As usual, CNS’s John Thavis has the fullest and best account in this analysis:
YAOUNDE, Cameroon (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI’s declaration that distribution of condoms only increases the problem of AIDS is the latest and one of the strongest statements in a simmering debate inside the church.
John also has the full text of the question and the pope’s answer:
The question’s premise was “The Catholic Church’s position on the way to fight against AIDS is often considered unrealistic and ineffective,” and the pope responded:
“I would say the opposite. I think that the reality that is most effective, the most present and the strongest in the fight against AIDS, is precisely that of the Catholic Church, with its programs and its diversity. I think of the Sant’Egidio Community, which does so much visibly and invisibly in the fight against AIDS … and of all the sisters at the service of the sick.
“I would say that one cannot overcome this problem of AIDS only with money — which is important, but if there is no soul, no people who know how to use it, (money) doesn’t help.
“One cannot overcome the problem with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, they increase the problem.
“The solution can only be a double one: first, a humanization of sexuality, that is, a spiritual human renewal that brings with it a new way of behaving with one another; second, a true friendship even and especially with those who suffer, and a willingness to make personal sacrifices and to be with the suffering. And these are factors that help and that result in real and visible progress.
“Therefore I would say this is our double strength — to renew the human being from the inside, to give him spiritual human strength for proper behavior regarding one’s own body and toward the other person, and the capacity to suffer with the suffering. … I think this is the proper response and the church is doing this, and so it offers a great and important contribution. I thank all those who are doing this.”
The CNS also reports at the end that despite intense study at the Vatican, no definitive statement on condoms and AIDS use is forthcoming:
“You could say officially that it remains under study,” one source said.
Another source said that after looking more closely at the question, the church experts decided it was premature for the Vatican to make a comprehensive statement on the theological and pastoral aspects of condom use, in part because there was not unanimity of opinion, and in part because many believed that discussion of the theological nuances would only invite confusion in the media and among Catholics.
It is interesting that the Vatican and church leaders have left that door open, or at least left the ambiguity there for further study. I hope that in fact they will leave it there as there is no good answer–or no definitive all-encompasing global one-size-fits-all (sorry) answer. Moreover, if Rome decrees (unlike Benedict’s casual statement today) that condoms are bad and sinful if promoted to stop AIDS, then the interpretation would be that always and everywhere the couple with the infected partner can’t use them. And if Rome says the couple with the infected partner CAN use them (under certain conditions blah blah blah) then the sense will be that condoms are okay always and everywhere.
This situation seems to call for pastoral and practical sensitivity, at the very least, which is what Catholics on the ground try to promote, in my experience.