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At St. Matthew's, faithful have mixed views as they ponder pope's comments on condom use

Pope Benedict XVI says in a new book that condoms can be justified for male prostitutes seeking to stop the spread of HIV, a stunning comment for a church criticized for its opposition to condoms. (Nov. 20)

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 28, 2010; 7:52 PM

The gray-haired chief usher for the Latin Mass was headed with his metal cane for the steps of Washington's Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle when he paused to consider the latest church teaching on condom use.

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"As a Catholic," said Lucius Robertson, 91, he opposed the use of condoms. "As a John Doe," he said he approved.

"It's strictly personal," he added, "a singular decision."

Mixed feelings were common Sunday among Catholics attending Mass at St. Matthew's at they tried to understand statements last week by Pope Benedict XVI that appeared to ease the church's long-standing ban on using condoms.

In a new book, the pope indicated that condoms could be used to prevent the spread of life-threatening diseases, like HIV. In the past, official church teaching has forbidden condom use under all circumstances, as part of its opposition to birth control.

Experts have been debating whether the pope's comments, which the Vatican has sought to clarify, opened the door to discussion of the broader ban, even as many American Catholics have already indicated they disagree with it.

A 2003 Washington Post poll found that 88 percent of Catholics believed that using a "birth control pill or condoms" was morally acceptable.

Much of that sentiment was in evidence at St. Matthew's Sunday.

"I don't think there should be a ban on condoms," said Kay Gautsch, 68, who was visiting from Racine, Wis. "The pope says use them for AIDS prevention, but I think birth control is very important.

"On the alternative, you have abortion, you have children [whose] parents can't afford their kids," she said. "I think that's responsible parenthood, to use condoms and limit the size of your family."

"I would hope the ban would change," she said. "People are using their common sense and . . . responsible health concerns when they use condoms. It's a good thing."

Marie Claire Odell, 50, of Silver Spring, who was just leaving church, said the apparent easing of the ban was due.

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