Friday, April 21, 2006

Senior Catholic cardinal advocates condoms to prevent AIDS

Apr 21 11:33 AM US/Eastern

A senior Italian cardinal who was one of the front-runners to become pope after the death of John Paul II, has said it is acceptable for Catholics to use condoms to prevent AIDS, a major break with the official position of the Vatican.

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the former archbishop of Milan and the head of the Roman Catholic Church's liberal wing, said in an interview that legal abortions and the use of frozen embyros to produce children were also acceptable.

"Certainly the use of condoms can, in certain circumstances, constitute a lesser evil," Martini told weekly magazine L'Espresso, in reference to the dangers of contracting HIV/AIDS through sex.

"The question is whether religious authorities should advertise such a means of protection," he continued.

The 79-year-old Jesuit cardinal also said the legalisation of abortion was a "positive" development in the sense that it had "contributed to reducing and eliminating illegal abortions".

"It is difficult for a modern state not to intervene, at least to prevent a brutal, arbitrary situation from developing," he said.

"That doesn't mean a 'licence to kill'," he stressed, saying he hoped governments would use "all means at their disposal" to reduce the number of abortions.

Cardinal Martini went on to say that using frozen embryos to enable a woman to get pregnant, even if she did not have a partner and would be a single mother, was a "lesser evil" than destroying the embryos.

"When there is a conflict of values, I think it is more meaningful, ethically, to suggest such a solution. It means a life can develop rather than let it die," he told his interviewer, researcher Ignazio Marino.

But he reiterated the Catholic Church's opposition to the use of embryos for research purposes.

Cardinal Martini, who has often raised new ideas, is considered to be a free spirit within the Catholic Church hierarchy and does not hold any post of responsibility within the Vatican.

The role of the Church, he said, was to "develop (people's) consciences" and help them "tell good from evil in all situations".

"Bans and saying no doesn't help anyone," he argued.

In L'Espresso he offered a nuanced view of scientific progress.

"While we can't stop it, we can help it become ever more responsible," he said.

The Vatican declined to comment immediately on the views Martini expressed in the interview.

Elio Sgreccia, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, which advises the Vatican on certain scientific matters, told AFP he would respond once he had thoroughly perused the text.

He nevertheless stressed that the difference between the cardinal's views and the official positions of the Catholic Church was "a difference of tone".

The ethical doctrine of "the lesser evil" forms part of Catholic theology and on these grounds a section of the clergy advocates the same stance on condoms and abortion as Cardinal Martini.

But it is rare for such a high-level Church official to voice views on such subjects in such an open fashion.