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Caritas response to Pope on condoms and HIV and AIDS

Why should Caritas and other Catholic Church organizations be encouraged by these comments of Pope Benedict XVI? 

Comment by Pope Benedict XVI: “the Church does more than anyone else. And I stand by that claim. Because she is the only institution that assists people up close and concretely, with prevention, education, help, counsel, and accompaniment.”

Talking Point: The Pope clearly affirms those Catholic Church-related organizations that have been engaged in HIV prevention, treatment, support and care. He acknowledges the urgency of the HIV pandemic and the need to assist people living with or affected by HIV.

Does Pope Benedict offer any new insight on the issue of HIV and AIDS? 

Comment by Pope Benedict XVI: “There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in the humanization of sexuality.”

Comment by Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, Holy See Press Office Director1 : “In this the Pope does not reform or change Church teaching, but reaffirms it, placing it in the perspective of the value and dignity of human sexuality as an expression of love and responsibility.”

Comment by Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, Holy See Press Office Director: “… Benedict XVI courageously makes an important contribution, because, on the one hand, it remains faithful to moral principles, and transparently refutes illusory paths such as that of ‘faith in condoms’; on the other hand, however, it manifests a comprehensive and farsighted vision, attentive to recognising the small steps (though only initial and still confused) of an often spiritually – and culturally – impoverished humanity, toward a more human and responsible exercise of sexuality.”

Talking Point: 

The complexity of the challenges surrounding HIV and AIDS demand a cohesive, wide-ranging response.

These include:

  • Treatment, care and support: helping people and communities living with or affected by HIV.
  • Prevention: promoting value-based action to reduce the spread and impact of HIV
  • Advocacy: defending the rights and dignity of people living with the virus and fighting injustices that can make people more vulnerable to HIV infection or cause stigma and discrimination toward these persons.

Pope Benedict XVI urges pastoral sensitivity on the part of those who provide services to people who put themselves or others at risk of HIV infection. He counsels that such people not be abandoned but rather be accompanied toward greater spiritual, behavioural, and relational maturity. He recognizes that, in such situations, using a condom might be a first step towards taking more responsible action.

What are the practical implications for Caritas2 and other Catholic Church-related organizations – in particular, are they being authorized to promote and distribute condoms? 

Comment by Pope Benedict XVI: “… we cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms. Much more needs to be done. We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help them; and we must do both before and after they contract the disease.”

Comment by Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, Holy See Press Office Director: “I asked the pope personally if there was a serious or important problem in the choice of the masculine gender rather than the feminine, and he said no, that is, the main point — and this is why I didn’t refer to masculine or feminine in (my earlier) communiqué — is the first step of responsibility in taking into account the risk to the life of another person with whom one has relations, Whether a man or a woman or a transsexual does this, we’re at the same point. The point is the first step toward responsibility, to avoid posing a grave risk to another person.”

Talking Point:

The question of practical implications for Caritas and other Catholic Church-inspired organizations is not addressed directly in the Pope’s comments. Organizations already promoting sexual abstinence outside marriage and permanent and mutual fidelity within marriage can continue to do so with additional assurance from the Holy Father. Those providing pastoral or medical care and counselling to persons living with or vulnerable to HIV infection can be guided by the insights offered by the Pope with regard to HIV prevention, including his point that, in certain cases, the use of a condom might represent a “first step” toward more responsible sexual behaviour.


1 “Note by Fr. Lombardi concerning a New Book on the Pope,” Vatican City, 21 November 2010, Vatican Information Service.

See Caritas Internationalis Statement in relation to the comments of Pope Benedict XVI.