On the eve of World AIDS Day, Pope Francis admitted Monday that the question about whether the Roman Catholic Church should condone condom use to help prevent the spread of HIV is a complicated issue for the moral of the church.
During an in-flight press conference on the return trip from his six-day visit in Africa, a German journalist asked the pontiff: "We know that condoms are not the only method of solving the epidemic, but it's an important part of the answer. Is it not time for the church to change its position on the matter? To allow the use of condoms to prevent more infections?"
As the Catholic Church has historically opposed all forms of contraception and teaches abstinence is the best way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, Pope Francis responded by saying that he felt that the journalist's condom suggestion would only have a small effect on a larger problems facing the continent, the Catholic News Agency reports.
Additionally, the Pope accused the journalist of asking a biased question.
"The question seems too small to me," Pope Francis asserted. "It also seems like a partial question."
"Yes, it's one of the methods," Francis added. "The moral of the church on this point is found here faced with a perplexity: the fifth or sixth commandment? Defend life, or that sexual relations are open to life? But this isn't the problem."
Francis then linked the question he was asked about condoms to one that Jesus was once asked about whether it is legal to "heal" sheep on the Sabbath."
"The problem is bigger," the Pope said. "This question makes me think of one they once asked Jesus: 'Tell me, teacher, is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?' It is obligatory to heal!" the Pope stated. "This question, 'Is doing this lawful,'…but malnutrition, the development of the person, slave labor, the lack of drinking water, these are the problems."
As HIV/AIDS is a leading cause of death in Africa, Francis shifted the focus of his comments to the need for solving other societal factors plaguing Africa like war and hunger.
"Let's not talk about if one can use this type of patch or that for a small wound, the serious wound is social injustice, environmental injustice," Francis continued. "When all are cured, when there aren't these illnesses, tragedies, that man makes, whether for social injustice or to earn more money – I think of the trafficking of arms – when these problems are no longer there, I think we can ask the question 'Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?'"
"Because, if the trafficking of arms continues, wars are the biggest cause of mortality," the Pope added. "I would say not to think about whether it's lawful or not to heal on the Sabbath, I would say to humanity: 'make justice,' and when all are cured, when there is no more injustice, we can talk about the Sabbath."
As the World Health Organization reports that as many as 1.5 million people around the world die each year because of HIV-related illness, Pope Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, came under fire in 2009 when he suggested that allowing condom use would make the epidemic worse.
In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI somewhat backtracked on his statement by saying that men should use condoms only to prevent spreading diseases to their sexual partners, but maintained that condoms should not be used as a form of birth control.