Pope's stance on condom use: U-turn or more of the same?

Pope Benedict XVI's comments on condom use are causing confusion and debate from Manila to Mexico City.

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    A bust of Pope Benedict XVI watches over congregants during mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, in New York, Sunday. 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.
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Bold headlines around the world heralded what appeared this weekend to be a stunning about-face in the Roman Catholic Church’s longstanding position against condom use.

“Pope approves use of condoms to fight AIDS,” screamed the lead story on the front page of the Sunday Telegraph. The “historic U-turn” ended “decades of fierce opposition to the use of all contraception,” explained the British daily.

Not so fast, said the Vatican’s spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi.

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Pope Benedict XVI said nothing "revolutionary" and is not "reforming or changing" the church’s stance on the issue, said Father Lombardi, adding in a statement Sunday that the church does not consider condoms to be the "moral solution" to the AIDS problem.

So what did the pope say?

The comments now causing confusion and debate from Manila to Mexico City came from the Vatican's publication of excerpts of a book about the pope due to be released this week.

In the book, which is based on the first face-to-face interview given by a pope, Pope Benedict said this:

“In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, [a condom] can … be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality. … There may be certain justified individual cases, for example, when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be … a first bit of responsibility, to redevelop the understanding that not everything is permitted and that one may not do everything one wishes. But it is not the proper way to deal with the horror of HIV infection.”

Some followers, particularly in areas of the world hit hardest by AIDS, have given the pope's comments a broad interpretation.

"I've got brothers and sisters and friends who are suffering from HIV because they were not practicing safe sex," Father Peter Makome, a Catholic priest in Zimbabwe, told The Associated Press. "Now the message has come out that they can go ahead and do safe sex; it's much better for everyone."

But to others, the pope's words were unclear.

The remarks are a "step in the right direction," Caroline Nenguke of the Treatment Action Campaign, an advocacy group in Cape Town, South Africa, told the AP.

But she said the message could lead to misinterpretation among heterosexual couples. "The pope has a lot of followers — he's an opinion leader and a world leader — and if he's going to take on a message, especially a message of life and death, it has to be very clear."

IN PICTURES: Pope Benedict

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