Spain's Catholic Church Backs Condoms

MADRID, Spain (AP) _ In a substantial shift from traditional policy, the spokesman for the Catholic Church in Spain has said it supports the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS.

"Condoms have a place in the global prevention of AIDS,'' Juan Antonio Martinez Camino, spokesman for the Spanish Bishops Conference, told reporters after a meeting Tuesday with Health Minister Elena Salgado to discuss ways of fighting the disease.

The Catholic Church has repeatedly rebuffed campaigns for it to endorse the use of condoms in the fight against AIDS. The Vatican states that condoms, because they are a form of artificial birth control, cannot be used to help prevent the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Martinez Camino said the church's stance was backed by the scientific world. He cited a recent study by experts in the medical magazine Lancet that supported the so-called "ABC'' approach of abstinence, being faithful to partners and using condoms.

"The Church is very worried and interested by this problem,'' he said.

There was no comment from the Vatican to the Spanish statement.

Martinez Camino met the health minister as a representative of the church, though it was unclear whether he was expressing the official view of the church.

The change in view was welcomed by the Spanish Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Transsexuals and Bisexuals.

"I think it was absolutely inevitable that the Church would change its stance,'' said federation president Beatriz Gimeno.

The leading daily El Pais pointed out that as recently as November the Spanish Bishops Conference had vehemently opposed the Health Ministry's campaign to promote the use of condoms. The paper quoted Martinez Camino as saying then that it was "gravely false'' to maintain that contraceptives prevented the spread of HIV.

In June, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, said condom use was "a form of Russian roulette'' in fighting AIDS, El Pais said. The remark was roundly condemned by the Spanish government, the World Health Organization and other organizations involved in fighting AIDS, the papers said.

The United Left parliamentary coalition described the change in stance as "a historic advance.''