Pope Benedict XVI's announcement, in a book-length interview conducted by Peter Seewald titled modestly, Light of the World, that condom use may be the best choice in some circumstances, is monumental.
It is a watershed, because it is the first time that the public health has entered the Catholic Canon.
The Catholic position on sex, repeatedly endorsed by Benedict, had been that, since its only legitimate purpose is procreation within marriage, there is no possible role for condoms or other forms of artificial contraception.
Thus, as pointed out by Christopher Hitchens, Mother Teresa's net impact on the health of the teeming masses of Calcutta was a negative one, since her primary public health efforts were to forbid and obstruct contraceptive use in a place where unwanted pregnancies meant starvation, stunted lives, and the subjugation of women.
The primary public health reaction to the traditional Catholic position on sex and contraception has been, "OK, let's say that is a worthy goal, but what about all of the sex that occurs around the world, even within virtually every healthy marriage, that does not fit those parameters, and the problems unprotected sex leads to in these circumstances?"
The Pope doesn't care about that. His goal is, in all instances, the moral rectitude and uplift of humanity.
That leaves a lot of AIDS victims, as well as hundreds of millions of Catholics in Western countries who systematically sin as a fundamental marital value. And nothing has exorcised opponents of Catholicism -- and Catholics and Catholicism in response -- than the Church's active opposition to contraceptive use to protect against HIV infections in the developing world.
Here is the specific question posed by Seewald in a chapter entitled, "The Journeys of a Shepherd":
On the occasion of your trip to Africa in March 2009, the Vatican's policy on AIDs once again became the target of media criticism. ... In Africa you stated that the Church's traditional teaching has proven to be the only sure way to stop the spread of HIV. Critics, including critics from the Church's own ranks, object that it is madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms.
And Benedict, after the decades-long drumming he and the Church have taken on this topic, agreed. He acknowledge there are circumstances -- identifying specifically male prostitutes -- in which the use of condoms might be the preferred action.
Two further points need to be made:
The first is that the Pope regards such condom use, of course, as an exigency en route to moral sex, presumably meaning that the prostitute and his clients will turn straight, settle down and marry a little woman, when they will return to healthy and moral unprotected sex. Forget how every element in that scenario is ridiculous -- unrealistic in the extreme and dangerous to the imagined beneficiaries (most AIDS in Africa is spread by sex between infected males and women) -- and grasp what has happened:
That, second, the Pope has become aware that there are male prostitutes and condoms, neither of which had he previously acknowledged. Simply look at the novel juxtaposition of tag topics for this post -- the Pope, dangers of unprotected sex, and public health -- to convince yourself this is so. And we owe all of this to AIDS. So, considering the power of the Church worldwide, there has been some benefit from this incredible scourge on humanity.
Next thing maybe the Pope will believe some people are really gay.