SCOTTISH Catholics have played down the Pope's comment that the use of condoms could sometimes be morally justified.
The reaction followed published extracts from a new book based on interviews with Pope Benedict XVI in which he said there may be a basis for using condoms to fight the spread of Aids in some cases.
Campaigners seized on the quotes as proof the Catholic Church was loosening its position against condoms, condemned by some groups as allowing the spread of HIV, particularly in Africa.
But Scottish Catholic leaders said last night that the Pope was not saying the use of condoms was "moral or virtuous".
Both Cardinal Keith O'Brien and Bishop Tartaglia, who have both read Light of the World which is published on Wednesday, are in Rome and were unavailable for comment last night.
A spokesman for the Church in Scotland said: "Crucially, the Pope is not saying that the use of condoms is moral or virtuous. Nor is he saying that their use can be justified on pragmatic grounds as a policy of Aids prevention.
"The Pope suggests that in exceptional circumstances use of a condom could be a 'first step' in someone recognising their moral responsibility, but it is not the last step.
"The only responsible moral response is to find a different way of living altogether. It is also important to note that in the same answer, the Pope says: 'We cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms.'"
Pope Benedict was interviewed by Peter Seewald for the book and was asked a broad question about the use of condoms, answering with the specific example of male prostitution.
The Vatican also cautioned last night that there was nothing "revolutionary" in the Pope's comments.
The Rev Federico Lombardi said in a statement that the Pope is neither "reforming or changing" the Church's teaching, which forbids use of condoms and other contraceptives.
In the UK, Jack Valero, co-ordinator of Catholic Voices, agreed and said he did not foresee any official change in Church policy.
Mr Valero said the Pope had been "stung" by the backlash to comments he made while on a trip to Africa in March 2009, when he told the reporters the use of condoms "aggravates" the spread of Aids.
But campaigners said the comments by the Pope could "save lives" in the developing world.
A spokesman for sexual health charity The Terrence Higgins Trust said: "The Pope has actually recognised HIV/Aids and the importance of the use of condoms in preventing transmission.This could save lives in parts of the world where use of condoms has been discouraged."
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, one of the Pope's most vocal British critics, said: "The Pope's concession that condoms may be morally justified to prevent the spread of HIV is a significant modification of the Vatican's traditional, hardline stance against all condom use.
"Until now, Benedict XVI has always insisted that opposition to condom use was a fundamental, non-negotiable moral absolute that could never be changed. This new policy is a volte-face."