VATICAN CITY -- Despite the Vatican's opposition to condoms, a senior cardinal said in comments published yesterday that condoms were the ''lesser evil" when considering the scourge of AIDS.
''We must do everything to fight AIDS," said Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the retired archbishop of Milan, in Italy's L'Espresso newsweekly. ''Certainly, the use of condoms can constitute in certain situations a lesser evil."
While there is no specific, authoritative Vatican policy on using condoms to protect against AIDS, the Vatican opposes condoms because they are a form of what the church calls artificial contraception. Pope Benedict XVI repeated the Vatican's position last June, when he told African bishops abstinence was the only ''fail-safe" way to prevent the spread of HIV.
The 79-year-old Martini was considered a liberal alternative to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the 2005 conclave that elected Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, pope. Martini is one of the most prominent church leaders to call for an easing of the position on condoms.
Others include Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels and Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan of Mexico, who has said condoms could sometimes be condoned, such as when a woman cannot refuse the sexual advances of her HIV-positive husband.
Martini was responding to questions from the Italian scientist and bioethicist Ignazio Marino, who heads the transplant center at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.
Martini agreed with the questioner that the church could consider condoms a ''lesser evil" than the risk of the disease. ''There's also the unique situation of a married couple, one of whom is afflicted with AIDS. That one is obliged to protect the other, and the other must be able to protect him or herself," the cardinal said.
But Martini noted it's one thing to condone the lesser evil in such cases, and quite another for the church to promote condom use.