Vatican City: The head of the UN AIDS
agency told a Vatican conference on Saturday that the pope had
opened the door to greater dialogue with his groundbreaking
comments on condoms and HIV prevention even as Vatican
officials stressed abstinence and marital fidelity as the best
Dr Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS, was
invited to speak to the conference on preventing HIV and
caring for HIV-positive people, a significant event in and of
itself, given that the Vatican usually only invites
like-minded outsiders to its conferences and UNAIDS has not
been like-minded on this issue at all.
UNAIDS holds that condoms are an "integral and
essential" part of HIV prevention programs, which it says
should also include education about delaying the start of
sexual activity, limiting sexual partners and marital
fidelity. The Catholic Church opposes condom use as part of
its overall opposition to artificial contraception.
The Church does, however, play a crucial role in
caring for HIV-positive people, particularly in Africa where
some two-thirds of the world`s 22 million infected people
live. It runs hospitals and hospices, orphanages and clinics
and has played a critical role in helping to de-stigmatise
those with the virus and stress the need for changes in sexual
behavior to stop its spread.
But the Church has long been accused of contributing
to the AIDS crisis because of its opposition to condoms.
That was why Pope Benedict XVI made headlines last
year when he said in the book "Light of the World" that a male
prostitute who intends to use a condom might be taking a first
step toward greater responsibility because he is looking out
for the welfare of his partner.
"This is very important," Sidibe told the conference.
"This has helped me to understand his position better and has
opened up a new space for dialogue."
At the same time, however, the Vatican officials
speaking at the conference either glossed over or made no
reference whatsoever to Benedict`s condom remarks evidence of
a certain "one step forward, two steps back" mentality that
often characterises developments in the Catholic Church.
Monsignor Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican`s envoy to the
Geneva-based UN agencies, cited several other Benedict quotes
from the book, but not the condom comments. Monsignor Zygmunt
Zimowski, head of the Pontifical Council for Health Care
Workers, which hosted the meeting, didn`t mention Benedict at
all, citing instead Pope John Paul II about the "crisis of
values" behind the AIDS crisis. Monsignor Jacques Suaudeau of
the Vatican`s bioethics advisory board briefly showed a slide
with the remarks but didn`t mention them.