BENEDICTHANDS2JoeKlamar:AFP:Getty

[Re-posted from yesterday]

He really should be more careful. When pressed on the church's absolute prohibition of condoms, and asked if there could be an exception, his Holiness thought of male prostitutes for some reason:

"There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility," Benedict said.

What this exception to the rule suggests is that sexual morality is not always black and white. Benedict has chosen a case where transmission of new life (barring a real miracle) is already impossible, and where wearing a condom (i.e. not risking infection of a sexual partner) is more responsible than not. The Vatican insists that the general doctrine remains the same.

But what this exception suggests, I think, is that condoms are ok in some circumstances for gays because there is - duh - a moral distinction between fucking someone and knowingly infecting him with a serious disease and fucking someone while avoiding infecting him with a serious disease. Now, this might seem like the bleeding obvious to anyone with a shred of moral sense - but until now, the Vatican has never dealt with such nuances, and certainly not advocated any form of gay sex that might be more moral than other forms of gay sex.

This latter point is revolutionary, in fact, as the Vatican's rather panicked official response suggests.

Yes, I know Benedict is talking of a prostitute; but once you introduce a spectrum of moral choices for the homosexual, you have to discuss a morality for homosexuals. Previously, it was simply: whatever you do is so vile none of can be moral. Now, it appears to be: even in a sexual encounter between a prostitute and his john there is a spectrum of moral conduct.

And so Pandora's box opens. If it represents a "moralization" when a male prostitute wears a condom, would it be another step in his moralization to give up prostitution for a non-mercenary sexual and emotional relationship? In such a relationship, would it be more moral for such a man to disclose his HIV status or not? If he does, would it not be more moral for him to wear a condom in sex than not?

We all know the answer to these questions. They're obvious. The new thing here is that the Church has stumbled backward into acknowledging that gay men exist, that within our lives as gay men, there are constant gradations of moral choices; and so Catholic teaching must apply to us in the gray areas of moral and sexual choices and nuances. Until now, no such guidance was really provided except general prohibition: y'all be celibate, and if you're miserable and alone, so was Jesus on the cross. Now, by conceding one small gradation of moral life, that between a rubbered prostitute and a bareback prostitute, the Pope has moved from his arid abstractions to real morality that might be able to guide real people.

Of course, in a magnificently perverse way, this teaching privileges homosexuals. It's okay for a gay prostitute to wear a condom because he was never going to procreate anyway. But for a poor straight couple in Africa, where the husband is HIV-positive and the wife HIV-negative, nothing must come in the way of being open to procreation ... even if that means the infection of someone you love with a terminal disease.

It's then you realize that the Vatican's problem is not just homophobia. It's heterophobia as well.