Question 244:

The papal office has always rejected the use of condoms. Now the Pope has permitted them. Is this not a U-turn?



We point the enquirer to question & answer 107 of this website. It explains the current church doctrine on contraception. The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” (CCC) explains this doctrine in nos. 2368-2371).

Until recently and despite massive public criticism, the Church still held the view that even in the battle against the further spread of the immunodeficiency syndrome Aids the use of condoms was not to be permitted. During his Africa trip on 17 March 2009 Pope Benedict XVI refused to give his consent to the use of condoms. I would say that the problem of Aids cannot be solved by money alone, although this is also necessary. But if the soul does not participate, if the Africans do not contribute to the help (by accepting their own responsibility), it cannot be solved by distributing condoms. On the contrary, this increases the problem. The solution can only be found in a dual effort: first of all in the humanisation of sexuality, that is in a spiritual and human renewal which brings with it new ways of relating to each other; and secondly in true friendship also and in particular with those suffering, in an availability to be at the side of those suffering in sacrificial and personal giving. These are the factors that help and bring about visible progress. (Benedict XVI, Licht der Welt: Der Papst; die Kirche und die Zeichen der Zeit. Freiburg: Herder, 2010, p. 221f). Already on 14.2.2006 Pope Benedict XVI answered this question: Marital faithfulness and extramarital abstinence [are] the best means of preventing infection and stopping the spread of the virus. The values which arise from the true understanding of marriage and family life are indeed the only safe basis of a stable society. (cited in YOUCAT: Jugendkatechismus der Katholischen Kirche. Aschaffenburg: Pattloch, 2011, p. 225)

The question posed here results from a statement Benedict made in the interview book “Licht der Welt” [Light of the World], which publishes conversations between the publisher and biographer of Pope Benedict XVI. Peter Seewald and the Pope and which was authorised by the Pope. It reads: There may be reasonable individual cases, such as when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step towards moral standards, a first incidence of responsibility in order to develop a renewed awareness that not everything is permitted and that one cannot everything one wishes. But it is not the true way of overcoming the evil of HIV infections. This will truly have to rest with the humanisation of sexuality (ibid., p. 146f).

YOUCAT: Jugendkatechismus der Katholischen Kirche (Aschaffenburg: Pattloch, 2011) answers the question: What does the Church say about the use of condoms in the fight against AIDS in n. 414:

Apart from the fact that condoms do not provide absolute protection from an infection the Church rejects their use as a one sided mechanical means for fighting the HIV epidemics. The Church emphasises in particular a new culture of human relationships and a change of social awareness in society at large.

Only lived faithfulness and the renunciation of careless sexual contact protects lastingly from HIV infection and teach an integrated way of love. This includes respect for the equal dignity of men and women, care for family health, the responsible managing of desires and also (temporary) abstinence from sexual union. In African countries in which broad campaigns across society promoted such behaviour the rate of infections could be markedly decreased. Furthermore, the Catholic Church does everything it can do help people affected by AIDS.

Contact us

J. Prof. Dr. T. Specker,
Prof. Dr. Christian W. Troll,

Kolleg Sankt Georgen
Offenbacher Landstr. 224
D-60599 Frankfurt
Mail: fragen[ät]

More about the authors?