After the Pope said last week that gay male prostitutes may use condoms to prevent HIV, the Vatican now says the u-turn applies to heterosexuals and trans people.

Pope Benedict told a German journalist last week that although HIV can only be tackled through the “humanisation of sexuality”, male prostitutes may use condoms as a “first step” towards moralisation and responsibility.

Last year, 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”.

The Vatican has not changed its policy on condoms as contraception but spokesman Federico Lombardo said that others could used them to protect against HIV, even when they would prevent pregnancy in a married couple.

He told reporters: “I personally asked the Pope if there was a serious, important problem in the choice of the masculine over the feminine. He told me ‘no.’ The problem is this … It’s the first step of taking responsibility, of taking into consideration the risk of the life of another with whom you have a relationship.

“This is if you’re a man, a woman, or a transsexual. We’re at the same point. The point is it’s a first step of taking responsibility, of avoiding passing a grave risk onto another,” Mr Lombardi added.

Thirty-three million people around the world are thought to be living with HIV. This week, UNAIDS said there had been a 20 per cent drop in infection rates in the past ten years and attributed it to increased use of condoms.

The Pope’s comments were welcomed by gay and HIV campaigners, although gay rights activist Peter Tatchell said: “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?”