On the flight back, a German reporter asked Francis about the use of condoms to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. The pope replied:
The question seems biased to me. Yes, it is one of the methods, the morality of the Church faces a bit of a predicament here. The fifth or the sixth commandment: defend life or a sexual relationship that is open to life. But this is not the problem. There is a greater problem than this: this question makes me think of the question they once asked Jesus: tell me Master, is it acceptable to heal on a Saturday? Healing is obligatory! Malnutrition, exploitation, slave labour, the lack of drinking water, these are the problems. We’re not talking about which plaster we should use for which wound. The great injustice is social injustice, the great injustice is malnutrition. I don’t like making such casuistic reflections when there are people dying because of a lack of water and hunger. Think about arms trafficking. When these problems cease to exist, then I think we can ask ourselves the question: is it acceptable to heal on a Saturday? Why are arms still being manufactured? Wars are the leading cause of death. Forget about whether it is acceptable or not to heal on a Saturday. Make justice and when everyone is healed, when there is no injustice in this world, then we can talk about Saturday.
I am sure this answer will not satisfy any part of the church. Those being in the conservative spectrum of Catholicism will see it as partly side-lining the official teaching, those who are battling HIV practically will feel all the shortcomings of such an answer.
There are reasons to feel the shortcomings:
First of all, millions of death people, mostly young and in the prime of their lives can never be part of a marginal question – and as we speak – more than a million people still dying every year as the result of HIV
Secondly – giving an old answer to a new question is never the right thing to do – answering the question of life and death with an answer dealing with procreation is a predicament, as the pope clearly and rightly identified.
Thirdly – “Humanae Vitae” has indeed received a very sharp and split response within the church – just think of the “Koenigsteiner Declaration” of the German Bishops and since then, it seems that this seemingly small piece of rubber became somehow in many quarters of the world a sort of litmus test on the credibility of moral teaching. Additional the question of taking seriously the sensus fidelium as a priority marker of church teaching arose and is waiting for an answer till today in this matter.
But there are also reasons to be grateful for such an answer:
Firstly – this pope does not think that popes have to have an answer on all questions – formulated nicely and to follow not taking the circumstances into account. What a difference to some of his predecessors.
Secondly he highlights the social teaching of the church, which is indeed more important than the question of a purely sexual matter.
And thirdly the answer calls for the own conscience to be followed – highlighting that at the end God’s word written into the hearts and minds of each person is the most intimate and decisive personal decision maker. Words, we have to explore more as life progresses – a dynamic, sometimes painful, but necessary way of coming closer to the personal calling as God’s son or daughter.
The pope’s answers on homosexuality, on taking communion as a Lutheran and others are all going in this direction of encouraging people to find their full Christian potential in a personal relationship with God. The church with the message of tenderness, unconditional love and mercy provides the framework and the reminder that living life to the fullest is the ultimate goal for everybody living on this earth. For this to happen, social justice and peace are prerequisite. And not to forget the freedom of the children of God – something, especially right-wing Catholics are very afraid of. Rightly so, as freedom paired with unconditional love takes away the possibility of power games – it turns the hierarchy – as Pope Francis said – upside down and transforms those in perceived higher positions into servants of all life.