Pope: No Glove, No Love

In a groundbreaking statement last week that astonished Catholics and non-Catholics alike, Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged that he thought condom use could be justified in certain rare cases, such as in preventing the spread of HIV.

This statement, made during an interview on a variety of topics with a German journalist, is highly controversial considering the Catholic Church’s no-tolerance view on contraception. As recently as last year, the Pope was quoted as saying that the only preventions for HIV were abstinence and fidelity, ironically while on his way to AIDS-plagued Africa.

However, the statement only gave a very small concession. Benedict maintained that he does not advocate the use of birth control, just that it was possibly appropriate when used by male prostitutes as an AIDS-prevention method, as a “first assumption of responsibility.”

The statement has caused widespread confusion in the religious world. Whether the Pope was saying the statement colloquially or whether he was trying to ease into a more relaxed view on contraception on behalf of the Catholic Church has been widely debated in both scientific and religious circles.

Whatever Benedict’s actual intent was in making the statement, it should be considered a step forward in AIDS prevention advocacy. A religious institution that is so vehemently opposed to contraception conceding that it may be useful in preventing the disease could lead to the practice of safer sex worldwide, without personal feelings of guilt or fear of religious condemnation.

In addition, his statement brings into question the idea of an evolving religion — based upon the same morals and principles that it was intended to uphold, it applies this morality to more contemporary issues by taking into consideration the societal and cultural values of modern communities.

Today’s world is becoming, if not increasingly secular, then increasingly involved in a dialogue regarding the applications of ancient religions to a modern era. The concept of an evolving Catholicism, or the evolution of any religion in general, is essential to understanding the role that institutions like the church can play in the lives of contemporary humans.

Although the pope’s statement is a milestone for the Catholic Church, it is not enough. For the church to truly apply its morals and principles to a contemporary world, other situations beyond male prostitution must be taken into consideration. For example, bishops in Africa have been pushing the church in recent years to take a more relaxed stance on contraception in relation to HIV, such as marital cases in which one partner is HIV-positive. The consideration of such an allowance would be an even more significant breakthrough.

Furthermore, in today’s societies, it is difficult to find many individuals who plan to abstain from sexual relations until marriage. Applying the beliefs of Catholicism to the rest of the world is an undertaking that requires more of a broad concession on the part of the church.

While the Pope’s statement is certainly part of a positive movement toward AIDS prevention, as well as toward the application of Catholicism to the modern ideals of a world that is moving swiftly toward secularism, it is far too little a statement to do much impact. However, for the purpose of somewhat humanizing the pope and the Catholic Church, and allowing them to be more relatable in the eyes of its followers, it is monumental.

Marisha Pareek is a third-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at mpareek@uci.edu.