of how a Vatican statement on Aids and condoms might be misinterpreted. Having heard reports that Pope Benedict XVI would relax the Church's position on the subject, a Viennese vending machine manufacturer sent the Pontiff a condom machine as a congratulatory gift.
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