By John-Henry Westen

VATICAN, April 26, 2006 ( – The world media has exploded with stories suggesting that the Vatican is soon to release a document “easing the ban on condoms”. Thousands of media outlets across the globe screamed the news, but the Vatican Cardinal at the center of the storm is back-pedalling as fast as he can from the story. (

The Cardinal in question is Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, appointed by late Pope John Paul II in 1997 as president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers. The story is all the more interesting since Barragán himself created controversy on the same issue in 2004, when he already then suggested that condoms could be used within marriage to prevent against AIDS transmission.

However, the teaching of the Catholic Church on the matter is that even inside the confines of marriage, the marital act (sex) is to be open to God’s gift of life and thus condoms are not permitted.

What spurred the media avalanche was an April 23 interview with the Italian paper La Rebubblica in which the Cardinal said on the topic of condom use and AIDS, “It’s a very difficult and delicate theme that requires prudence . . . My council is studying this attentively with scientists and theologians expressly charged with preparing a document on the subject, which will be made public soon.” He added, “It was Pope Benedict who asked us to make a study on this particular aspect of the use of condoms by those with AIDS and other infectious diseases.”

Thereafter the media flew with the story, all expecting a document to be published by Rome “soon” which would “reconsider the ban on condoms”.Â

However, in a clarification with Rome’s Zenit News Service, Barragán himself said that he was only producing a “study” for the appropriate authorities within the Vatican and that he had no authority to produce a “document”.ÂÂ The Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers does not have the “competency to present a document to the Church. It is the Holy Father who has the competency or whoever he entrusts” with the task, the cardinal explained to Zenit.Â

“In the last analysis this Vatican dicastery is not a doctrinal dicastery; this dicastery does not produce documents,” he continued. “Herein lies the error of some information. We are a pastoral dicastery to carry out the Church’s presence with the sick, in particular, those who suffer from the AIDS virus.

The Cardinal also suggested that there may be no document published on the subject after all.“This study is promoting a dialogue only at the level of the Holy See and it is not finished yet. Once it’s finished, will there be a document? There might or might not be. To issue a document is not proper to this dicastery. That it is or is not issued by another dicastery depends on the Holy Father.”

And in comments which have some suggesting that he may have been reprimanded for his loose comments he told Zenit: “I repeat: What I think and my commitment is simply to be an echo of what the Pope says. I don’t have a personal opinion as head of this dicastery. My official opinion is to reproduce exactly to the letter what the Pope says.”

This story had even the Vatican experts befuddled.

Noted Vatican reporter John Allen published an article in the National Catholic Reporter yesterday saying that a document was indeed to be published shortly. Allen quoted an unnamed source in Cardinal Barragán’s office who, according to Allen said, “that the document will sanction the use of condoms to halt the spread of the disease ‘inside marriage and the family, not outside of it.’” The official also reportedly told Allan that the document has been approved by the consultors of the Council for Health Pastoral Care, and is now awaiting review from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He said it should appear shortly.

Another Vatican Cardinal, Cardinal Lopez Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family has denounced condom use especially since it does not provide full protection against AIDS, thus giving a false security on dangerous sexual practices.

The new document “goes a little bit against López Trujillo,” the official from the Council for Health Pastoral Care told Allan.“Even if they’re not foolproof, most studies show condoms can make a difference in stopping the spread of the disease,” he said.

The mainstream media’s concept of a lift on the condom ban is far off the mark within the debate between the likes of Barragàn and Trujillo. Neither of the camps is suggesting approving of the use of condoms without or even within marriage. Barragàn is suggesting that within marriage where one spouse is infected with AIDS, the use of condoms may be permitted to save the life of the uninfected spouse.

The difficulty with the argument is that in such dire circumstances abstinence must be counselled as condoms would close the sexual act to the gift of life and would not protect the uninfected partner from transmission. Suggesting condoms for prevention of disease, therefore, would be the equivalent of an anti-smoking group suggesting smokers switch to low-tar cigarettes.


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