As World AIDS Day approaches, Pope Benedict XVI’s comments that condom use in exceptional circumstances to prevent the transmission of HIV is acceptable has been welcomed by the New Zealand AIDS Foundation (NZAF) as a shift in the Vatican’s previously hard-line stance on condom use and sexuality.
Rachael Le Mesurier, NZAF Executive Director says: “The Pope’s comments cited the example of a male sex worker using condoms to prevent the transmission of HIV as a situation where condom use is acceptable to the Catholic Church. We are pleased that at last the Catholic Church is recognising that condoms actually do prevent the transmission of HIV and that men who have sex with men do exist and are entitled to protect themselves and their partners from HIV.”
The NZAF believes that the comments by the Pope are a positive step but also long overdue. “The Pope has recognised the importance of a humane approach to human sexuality, something we feel is essential in addressing the HIV epidemic with a human rights-based approach. The Vatican has faced mounting pressure about its views towards non-heterosexual relationships and at last seems to opening up to the fact that millions of people do not live this way,” says Le Mesurier.
The Pope conceded that condoms can reduce the rate of HIV infection in an interview with a German journalist, in a book to be released this week. The book’s release coincides with World AIDS Day, marked globally on 1 December.
Le Mesurier adds: “Abstinence-only approaches to HIV prevention are not in step with the reality of life for more than 1.1 billion Catholics in New Zealand and around the world. This is the first sign we have had that the Vatican is aware that Catholics with HIV need not be condemned to a lifetime of abstinence or guilt each time they use a condom to protect themselves and their partners from HIV.”
The Vatican has since downplayed the Pope’s comments, saying that they were not “revolutionary”.