updated 12/21/2010 11:43:18 AM ET 2010-12-21T16:43:18

The Vatican on Tuesday clarified the pope's controversial comments about condoms and HIV, saying he by no means suggested their use could be condoned as a means of avoiding an unwanted pregnancy.

The Vatican's moral watchdog, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a statement Tuesday saying some commentators had misunderstood and misrepresented the pope's remarks in a book-length interview released last month entitled "Light of the World."

The Vatican has been under pressure from conservative theologians to issue such a clarification amid widespread confusion about what Pope Benedict XVI meant and whether he was breaking with church teaching.

Story: Vatican shifts ground on condoms, HIV, conception

In the book, Benedict said that condoms weren't the real or moral solution to battling HIV and AIDS. But he said that condom use in some cases, such as for male prostitutes, could be a first step in a more moral and responsible human sexuality.

The Vatican statement reaffirmed that the church considered prostitution "gravely immoral."

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"However, those involved in prostitution who are HIV positive and who seek to diminish the risk of contagion by the use of a condom may be taking the first step in respecting the life of another even if the evil of prostitution remains in all its gravity," the statement said.

It stressed that his logic was "in full conformity with the moral theological tradition of the church."

Bad translation
The pope's remarks have been mired in confusion ever since they were first published ahead of the official release date in an excerpt in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano on Nov. 20.

The official Italian translation of the original German published in L'Osservatore made two translation errors that fueled the confusion: It used the word "justified" in the pope's analysis and also used the feminine version of 'prostitute' as opposed to the masculine — an important distinction given that condoms in heterosexual intercourse are a form of artificial contraception, which the church opposes.

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The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, added to the confusion when he said at the official book presentation on Nov. 23 that he had spoken to the pontiff and asked if it mattered whether the prostitute in question was male or female. Lombardi said the pope told him no, and that it didn't matter if it was a man, woman or transsexual.

In the statement, the Vatican stuck closely to what the pontiff originally said in the interview and stressed that he was not talking about sex between husband and wife or condom use as a means of contraception.

"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 said.

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Video: Pope takes new position on condoms

  1. Transcript of: Pope takes new position on condoms

    NATALIE MORALES, anchor: The pope is addressing difficult issues facing the Catholic Church , including condom use in a book that comes out tomorrow. NBC 's Kerry Sanders already has a copy and he joins us now from Miami . Kerry , good morning.

    KERRY SANDERS reporting: Well, good morning, Natalie . Here is the book, " Light of the World ," by the Pope Benedict XVI , and it's about 200 pages long, but it's near the end where he talks about condom use that will draw the most attention among America 's 68 million Catholics . The book is simply questions and answers, Pope Benedict XVI sat with journalist Peter Seewald in what the Vatican says was an open forum to ask any questions, and it's there on page 118, a question about AIDS in Africa , should condoms be used to prevent the spread of that disease? In one of the longest answers in the book, the pope says in part, "There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom. The church of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality." Was that the pope endorsing the use of condoms?

    Father JOSEPH FESSIO: No, it's not. But it sounds dangerously close, doesn't it?

    SANDERS: Father Joseph Fessio is the publisher of the pope's new book. He's also a longtime friend. When you hear that already the word is out that the pope is endorsing the use of condoms in limited situations.

    Father FESSIO: Right. He's saying it's immoral, but he's saying someone could do it in a particular case having an intention of causing less harm, and that could be a first little step towards a more moral life. But that does not say, 'OK, go ahead use condoms, it's all right.'

    SANDERS: In the book, the pope answers every question he was asked, including some very direct difficult questions about the sex abuse scandal in the


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