Remarks by Pope Benedict XVI that condoms could be used “in certain cases” in the fight against Aids have prompted positive reactions from many in Switzerland.
It seems a turnaround from the pontiff’s stance on the issue in March 2009 during a visit to Africa, when he went as far as saying that condoms “aggravated” the Aids problem.
“In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality,” the head of the Catholic Church said, giving as an example a male prostitute having sex with a client.
While the Swiss Bishops Conference, told swissinfo.ch that the bishops had not yet had an opportunity to discuss the matter, others have given their opinions.
At the earliest, Swiss bishops will make a statement on Tuesday, following the release of the book, according to spokesman Walter Müller.
An Aids prevention campaign at the end of October by the Catholic church of Lucerne included the distribution of condoms.
“I think it is very good that the pope sees the discussion in the worldwide church and he listened to other bishops who said there had to be discussion about condoms when we speak about Aids,” Florian Flohr, spokesman for the Catholic Church of Lucerne, told swissinfo.ch.
“It’s very important now that the pope says the same thing.”
Can the pontiff’s remarks be regarded as a revolution? “It’s going too far to say it’s a revolution, but it’s a change of view. There is no more taboo of speaking about it and I think that is very good because the condom is not the most important thing,” he said.
“The most important thing is that people are responsible for their sexuality and that they think about it.”
Silvia Schorta from the Swiss Aids Federation is relieved that people in the developing world “can use condoms and will no longer be in breach of their faith”.
But she told Swiss German television “it will take time because what was demonised for ten to 20 years cannot be changed from one day to the next”.
The Tages-Anzeiger’s editorialist, Michael Meier, says that the “worldwide outrage and the call by African cardinals in favour of condoms must have put so much pressure on Benedict XVI that for once he put practice before theory”.
But Meier also points out that the pope’s remarks were in an interview for a book and not in an official document. The book is due to come out on Tuesday.
He writes that the papal “deregulation” will have caused some resentment in some parts of the Vatican and would provide a talking point for years.
Meier wonders whether glasnost – openness and transparency – has come to the Vatican. “A first step has certainly been taken. However, there are still many questions unanswered, for example if Rome will allow the condom to be used in large numbers in the fight against Aids in Africa.”
Nicolas Betticher, an episcopal vicar in the Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg diocese, said what was new in the pope’s remarks was he “was talking to all Catholics, not only those who followed the ideal path but also to those who did not feel concerned”.
The pope was telling them “if you cannot follow the ideal line, at least be responsible and considerate”.
The Federal Health Office in Bern said it was not in a position to comment.
Contraception and the Catholic Church
The Catholic Church has always emphasised that the primary purpose of sex is procreation.
It is opposed to artificial contraception methods such as condoms, diaphragms and birth control pills. Yet so-called natural family planning, based on monitoring a woman’s monthly fertility cycle, is considered acceptable.
In the 1990s, Pope John Paul II stated that while married couples might have very good reasons for careful family planning, artificial interference was a violation of the church’s teachings.
In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI said that condoms were not the solution in preventing Aids. His comment that condom distribution might even exacerbate the problem attracted a considerable amount of flak.
(with input from Dale Bechtel), swissinfo.ch