Pope Benedict XVI has said the use of condoms is acceptable "in certain cases", according to a new book.
He said condoms could reduce the risk of infection with HIV, such as for a prostitute, in a series of interviews he gave to a German journalist.
The Vatican newspaper ran excerpts on Saturday. The comments appear to soften the Roman Catholic Church's hardline stance, which until now had banned the use of any form of contraception.
When asked whether the Catholic Church is "fundamentally against the use of condoms", the Pope is said to have replied, in the book entitled Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times:
"It of course does not see it as a real and moral solution.
"In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality," he said.
The Pope gives the example of the use of condoms by prostitutes as "a first step towards moralisation", even though condoms are "not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection".
The pope says that the "sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalisation of sexuality" where sexuality is no longer an expression of love, "but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves".
The Church's hardline stance over contraception has led the Vatican to being heavily criticised for its position in the context of the Aids crisis.
On a visit to Cameroon last year, the Pope said the use of condoms could endanger public health and increase the problem of HIV/Aids, rather than help to contain the virus. This drew criticism from several EU states.
Campaigners say condoms are one of the few methods proven to stop the spread of HIV. The book is due to be published on Tuesday.