Page last updated at 06:56 GMT, Thursday, 1 April 2010 07:56 UK

Archbishop acknowledges 'attraction' of contraception

Vincent Nichols
Archbishop Nichols understands the "attractiveness" of contraception

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster says he understands why contraception is seen as "attractive" in tackling global poverty.

But Archbishop Vincent Nichols told BBC WM it was not the Church's role to add to calls for condom distribution.

The Church opposes contraception, because it believes it interferes with the creation of life.

Aid agencies say contraception is an important way for women in developing nations to take control of fertility.

Any form of birth control that might interfere with conception, such as condoms or the Pill, is regarded as sinful by the Catholic Church.

The Church also argues that, in any case, all children should be welcomed as a gift from God.

Asked by BBC WM how Catholic teaching could continue to discourage contraception in poorer parts of the world where the birth rate was rapidly rising, Archbishop Nichols said: "I think when it comes to Third World poverty and the great pressure under which many women are put by men, I can see the arguments why, in the short term, [the] means that give women protection are attractive."

Child abuse

He went on to say that longer term solutions were needed and, as there were already plenty of "champions" of condoms, it was not the role of the Church to add its voice to those.

"If we solve the poverty, then consistently we know that the birth rate comes down.

"If we provide people with security, then consistently birth rates will come down. And they're the radical issues that we should be addressing, not short-term intrusive fixes."

The editor of Catholic publication The Tablet said there had been a "softening" of language from some senior clergy regarding contraception.

But Catherine Pepinster also told BBC Radio 4's Today programme it was hard to tell if that would result in a change in policy.

There were some cardinals and theologians who said using a condom to prevent HIV, a situation when "you're concerned with preserving life and avoiding death... is a good thing", she added.

In his interview, the Archbishop also talked about the child sex abuse scandal currently confronting the Church worldwide.

Protesters display placards and condoms in a basket during a rally at the influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines
Catholic bishops in the Philippines have criticised condom use

Allegations that children have been molested by priests have been growing for years.

Now Pope Benedict XVI has been drawn into the controversy, with critics saying that he failed to investigate an abusive US priest, Fr Lawrence Murphy.

Victims say that Father Murphy may have abused up to 200 boys with hearing impairments.

Archbishop Nichols, who admitted on the Andrew Marr show recently that the Church in England and Wales had had its own share of abuse allegations, said there had been a breakdown in trust across many institutions in Britain, such as politics and the finance industry, as well as the Church.

Despite the Church in England and Wales taking realistic and thorough steps, there also had to be an "honesty and an openness" about what had gone wrong and a search for higher moral standards.

"Our crisis has been real, our addressing it is real, and I think it's repeated, or seen in an echo, in other very important parts of society at the moment.

"We have a lot to do until we get back as a society to the point where we relate to each other on an assumption of trustworthiness."

NOTE 12 April 2010: The headline on this report has been amended to remove any suggestion that the Archbishop expressed support for the use of condoms.

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