VATICAN CITY Pope Benedict's acknowledgement that using condoms may be justified to stop the spread of AIDS did not signify a change in the Catholic Church's ban on their use as contraception, the Vatican said Tuesday.
In a statement, the Vatican's doctrinal department said there had been "erroneous interpretations" of the pope's words which had caused confusion concerning the Church's views on sexual morality.
In a book published last month, the pope used the example of a prostitute to say there were cases where using a condom to avoid transmitting HIV could be justified as a "first step" toward moralization, even though condoms were "not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection."
Liberal Catholics welcomed the comments in the book but the conservative wing of the Church expressed concern and Tuesday's statement appeared partly aimed at reassuring them.
The two-page statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said the pope's words on condoms had been "repeatedly manipulated for ends and interests which are entirely foreign to the meaning of his words."
This appeared to be a reference to liberal groups which hailed the pope's words as an opening for the use of condoms as an artificial method of birth control, which the Church does not permit.
The statement said the book did not represent "a break with the doctrine concerning contraception."
"As is clear from an attentive reading of the pages in question, the Holy Father was talking neither about conjugal morality nor about the moral norm concerning contraception," it said.
"The idea that anyone could deduce from the words of Benedict XVI that it is somehow legitimate, in certain situations, to use condoms to avoid an unwanted pregnancy is completely arbitrary and is in no way justified either by his words or in his thought."
The statement specifically rejected interpretations that the use of condoms to stop the spread of AIDS was "a lesser evil."
"The Holy Father did not say -- as some people have claimed -- that prostitution with the use of a condom can be chosen as a lesser evil," it said.
The Church had said for decades the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS was not even part of the solution, even though formal policy on this existed in a Vatican document.
Liberal Catholic groups, AIDS activists and health organizations including the U.N. World Health Organization (WHO) welcomed the words on condoms in the book as a breakthrough.
(Editing by Andrew Dobbie)
(For more on faith and ethics, see the Reuters religion blog FaitbWorld at blogs.reuters.com/faithworld )