Vatican Cardinal ‘Surprised’ by Reaction to Statements About Condoms, HIV Prevention
Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, on Monday said he was "surprised" by the reaction over statements he made on a BBC1 program contending that condoms do not reduce the risk of HIV infection, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/14). Trujillo said in an episode of BBC1's "Panorama" program, titled "Sex and the Holy City," which aired on Sunday, "The AIDS virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon. The spermatozoon can easily pass through the 'net' that is formed by the condom. These margins of uncertainty ... should represent an obligation on the part of the health ministries and all these campaigns to act in the same way as they do with regard to cigarettes, which they state to be a danger." The Vatican, which is opposed to artificial contraception, has consistently refused to encourage the use of condoms to prevent HIV transmission (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/9).
"I propose that the ministries of health require the inclusion in condom packages and advertisements and in the apparatus or shelves where they are displayed, a warning, that the condom is not safe," Trujillo wrote in a response to questions from Agence France-Presse. He added, "This has been done since some time ago with cigarettes, saying that the filter does not guarantee protection" (Agence France-Presse, 10/13). Trujillo said he made the statements on the program because he wanted to make sure that he did not mislead people "by making them think there is safety, when in fact safety is not even proven," adding that speaking of condoms as "'safe sex' is a form of Russian roulette" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/14). The program found Catholic leaders making similar claims about condom permeability, including that condoms can spread HIV, in African, Asian and Latin American countries (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/9).
The World Health Organization on Friday called Trujillo's claims "totally wrong," saying that although condoms can be less effective if they slip, break or are expired, a June 2001 review of the available literature on male condoms found that they are 90% effective at preventing HIV transmission if used consistently and properly, WHO spokesperson Fadela Chaib said. Thomas Quinn, an HIV expert speaking on behalf of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said, "The mechanical barrier is 100% except when there are tears or breaks," adding, "[The Vatican is] going to need to come up with scientific proof to prove that statement wrong because there is a multitude of publications that show that the virus cannot pass through the latex of the condom" (Rachman, AP/Salt Lake Tribune, 10/11). The United Nations Population Fund "deplor[ed]" the Vatican's position. UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid said that its position "is not scientifically accurate, and could contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS" (UNFPA release, 10/13). Cornelius Baker, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Whitman-Walker Clinic asked, "How many more men, women and children have to die from AIDS before this kind of misguided immoral campaign ends?" (WWC release, 10/10).
Kenneth Chebet, director of Kenya's National AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases Control Programme, said that Trujillo's claims are false and that the Kenyan government fears that the Vatican's position on condoms could influence most Roman Catholics not to use condoms (AFP/Yahoo! News, 10/10). One-third of people in Kenya are Catholic, and one-fifth are HIV-positive, the New Scientist reports. The Catholic Church in Kenya has publicly burned condoms, and a pamphlet on AIDS developed by Catholic bishops says, "Latex rubber from which condoms are made does have pores through which viral sized particles can squeeze through during intercourse. These facts must be brought to the attention of our people whenever the condom is being discussed" (Le Page, New Scientist, 10/11). Health Ministry Medical Services Director Richard Muga said that the government would continue to "strongly advise" sexually active people to use condoms (AFP/Yahoo! News, 10/10).
Summaries of an opinion piece and an editorial that address the Catholic Church's stance on condoms appear below:
Orlando Sentinel: "In a perfect world, no one would have sex outside of marriage or a monogamous relationship," but the world "is not perfect," and a variety of approaches is needed to curb the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, a Sentinel editorial says. Therefore, HIV prevention programs should educate people about both abstinence and condom usage, the editorial concludes (Orlando Sentinel, 10/12).
- Pia de Solenni, Wall Street Journal Europe: "No state, government or individual matches" the commitment to HIV/AIDS of the Catholic Church, which provides 25% of HIV/AIDS care worldwide, de Solenni, director of life and women's issues at the Family Research Council, writes in a Wall Street Journal Europe opinion piece. In promoting abstinence and monogamy, the church is "not being anti-science, but rather affirming what science already tells us," de Solenni says, adding that Botswana and Zimbabwe, which are "condom friendly and make condoms readily available," have some of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world, while prevalence rates in Uganda "fell dramatically" as a result of the country's focus on abstinence and monogamy, de Solenni says (de Solenni, Wall Street Journal Europe, 10/14).
MSNBC's "Live with John Elliot and Allison Stewart" on Friday discussed the issue with Judith Auerbach, vice president of public policy for the American Foundation for AIDS Research, and William Donohue, president of the Catholic League (Elliot/Stewart, "Live with John Elliot and Allison Stewart," MSNBC, 10/10). The full segment is available online in RealPlayer. This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.