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Pope in Dilemma: To ban condoms or not

Pope Benedict XVI is in a dilemma; whether to preserve the Roman Catholic Church's "traditional ban on contraception or shift[ing] to a relative yes-sometimes //policy that gives us an effective weapon against AIDS -- but opens up church policy on contraception, abortion and infallibility to new challenges," according to Peter Boulay, former religious brother and editor of a Catholic newspaper.

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan in April said that the pope had asked the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care as well as other scientists and theologians to study condom use as a means of HIV prevention, and the Vatican expects to release a document on the subject.

While some Catholic clergy had suggested that the use of condoms to curb HIV transmission would be the "lesser of two evils," the pope in his June 2005 speech to African bishops said that contraception is one of many trends contributing to a "breakdown of sexual morality." He added that abstinence and fidelity are the only "fail-safe" ways to prevent the spread of HIV.

Boulay said that if Pope Benedict XVI "moves away from the absolute prohibition against condoms, it likely will be very measured step," such as permitting their use only in developing countries.

He adds, "[N]o matter how narrowly focused, any relaxation" of the regulation will have "far-reaching consequences," noting that Catholic Relief Services does not distribute condoms in any of the "AIDS-plagued countries where it operates."

Boulay says, "I hope that worthy organization[s] will soon be filling out requisitions for condom shipments. And I hope that priests everywhere will begin to recommend condoms."

However he adds that "a change of doctrine may not be easy," as it would "call into question" rules in the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae on abortion and contraception.

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