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Pope urged to reflect on condom use

April 20, 2005 By Declan Butler This article courtesy of Nature News.

AIDS group pleads with conservative Ratzinger.

Officials from the United Nations AIDS programme today implored the new Pope, Benedict XVI, to consider permitting the use of condoms.

The election of conservative Joseph Ratzinger as Pope has led many to predict that the Roman Catholic Church, which forbids the use of condoms, will not consider lifting the ban to prevent the spread of disease. Ben Plumley of the UNAIDS office in Geneva says he thinks the Church's position is likely to stay "business as usual".

But there is some chance that the Pope could entertain debate on the issue. Ratzinger was a top official in the Vatican when discussion on condom use reopened within the past few years, says Plumley. "He was there when there was a beginning of movement."

And although the Church's teachings on human-embryo research and contraception are governed by dogma, it does not have an official opinion on the use of condoms as a means to prevent disease, according to Maurizio Calipari, a bioethicist at the state's Pontifical Academy for Life.

The enforcer

Ratzinger developed a reputation as an 'enforcer' while heading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the body that succeeded the Roman Inquisition. In this role, which he held for more than 25 years, he stamped out dissidence within the Church and fired several US theologians who questioned the Church's stance on certain topics.

But some note that Ratzinger's approach may change now he is Pope. "Writing as a cardinal is different from acting as Pope," says Marialuisa Lavitrano, an expert on transplants from animals into humans who has advised the Pontifical Academy for Life. "Ratzinger is very intelligent and cultured and will consider all issues carefully," she adds.

Plumley says that the Church's consideration of condom use in the context of HIV has been prompted in part by pressure from the Church's African bishops. "We hope that that momentum will be maintained," he says.

However, Timothy Thibodeau, an expert on Church history at Nazareth College in Rochester, New York, thinks the bishops will have a lesser say in the governance of the Church under Ratzinger. "Ratzinger's quest will be to revive a monarchistic model where discussion with bishops is out of the window," says Thibodeau. "The spread of AIDS will be off the table," he predicts.


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