A study commissioned by Pope Benedict on the use of condoms to fight AIDS has passed its first hurdle and is now being reviewed by top theologians for possible use in a Papal document, a cardinal said on Tuesday.
"This is something that worries the Pope a lot," said Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care.
The Catholic Church opposes the use of condoms and teaches that fidelity within heterosexual marriage, chastity and abstinence are the best ways to stop the spread of AIDS.
It says promoting condoms fosters immoral and hedonistic lifestyles and behavior that will only contribute to its spread. It teaches that homosexual acts are sinful in the first place.
"Following the wishes of Benedict, we carried out a careful study on condoms, both from a scientific and moral point of view," Barragan told a news conference.
Barragan spoke on the day a United Nations report said HIV infections were on the rise in all regions and that nearly 40 million adults and children are infected worldwide.
His department had completed a 200-page study on condoms and passed it on to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which would add its own theological and doctrinal opinions.
The study, which would not be made public, would then be passed on to the Pope, who may use it for his own pronouncement.
"First, we must consider if there is a need for an answer (on the use of condoms) at the supreme level," he said.
He said his department's study was based on scientific data and "took all points of view" into consideration.
"We hope the theologians and the Holy Father will say what is best regarding this subject ... but no response from the Church can be one that encourages a libertine sexual attitude," he said.
Barragan, who spoke at the presentation of a Vatican conference on the pastoral aspects on the treatment of infectious diseases, declined to give any details on the study.
In recent years, several top Church officials have called for a change in Vatican policy on condoms to allow their use by married couples where one partner is affected by HIV or AIDS.
But the Vatican has been loath to issue any document that could be interpreted as a green light for the use of condoms to stop the spread of AIDS, fearing it would endorse promiscuity.