MANILA – Philippine bishops said that Pope Benedict XVI has not changed his stand on contraception by saying male prostitutes may use condoms to fight HIV infection. Health activists, however, welcomed the statement. “[The pope] speaks of condoms as a permissible tool, not the primary tool, to arrest further spread of the HIV virus,” the Catholic bishops’ conference said in a statement signed by Monsignor Juanito Figura, its secretary general.

“The pope made the issue clear. It wasn’t about birth control but was about AIDS prevention. But it is misleading to think that the pope said that condom is OK in the fight against AIDS. What he said was that it is not a moral and a real solution, but in some cases, it can be a first step toward the right moral direction,” said Novaliches Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani.

Retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz said the pope’s statement was based on an “old doctrine” about “one act with double effect”.

“You only have one action, but there are two effects. But of course, the effect that you will choose is that with lesser evil,” Bishop Cruz said. Condoms can prevent birth but can also save people from contracting fatal diseases such as AIDS, he added. Proponents of the reproductive health bill in the Philippine Congress said the pope’s statement is a clear departure from the strictly conservative approach of the Church on contraception and they expect “more exceptions” on the issue.

“It is about time for the Church to be enlightened and reassess her position in the promotion of modern methods of family planning to save lives,” said Benjamin D de Leon, president of the Forum for Family Planning and Development Inc.

“The pope’s statement… can somehow help us in our anti-AIDS campaign. It’s a big departure from his rigid stand on condom use,” said Emil Garcia, information officer of Positive Action Foundation Philippines Inc. which helps Filipinos affected by HIV/AIDS.

Garcia, however, said the pope’s stand on condom use “is weighed and found wanting” because those usually afflicted with AIDS are not prostitutes. “These who often seek help from us are very young, gay people, mostly in their early 20s, working in call centres. There are also those who had worked abroad,” said Garcia.

Ellene Sana, executive director of the Center for Migrant Advocacy, said the pope could have also included in his statement migrant workers, especially seafarers, “whose use of the condom is a necessity”. “That’s a positive statement, but it’s not good enough. It could have been more inclusive, no more qualifications,” she told

Ricky Carandang, President Benigno Aquino III’s spokesperson, said the Church in the Philippines should now be “more flexible” following the pope’s statement. “The local Church cannot be more ‘popish’ than the pope,” he said. - UCANEWS.COM

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