Pope Benedict XVI has suggested that condoms may be justified in some situations to prevent the infection of HIV/AIDS.
A new book, Light of the World, features excerpts of an interview with journalist Peter Seewald in which the pope cites the example of a male prostitute and suggests that it would be acceptable for him to wear a condom.
The pope says: "There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants.
"But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality."
The pope indicates in the interview that the Catholic Church remains opposed to the use of condoms as a means of addressing the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.
He says that the use of condoms are not in themselves a "real or moral" solution to HIV/AIDS but adds that the intention of reducing the risk of infection could be regarded as a "first step" towards a "more human way, of living sexuality."
In response to media headlines reporting that the pope had given the green light to condoms, the Catholic Church in England and Wales insisted that the pope had not wanted to express a position on the problem of condoms in general but had rather wanted to "affirm strongly that the problem of AIDS cannot be resolved solely with the distribution of condoms."
In a statement, it made clear that the pope's comments "cannot be defined as a revolutionary shift."
"The Pope is not reforming or changing the teaching of the Church, but reaffirming it by putting it in the context of the value and dignity of human sexuality as an expression of love and responsibility," it said.
The Bishop of Croydon, the Rt. Rev. Nick Baines, said media reports declaring the pope's support for condoms were a "great example of people hearing what they want to hear."
He said it appeared that the pope had not changed his mind or the Catholic Church's position on condoms, contraception or sexual morality.
He wrote in his blog: "He hasn't even opened the door to exceptions to the Church's rulebook on these matters. He has answered a question with the precision one would expect from him (an academic), but with nuances too sharp for blunt interpreters."
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi clarified, "The pope considered an exceptional situation in which the exercise of sexuality is a real danger to the life of another," as reported by BBC.
The Catholic Church has traditionally prohibited the use of condoms and contraceptives. It believes that the appropriate setting for a sexual relationship is within marriage between a man and a woman.
Critics of the Catholic Church believe its sustained opposition to the use of condoms in the fight against HIV/AIDS is putting people's lives at risk.