Halle-frickin'-lujah. One of the holiday weekend's most welcome news flashes was the report that the Vatican may soften its stance on the use of condoms. The Guardian reported on Thursday that Mexican Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, effectively the church's health minister, recently completed a 200-page report urging the pope to ease up on the church's prophylatic ban. The cardinal's pragmatic notion: "In restricted circumstances -- specifically the prevention of AIDS -- barrier contraception is the lesser of two evils." (Given that over 25 million people have died of AIDS since 1981, and an estimated 40 million people are currently HIV-positive worldwide, we'd call that an understatement.)
Cardinal Georges Cottier, the pope's theologian, suggested last year that the church's "theology of life" could be construed as supporting the use of condoms to prevent HIV transmission. Barragán's recommendations haven't yet been made public, but the Guardian reports that the proposed new condom policy may apply only to couples in which one partner is HIV positive. Still, it'll be interesting to see how the church frames AIDS prevention as a restricted circumstance, since condoms may be used as precautionary measures as well as in situations of known risk. Is it too much to hope that changing the rules on condoms will start a slippery slope on contraception in general?
Well, maybe. Prohibitions against hormonal birth control and sex outside of marriage probably won't change. And the Guardian warns that there's plenty of red tape between Barragán's advice and a new age of enlightened church policy: The recommendations "still have to be reviewed by the traditionally conservative Vatican department responsible for safeguarding theological orthodoxy, and then by the Pope himself, before any decision is made," writer John Hooper reports. On the other hand, Pope Benedict prompted the church's reassessment of the condom issue, so it's not out of the question that he'll be receptive to Barragán's recommendation. Insiders say he may make a decision by February of next year.