March 14, 2013 -- Catholic organizations around the world are still digesting how the selection of Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, now Pope Francis , might impact their work, and that includes disease-prevention efforts.
One way of combating epidemics, including HIV/AIDS, is the use of condoms. But the Catholic Church bans the use of contraceptives. While the new pope is reportedly orthodox on matters of sexual morality, "he takes a slightly more pragmatic view on contraception, believing that it can be permissible to prevent the spread of disease," according to a report in The Guardian.
It's worth noting that while The Guardian indicates that the new pope supports the use of contraception in some cases, other outlets seem to disagree.
The National Catholic Reporter wrote in early March that "Bergoglio is seen as unwaveringly orthodox on matters of sexual morality, staunchly opposing abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception."
It remains unclear where exactly Pope Francis stands on the issue, but even if he holds a strict view, he may choose to make some exceptions. It wouldn't be the first time a pope did so. Former Pope Benedict XVI said in 2010 that the use of condoms might be morally acceptable in some cases to prevent the spread of HIV, but not to avoid pregnancy.
No matter what, Francis' stance will be closely watched and will impact how humanitarian organizations, particularly those fighting AIDS, do their work. The pope has an enormous power to shape the doctrine followed by millions of Catholics around the world. If Pope Francis voices support for contraception to limit the spread of communicable diseases, some Catholic organizations say they are ready and willing to work with the idea.
"We'll follow whatever the church says," said John Rivera, director of communications for Catholic Relief Services, a humanitarian organization based in Baltimore that works to stem the spread of communicable diseases. The organization works in 10 countries around the globe and has reached 300,000 people.
When it comes to stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS, the group currently follows an improvised version of what is known as the ABC approach. They endorse abstinence ("A") and being faithful ("B"), but they don't support the "C" part of prevention -- condoms.
"We've found that this AB approach has been effective," said Rivera.
HIV/AIDS is one of the world's most lethal epidemics; about 1.7 million people died from AIDS in 2011 alone. More than 33 million people worldwide live with the disease, most of them in low- and middle-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa. HIV can be transferred through sexual contact, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and through the use of injection drugs.