Austen Ivereigh discussed this a few days ago, but I suspect the import of it is getting a little lost in the media kerfluffle over the church's shocking about face on condoms. My apologies to those who argue 'this is not new,' but seriously: you've got to be kidding (at least insofar as how church "instruction" on the matter has been understood and encouraged to be understood by the broader public). Having said that I will allow that Benedict's remarks on condoms were not as novel as many think. Trying to read the murk for the mercurial (sorry) origins of the Pope's recent comments on using condoms as a step toward moral responsibility will keep Vatican-watchers busy for a long time, but it can't be discounted that this notion has been a personal belief of his for longer than press reports and his previous remarks on condoms suggest.
I'm going to circle around and recommend that everyone revisit Austen's Sunday blog post. I think you'll find a compelling case there that this has been a matter of personal belief by the Pope for sometime, but that church leaders worried that suggestions that condoms could be used to prevent the transmission of HIV would confuse the faithful regarding its artificial birth control ban. A piece written in 2004 for the U.K.'s Tablet picks apart the notion that church moral teaching is "against condoms," using language similar to that deployed by Benedict in his now infamous interview. The article, "The Truth About Condoms," was written by Opus Dei Father Martin Rhonheimer, Professor of Ethics and Political Philosophy at the School of Philosophy of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome and a member of Cardinal Ratzinger's inner circle. As the commissioning editor, Austen must get a lot of credit for both this strong argument from Rhinheimer and the Pope's willingness—finally—to discuss this position openly.
Here is a little of Rhonheimer's piece, which I think clarifies a great deal of the Pope's intention regarding condoms and the why, hows, and whos of using them:
The teaching of the Church is not about condoms or similar physical or chemical devices, but about marital love and the essentially marital meaning of human sexuality. It affirms that, if married people have a serious reason not to have children, they should modify their sexual behaviour by "at least periodic " abstinence from sexual acts. To avoid destroying both the unitive and the procreative meaning of sexual acts and therefore the fullness of mutual self-giving, they must not prevent the sexual act from being fertile while carrying on having sex. But what of promiscuous people, sexually active homosexuals, and prostitutes? What the Catholic Church teaches them is simply that they should not be promiscuous, but faithful to one single sexual partner; that prostitution is a behaviour which gravely violates human dignity, mainly the dignity of the woman, and therefore should not be engaged in; and that homosexuals, as all other people, are children of God and loved by him as everybody else is, but that they should live in continence like any other unmarried person.
But if they ignore this teaching, and are at risk from HIV, should they use condoms to prevent infection? The moral norm condemning contraception as intrinsically evil does not apply to these cases. Nor can there be church teaching about this; it would be simply nonsensical to establish moral norms for intrinsically immoral types of behaviour. Should the Church teach that a rapist must never use a condom because otherwise he would additionally to the sin of rape fail to respect "mutual and complete personal self-giving and thus violate the Sixth Commandment"? Of course not.
What do I, as a Catholic priest, tell Aids-infected promiscuous people or homosexuals who are using condoms? I will try to help them to live an upright and well-ordered sexual life. But I will not tell them not to use condoms. I simply will not talk to them about this and assume that if they choose to have sex they will at least keep a sense of responsibility. With such an attitude I fully respect the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception.