Here's where the confusion comes in: The Vatican is insisting that this does not represent a change in Catholic teaching on condom use.
Uno momento. For decades now, popes have been saying "no" to condoms. Even if you're married and preventing the spread of HIV. Absolute rule, no exceptions. Then the current pope says he can see where, in certain cases, it's a good thing. That's not a change?
Well, according to the Associated Press report...
The Holy See's chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, stressed that Benedict was not "morally justifying" the unbridled exercise of sexuality and the church's main advice in the fight against AIDS remains the same: promoting sexual abstinence and fidelity among married couples.
The logic, apparently, is that since the Vatican is still stressing abstinence and monogamy, then its fundamental teaching hasn't changed. Except for one thing: An even more fundamental aspect of the church's moral philosophy has changed.
Originally, the leadership of the Catholic church adhered to absolutism - there is only one morally correct answer, and no deviation is allowed. And that's been the Vatican's problem in terms of being able to adapt to new facts and realities: absolutism allows no exceptions. As soon as you allow an exception, for whatever reason, you're no longer absolutist.
As soon as the Pope said that condoms can be used in certain circumstances, even very narrow ones, then he crossed the line from absolutism to contextualism. So, in a sense, this is representing a shift in Catholic teaching. Maybe Benedict and the other Cardinals are just too stubborn to admit it.
Well, it should be obvious to anyone who reads this blog that I consider it a welcome change. If the Catholic church is indeed going to stand for life, then they need to take the realities of life into account. And if this small step helps them to do that, we should applaud and support it.