The Italian Almanac


Italian News - February 6

A recent furor over what appeared to be rebellious Spanish bishops approving the use of condoms -- and the stern Vatican response that forced a quick retreat -- highlighted a quiet but intense debate within the Roman Catholic Church.

Because of its rejection of prophylactics, the church has frequently found itself cited as an institution insensitive to the pandemic spread of AIDS, more interested in religious dogma than in preserving the lives of tens of millions of people. Contrary to popular belief, however, the Vatican has never issued a formal ban specifically prohibiting the use of condoms to prevent HIV infection.

What the church does advocate is that abstinence and fidelity are the best ways to combat the disease. It teaches that the only acceptable sex is between a man and woman married to each other and that the use of any artificial contraception is prohibited. This doctrine is enshrined in the 1968 encyclical titled "Humanae Vitae" issued by Pope Paul VI, but church historians say the pope and his advisers at the time did not have disease in mind when they dictated this proscription.

Official doctrine on these matters has not wavered, yet several senior church leaders have explicitly or implicitly sanctioned the use of condoms in cases where life is at stake. They do so with a certain authority and with a tacit acknowledgment that there are legitimate arguments that make the apparent contravention of a church rule morally justified.