MANILA, Philippines - Pro-choice groups welcomed Pope Benedict XVI's remarks on condom use as a means to prevent the spread of AIDS.
In a series of interviews published in a new book, the 83-year-old Benedict said condom use is acceptable "in certain cases," notably to reduce the risk of HIV infection. "In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality," said the head of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics.
To illustrate his apparent shift in position, Benedict offered the example of a male prostitute using a condom.
"There may be justified individual cases, for example when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be ... a first bit of responsibility, to re-develop the understanding that not everything is permitted and that one may not do everything one wishes," Benedict was quoted as saying.
The new book, entitled "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times," is based on 20 hours of interviews conducted by German journalist Peter Seewald.
Until now, the Vatican had prohibited the use of any form of contraception -- other than abstinence -- even as a guard against sexually-transmitted diseases.
In the Philippines, where artificial contraception remains a topic of intense debates, pro-choice groups including the government welcomed the Pope's statement. Some groups said the statement helps people understand that the use of condoms promotes not irresponsible sex but mature and responsible relationships.
"For a country that is predominantly Catholic, this would help us in promoting and working with the Roman Catholic Church in promoting efforts to address this epidemic. AIDS has been likened to transmitting death to other people," said Dr. Ferchito Avelino of the Philippine National AIDS Council.
Avelino said the Pope's statement supports an agreement between the government and the Catholic Church. He said the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has approved a training manual on HIV-AIDS for Catholic Church pastoral workers.
"One of the issues raised was the issue of condom issue for couples. It says there that couples should be helped to decide for themselves on whether they should discontinue sex or use condoms to minimize the risk of transmission," he said.
Not Church policy
In a CNN report, senior Vatican analyst Father John Allen said the Pontiff's statement should not be taken as Church policy. He said the Pope was merely expressing his own views on the Church's position against birth control.
He, however, added that the Pope's statements are noteworthy since the pontiff has kept silent about the issue for a long time.
Philippine church official said they will wait for a formal statement from the Pope regarding condom use before issuing a statement.
Bishop Deogracias Yñiguez of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said the Pope's remarks should not be seen as an endorsement of contraceptives. He said the Catholic Church is against the use of contraceptives for family planning.
For his part, Education Secretary Armin Luistro said the Pope's statement shows that the Catholic Church is not closing its doors on issues of morality.
"The line that is helpful here is when he says it is the first step towards taking responsibility. In morality, when you are forming individuals you don't expect them to change their whole lives overnight. What he is saying is once a person is moving towards a greater responsibility and in this case I don't want my partner to get sick, then it is moving up that sense of morality, the ladder of morality," Luistro said.
"The Pope is looking at the long term and the formative aspect of this whole issue," he added.
Luistro said the Pope's statement should not be used in coming up with policies and guidelines already. He added that as a member of the De La Salle Brothers and as a Catholic, he does not promote contraceptive use.
"We need to continue the dialogue but as critics are now saying, at least they are happy that the process of this dialogue is starting. In this particular case, this is really a moral issue and in morality there are realy areas where we need to discuss this especially in the different contexts," he said. -- with reports from ANC, Agence France-Presse; CNN