AIDS Challenges Catholic Church’s Opposition to Condoms, Washington Post Reports
Although many organized religions have responded to the HIV/AIDS crisis by providing care and support for the sick and their families, their stance against condoms has hampered prevention efforts around the world, the Washington Post reports. Most "significant" is the Roman Catholic Church's ban on all forms of contraceptives, including the use of condoms for HIV prevention. The church's official position on contraception was set forth in July 1968 in Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae, which stated that "[e]very action" that would "interfere" with conception was not permissible "even for the gravest reasons ... even when the intention is to safeguard or promote individual, family or social well-being." The Church leadership has stuck to that line despite attempts by some theologians to allow for condom use to prevent HIV transmission through the doctrine of "lesser evil," saying that it would be acceptable for a married person who contracted HIV by being unfaithful to use a condom to protect their spouse from the disease.
Last month, the South African Bishops Conference debated endorsing condoms for HIV prevention in light of the region's HIV/AIDS epidemic, but ultimately decided against allowing the contraception, calling "widespread and indiscriminate promotion of condoms ... an immoral and misguided weapon in our battle against HIV/AIDS" because they "undermin[e] abstinence and marital fidelity." This adherence to strict church doctrine "contributes to the widespread stigma and discrimination against people with AIDS," according to many activists.
Hampering Prevention Efforts
The Catholic Church has been a "crucial player" in the global response to HIV/AIDS, providing "more direct care" to people with HIV/AIDS and their families than any other institution, the Post reports. The Vatican has led the fight for an increase in international spending on the disease, but it has also been the "loudest and most consistent voice" raised in opposition to condom use, sometimes publicly questioning the efficacy of condoms in stopping HIV transmission. International organizations that have tried to work with the church to change its stance, realizing that church doctrine is unlikely to change, have asked the church not to condemn condom use publicly. "What we've asked of the churches, particularly the Catholic Church, is that if you can't say something nice about condoms, don't say anything at all. Concentrate on (abstinence and fidelity) ... Don't give misinformation" that condoms do not work, Paul Delay, head of USAID's AIDS programs, said.
Despite many religious organizations' public disapproval of condoms, others are working to promote condom awareness and HIV prevention. The Islamic Medical Association of Uganda supported a "model" prevention campaign last year, while a coalition of Muslim and Christian leaders in Senegal have worked together on a government campaign that promotes abstinence, fidelity and condoms, which have "dramatically" slowed the spread of HIV. Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of the Anglican Church has been "instrumental" in asking religious leaders to promote HIV prevention efforts, and the World Council of Churches, a group that represents 342 Christian churches, has been an "outspoken supporter" of HIV prevention efforts. "AIDS is ... not a divine curse. It is a disease and there is no cure, but you must not run away from people with AIDS," Imam Ousmane Gueye of Senegal said. Many clerics in the Catholic Church also privately support condom initiatives and do not condemn parishioners who use them. Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, noted that while visiting a group of nuns in the Ivory Coast, the mother superior showed him materials on condom usage. "I said, 'My goodness, Mother, you're promoting condoms.' She told me: 'When I show this, I speak as a woman and not as a nun.'" One priest acknowledged that as long as a priest or nun "does not deviate from doctrine in public statements," he or she runs little chance of getting into trouble with Church authorities (DeYoung, Washington Post, 8/13).