He said in an interview book that, if you’re a person who carelessly sleeps around for money and has a disease, having the urge to use a condom to protect your customers is probably a moral step up from just carelessly doing whatever and spreading disease. Protective feelings and thinking about what’s right for you to do to others — that’s a sign of hope, even if your ideas or the way you act on them are wrong.
So he didn’t say condoms were a good thing for such a person to use, or even rightish-ish-ish. Using a condom in such a situation would be just as wrong as usual (not more wrong, not less). The Church’s teaching hasn’t changed on this topic since the days of ancient Rome.
The pope did say that just wishing to restrict oneself in order to protect others (albeit in a totally wrong way) is still some kind of attempt, and potentially opens the heart to turn toward what actually is right. (The right thing to do would be for this person to work to get off the street and respect his own body’s dignity, eventually finding a home and making a real life for himself. Obviously, not easy. So Christians should be helping people to change and grow, with material as well as spiritual and educational help.)
He also said that, all things being equal and the creek don’t rise, the real way to stop STDs from spreading is “humanizing” all people’s ideas of themselves and their sexuality, not “banalizing” it into something you put a Band-Aid on and forget. (Nobody should be satisfied to issue condoms and a pat on the head to people who have real needs and are in trouble. And obviously, if the only people spreading STDs were people happily married to each other and sadly unaware of a previous infection, the spread of diseases like AIDS would be a lot easier to fight.) Often, we wouldn’t treat a dog the way we treat ourselves and those we encounter. Humanization seems like a good idea.
Peter Seewald’s interview books are wide-ranging and interesting. But reading descriptions of excerpts (like mine) — that’s pretty useless. His conversations with the now-pope have been interesting because they are full of complicated thoughts, difficult to pare down into soundbites. You’re better off reading the book than trusting anybody’s synopsis.
Christopher McCamley explains this concept by using a different issue.