24-April-2006 -- Catholic World News Brief |

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Apr. 24 (CWNews.com) - The Holy See is preparing a document on the use of condoms to prevent the transmission of the HIV virus, a senior Vatican official has confirmed.

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, the president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care, told the Italian daily La Repubblica that the Vatican will "soon" issue a statement on condom use "by persons who have grave diseases, beginning with AIDS." Although he gave no date for the appearance of the statement, he said that it was being prepared at the request of Pope Benedict XVI.

Cardinal Lozano Barragan made this disclosure after the appearance of an interview in which Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the former Archbishop of Milan, expressed his opinion that the use of condoms could be justified by married couples seeking to prevent the transmission of the HIV virus. In the interview, published by L'Espresso on April 21, the liberal cardinal said that the use of condoms could be viewed as a "lesser evil" in the fight against AIDS.

Cardinal Lozano Barragan declined to comment directly on Cardinal Martini's arguments, saying only that theologians and scientists were studying "very difficult and delicate subject, which calls for prudence." He said that he would wait for the completion of the study before engaging in a public discussion of the moral issues involved.

Cardinal Martini, who is now living in retirement in Jerusalem, told L'Espresso that in the all-out battle to curb the AIDS epidemic, particularly in Africa, condom use might be allowable in some circumstances. He cited particularly the case of marriages in which one partner is HIV-positive. In that case, he said, the infected partner "is obliged to protect the other partner, and the latter also has the right to protect himself."

Vatican officials have generally downplayed the controversy generated by Cardinal Martini's interview. One informed Vatican official observed that there was "nothing new" in the Italian prelate's statement, nor was there a conflict with established Church teachings. Although the Church unambiguously condemns the use of condoms as a means of contraception, some bishops and theologians have argued that-- as Cardinal Martini argues-- that the use of condoms by married couples could be a legitimate means of preventing the spread of disease.

Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Brussels recently made the argument that condom use could be morally justified if it is the only means of allowing marital relations without endangering one partner's life. The Swiss Cardinal Georges Cottier-- who at the time was the official theologian of the pontifical household-- made essentially the same argument in January 2005.

However, other bishops and theologians argue that the condemnation of condom use should be absolute. The conflicting views expressed by Church leaders point to the need for clarification from Rome, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has reportedly been studying the competing moral arguments for some time-- in fact, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was evidently involved in that study, prior to his election as Pope Benedict XVI.

The Vatican's study apparently concentrates specifically on the moral questions that arise in a marriage when one partner is HIV-positive. When completed, the study will be submitted to Pope Benedict for approval, and could be made public before the end of this year.

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