Catholic bishop "understands arguments for condoms"

LONDON (Reuters) - The leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales has said he understands the attraction of arguments for the use of contraception in the developing world, in an apparent softening of the Church’s line.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols walks past the congregation after being installed as the eleventh Archbishop of Westminster at Westminster Cathedral in London May 21, 2009. REUTERS/Kevin Coombs

But Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols went on to say it was not the Church’s role to support such a short-term fix, adding it would continue to fight poverty, which often contributed to high birth rates.

“I think when it comes to Third World poverty, and the great pressure into which many women are put by men, I can see the arguments why, in the short-term, means that give women protection are attractive,” Nichols said in extracts of an interview released by BBC Radio WM before broadcast on Friday.

“The use of condoms doesn’t lack for champions; there are plenty of champions around giving and distributing condoms. I don’t think it’s the Church’s role simply to add its voice to that but rather, in contrast, to keep saying, “If we solve the poverty then consistently we know the birth rate comes down’.”

The Catholic Church opposes contraception saying it denies the divine gift of life.

Aid agencies and some within the Church have called for a change of policy, saying it endangers women’s lives and contributes to the spread of HIV. But the Vatican has rejected such a move, supporting only “natural” birth control.

Last year, during his first trip to Africa, Pope Benedict said condoms were not the answer to fighting HIV and AIDS, and that they could make the situation worse.

Nichols recently issued a document directed at the British electorate and political parties before a parliamentary election expected on May 6 in which he opposed abortion and stressed the importance of marriage and the family.

“Choosing the Common Good” was seen by some newspapers as veiled support for the main opposition Conservatives who have put marriage at the centre of their tax policy.

The Conservatives are narrowly ahead in opinion polls, hoping to end 13 years of Labour rule.

The Pope, who has been critical of Labour’s equality legislation, is due to visit Britain in September.

Editing by Janet Lawrence