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Pope's condom backpedal stokes debate in Philippines

REUTERS/Tony Gentile

Pope Benedict XVI’s statements last weekend that condom use can be justified in certain cases has set off a firestorm in the Philippines, a heavily Catholic nation with one of the world’s fastest-growing populations.

Pope Benedict’s remarks that condoms can be of use in preventing the spread of HIV can be found in a forthcoming book, but were recently reported in a Vatican newspaper.

Family-planning advocates in the Philippines, as well as around the world, have expressed hope that the Pope’s consent could further legitimise contraceptive use.

Interview: Bric Bernas, Aids Society of the Philippines 22/11/2010 - by Rosslyn Hyams Listen

“It’s a step forward, especially in terms of HIV-prevention work,” Bric Bernas, executive director of the Aids Society of the Philippines, told RFI.

“The stigma and the issues about condom use, especially for individuals who are engaging in high-risk behaviour, and the religion and the culture, really make it difficult for us to do our work.”

The Pope’s remarks were greeted favourably by President Benigno Aquino, who said that the apparent shift in papal policy could overcome local ecclesiastical resistance to a pending bill that would permit the government to furnish the poor with condoms.

The Philippines is the largest Catholic nation in Asia, and proponents of the legislation say efforts are needed to contain a population that has doubled in the three previous decades to 94 million.

Some Filipino clergy declined to comment to RFI until the Vatican issues an official statement.

But according to Monsignor Juanito Figura, secretary general of the country’s bishops' association, the Pope’s comments should not be construed to imply that there is any change in the church’s position against artificial contraception.

Pope Benedict caused outcry on a trip to Africa last year, when he said that the use of condoms could encourage the spread of Aids.