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Italian cardinal condones use of condoms to prevent spread of HIV


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Italian cardinal condones use of condoms to prevent spread of HIV

04/22/2006

Pope Benedict XVI repeated the Vatican's position as recently as June, when he told African bishops that abstinence was the only "fail-safe" way to prevent the spread of HIV.

Italians on Saturday were digesting the controversial comments made recently by a senior churchman concerning the use of condoms in the prevention of the spread of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, retired archbishop of Milan and onetime Papal contender, said in comments published on Friday that condoms were the "lesser evil" in combating the spread of AIDS.

He is the latest senior churchman to diverge from the Vatican's opposition to artificial contraception, and his words have been welcomed by Italian gay rights organisations.

"These are revolutionary statements for the Catholic Church," said Fabrizio Marrazzo of the Italian gay association, Arcigay.

The 79-year-old Martini, who was considered a liberal alternative to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the 2005 conclave that elected Ratzinger pope, gave a wide-ranging interview on a host of bioethical issues to Italy's L'Espresso newsweekly, which hit news-stands on Friday.

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Martini made the comments in response to questions posed to him by the Italian scientist and bioethicist Ignazio Marino, who heads the transplant centre at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.

Marino asked the cardinal how the church could continue opposing condom use as a means of halting the spread of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), particularly when official church doctrine allows for choosing the "lesser of two evils" in cases such as when lives are at stake.

Martini's comments echoed those of other churchmen, including Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels and Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, of Mexico, who has said that condoms could sometimes be condoned, such as when a woman can't refuse her HIV-positive husband's sexual advances.

While there is no official, authoritative Vatican policy on using condoms to protect against AIDS, the Vatican does oppose condoms because they are a form of artificial contraception.

Pope Benedict XVI repeated the Vatican's position as recently as June, when he told African bishops that abstinence was the only "fail-safe" way to prevent the spread of HIV.

However, reaction to the comments from the people AP Television spoke to in Rome on Saturday was mostly positive.

"It is a beautiful thing, the church in this way is truly a mother and welcomes the outcast and the sick people and all the miseries of the world," said one woman.

"It would be a right thing because people can get sick," said a man.

Asked about his thoughts on the ethics surrounding assisted fertility, and particularly what to do with the many embryos that are frozen during in-vitro procedures, Martini also suggested that even single women could carry frozen embryos to term if the alternative is letting them die in the freezers of fertility clinics.

Church teaching holds that all procreation must take place within marriage; the Vatican also opposes many assisted fertility procedures.

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