VATICAN CITY (AP) â€” Pope Benedict XVI says in a new book that condoms can be justified for male prostitutes seeking to stop the spread of HIV, a stunning comment for a church criticized for its opposition to condoms and for a pontiff who has blamed them for making the AIDS crisis worse.
The pope made the comments in a book-length interview with a German journalist, "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times," which is being released Tuesday. The Vatican newspaper ran excerpts on Saturday.
Church teaching has long opposed condoms because they are a form of artificial contraception, although it has never released an explicit policy about condoms and HIV. The Vatican has been harshly criticized for its opposition.
Benedict said that condoms are not a moral solution. But he said in some cases, such as for male prostitutes, they could be justified "in the intention of reducing the risk of infection."
Benedict called it "a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way of living sexuality."
He used as an example male prostitutes, for whom contraception is not an issue, as opposed to married couples where one spouse is infected. The Vatican has come under pressure from even some church officials in Africa to condone condom use for monogamous married couples to protect the uninfected spouse from getting infected.
Benedict drew the wrath of the United Nations, European governments and AIDS activisits when he told reporters en route to Africa in 2009 that the AIDS problem on the continent couldn't be resolved by distributing condoms.
"On the contrary, it increases the problem," he said then.
Journalist Peter Seewald, who interviewed Benedict over the course of six days this summer, raised the Africa condom comments and asked Benedict if it wasn't "madness" for the Vatican to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms.
"There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility," Benedict said.
But he stressed that it wasn't the way to deal with the evil of HIV, and elsewhere in the book reaffirmed church teaching on contraception and abortion, saying: "How many children are killed who might one day have been geniuses, who could have given humanity something new, who could have given us a new Mozart or some new technical discovery?"
He reiterated the church's position that abstinence and marital fidelity is the only sure way to prevent HIV.
Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, the Vatican's longtime top official on bioethics and sexuality, elaborated on the pontiff's comments, stressing that it was imperative to "make certain that this is the only way to save a life." Sgreccia told the Italian news agency ANSA that that is why the pope on the condom issue "dealt with it in the realm of ecceptionality."
The condom question was one that "needed an answer for a long time," Sgreccia was quoted as saying. "If Benedict XVI raised the question of exceptions, this expection must be accepted ... and it must be verified that this is the only way to save life. This must be demonstrated," Sgreccia said.