Sexual health charities, politicians and gay rights campaigners have welcomed what appears to be a relaxation in Pope Benedict XVI’s opposition to the use of condoms. In an interview for a book that is due to be published this week, the Pontiff argued that in some cases, the use of condoms can be the first step in the direction of “moralisation” of an individual.

In 2009, the Pope told journalists on a flight to Cameroon that HIV/ AIDS was “a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems.”

But now, speaking to a German journalist Peter Sewall for his ‘Light of the World’ book, the Pope said that “the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalisation of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalisation of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.”

Burt he added: “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, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.”

Asked if the Catholic Church is therefore not opposed in principle to the use of condoms, Pope Benedict XVI told the journalist. “She [the Church] of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.”

In a clarifying statement, the chief spokesman for the Vatican, Rev Federico Lombardi said the comments by the Pope does not indicate “reforms or changes” church teaching, which forbids use of condoms. “With this, the Pope isn’t reforming or changing the teaching of the church, but reaffirming it, putting it in the context of the value and the dignity of human sexuality as expression of love and responsibility,” he said.

Nevertheless, Lisa Power of sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust said: “We’re relieved that the Pope has accepted the reality that condoms are a major weapon in the fight against HIV.”

Prominent Catholic, Andy Burnham, the shadow education secretary told Sky News: “”This could save lives in parts of the world where use of condoms has been discouraged. The Church has had an unsustainable position on the use of condoms, particularly in Africa. If this is the first sign of a change I would welcome it.”

Gay rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell said that the Pope “seems to be admitting, for the first time, that using condoms can be morally responsible if they help save lives.  
 
“Until now, Benedict XVI has always insisted that the church’s opposition to condom use was a fundamental, non-negotiable moral absolute that could never be changed. This new policy is a volte-face.
 
“Benedict seems to realise that his unrelenting, blanket opposition to condoms has damaged his own authority and that of the church.”

Mr Tatchell added: “If the Pope can change his stance on condoms, why can’t he also modify the Vatican’s harsh, intolerant opposition to women’s rights, gay equality, fertility treatment and embryonic stem cell research?”