By Michele Leridon
VATICAN CITY, November 23, 2010 (AFP) – Publishers released a controversial new book Tuesday in which Pope Benedict XVI says for the first time he approves of condom use to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.
In the new book from San Francisco publishers Ignatius Press that went on sale in three languages the pope also says he could retire if his health worsens.
The volume, entitled “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times,” is based on 20 hours of interviews with the 83-year-old pontiff conducted by German journalist Peter Seewald, a Catholic convert.
The church does not regard condoms “as a real or moral solution,” the pope said.
“But, in this case or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality,” he added.
Until now, the Vatican had prohibited the use of any form of contraception.
The United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS, has welcomed Benedict’s remarks as “a significant and positive step forward taken by the Vatican.”
The comments have sparked political tensions in the Philippines, where family planning advocates said they would help to finally pass a law promoting contraceptives over the objections of powerful Church authorities.
The book addresses many other sensitive issues, including the paedophile clergy scandals, a French law banning Muslim women from wearing full-face veils in public and whether or not divorced Catholics can take the Eucharist.
The pope said the scale of abuse by clergymen was an “unprecedented shock” and he likened the crisis to “a volcano out of which suddenly a tremendous cloud of filth came, darkening and soiling everything.”
Hundreds of cases of abuse have been reported across Europe and the United States since he became pope in 2005. Benedict has apologised for the abuse, met with victims and approved stricter rules for dealing with predator priests.
But campaigners say he has not gone far enough in punishing senior clergymen who helped cover up the abuse for years and have condemned a continued reticence by the Catholic Church to work together with police on these cases.
Benedict was also asked whether he would consider resigning as pope.
“Yes,” he responded.
“If a pope clearly realises that he is no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign.”
A former communist, Seewald became Catholic after meeting the cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, with whom he produced two earlier volumes of interviews.
The pope also defended the record of his World War II-era predecessor, Pope Pius XII, saying he “did all he could to save people.”
Pius, who is on the path to sainthood, has been heavily criticised by Jewish groups for not challenging the Nazi regime over the extermination of the Jews.
“Of course one can still always ask ‘Why didn’t he protest more clearly?’ I believe it was because he saw what consequences would follow from an open protest. We know that personally he suffered greatly because of it. He knew he actually ought to speak out, and yet the situation made that impossible for him.”
In 2008, the pope infuriated the Jewish community with a decision to lift the excommunication of a known Holocaust denier, English bishop Richard Williamson.