Pope Benedict XVI lead Sunday Mass at the Vatican, the day after comments by the pontiff were published suggesting the Roman Catholic Church is relaxing its stance on condom use.
The comments were part of a new book, based on an interview with the pope, to be published on November 23. In it, the pope says using condoms may sometimes be justified to stop the spread of AIDS.
"There may be justified individual cases -- for example, when a male prostitute uses a condom," Benedict is quoted as saying in the interview.
That statement appears to mark a major shift in one of the Vatican's most controversial positions, particularly as AIDS ravages countries in Africa that are strongly influenced by the Roman Catholic Church.
The pope spoke out against condom use as recently as March 2009, during a trip to Africa.
But the Vatican's chief spokesman today said the pope was neither "reforming or changing" the Catholic Church's position banning condom use. Reverend Federico Lombardi emphasized that the church did not consider condoms a "moral solution" to sexually transmitted diseases, such as AIDS.
An American tourist watching the pope's Mass today on a giant screen outside the Vatican said he welcomed Benedict's comments but that more change was needed.
"He needs to change his position on other things, too -- with regards to abortion and other contraception. I mean, it's about time," the man said. "It's about time they realize that AIDS is a problem in the world. And, you know, pretending that it doesn't exist and letting people just go and do what they want -- it doesn't work."
The Roman Catholic Church has come under increasing criticism in recent years for its unwavering opposition to condom use in the face of the global AIDS epidemic.
Benedict has also faced massive public anger over the sexual abuse of children committed by Catholic priests. The pope has taken steps to address the issue this year, acknowledging the church had not been "sufficiently vigilant" in responding to the problem.
A Catholic monk standing outside the Vatican said Benedict's comments on condom use showed that the church is prepared to change with the times.
"The church, throughout history, has demonstrated its openness, and it seems at the moment it is the right time for opening up for certain aspects," the monk said. "I don't know. I can't say otherwise. I don't know what other aspects for opening up there could be. This is a concrete matter that the pope has addressed and understood, and I think it's good."
based on Reuters reports