The Catholic Church in Spain backtracked from a leading bishop's groundbreaking statement in support of condom use to fight the spread of AIDS, saying instead the church still believes artificial contraception is immoral.
A ruling Socialist politician involved in health care issues said she was mystified by the church's about-face in the space of 24 hours. Gay groups said they regretted the church's return to old policy after its "attack of lucidity." A liberal theologian said the church had quickly backpedaled after the Vatican reaffirmed its opposition to condoms.
The Vatican states that condoms, being a form of artificial birth control, cannot be used to help prevent the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
On Tuesday, Bishop Juan Antonio Martinez Camino, spokesman for the Spanish Bishops Conference, said "condoms have a place in the global prevention of AIDS." He spoke after a meeting with Health Minister Elena Salgado to discuss ways of fighting the disease.
His comments were front-page news in major Spanish papers. The United Left party called the policy shift "historic." The church had locked horns with Spain's progressive-minded Socialist government for moving to legalize gay marriage, streamline divorce proceedings and make it easier for women to have abortions.
But on Wednesday night the conference issued a statement saying the bishop's comments "must be understood in the context of Catholic doctrine, which holds that use of condoms is immoral sexual conduct."
It said abstinence and fidelity among sexual partners are the best ways to combat the spread of AIDS and that scientists agree with this approach. "In accordance with these principles, it is not possible to recommend the use of condoms, as it is contrary to a person's morals," the statement said.
The Spanish Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Transsexuals and Bisexuals, which had welcomed the apparent change in policy — its leader Beatriz Gimeno hailed it as an "attack of lucidity" — said the church had reverted to its old position after coming under pressure from conservatives in Spanish society.