South African Catholic Church Condemns Condom Use To Prevent HIV Spread
The South African Roman Catholic Church this week condemned promotion of condoms within the country, saying it fails to curb the spread of HIV and may increase promiscuity, Reuters reports. Cardinal Wilfred Napier said there is "no evidence" that condom promotion works to prevent HIV transmission and that, as a contraceptive, condoms have a failure rate. "Can you show me one example where condoms have stopped the spread of AIDS?" he asked, adding, "If you look at South Africa, millions have been spent promoting condoms, and we have one of the highest rates in the world. By promoting condoms, we are promoting immoral behavior." Napier said that promiscuity is "more damaging" than the HIV/AIDS pandemic, according to Reuters. Napier cited Uganda as the only success story in the fight against HIV/AIDS and said the country promotes abstinence instead of condoms. "If we look at the one example of success we have, which is Uganda, then there is a clear message that it was a return to moral values that has halted the disease," he said, adding, "Where condoms have been promoted, we have not seen the effect we've seen in Uganda." However, Uganda promotes both abstinence and condom use and has made condom distribution a "mainstay" in its fight against HIV/AIDS, according to Reuters. Napier also said that educating children and young people about condoms encourages them to engage in sexual activity. "This is a devastating disease," he said, adding, "You've got to challenge where the problem lies, and that is in practicing irresponsible behavior" (Apps, Reuters, 1/26).
Pope John Paul II on Saturday reiterated the Roman Catholic Church's opposition to the use of condoms, saying that "respect of the sacred value of life and formation about the correct practice of sexuality" is the church's position on the issue. The pope's comments followed a week during which the Spanish Roman Catholic Church for the first time appeared to have indicated acceptance of the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV, although Spain's Conference of Catholic Bishops later backtracked on the comments. Last week, Spanish Bishops Conference spokesperson Bishop Juan Antonio Martinez Camino, following a meeting with Spain's Health Minister Elena Salgado to discuss the fight against HIV/AIDS, said that "condoms have a place in the global prevention of AIDS," adding, "The church is very worried and interested by this problem." Martinez Camino also said the Spanish Roman Catholic Church is willing to cooperate with the country's Socialist government, which in November 2004 launched a campaign promoting condom use, to address the "grave problem" of HIV/AIDS. "The moment has arrived ... for joint work," Martinez Camino added. However, the Spanish Conference of Catholic Bishops last week released an unsigned statement saying that Martinez Camino's comments "must be understood in the context of Catholic doctrine, which holds that the use of contraceptives implies immoral sexual behavior." The statement said, "It's not true that the church has changed its doctrine on condoms," adding, "It's impossible to advise the use of condoms" under Catholic doctrine. The bishops went on to say that sexual abstinence or monogamy are the "only successful" ways to prevent the spread of HIV (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/24).
The South African HIV/AIDS treatment advocacy group Treatment Action Campaign criticized the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference for opposing condoms in the fight against HIV/AIDS, South Africa's Star reports. TAC spokesperson Denis Matwa said Napier's comments had set back the group's work "by years, especially in townships" where people are reluctant to use condoms, according to the Star. "It's a sorry situation to find a person of such influence preaching such a message," Matwa said (Jasson da Costa, Star, 1/26). Matwa also said he thought it was "surprising" that Napier cited Uganda as an example because when Matwa visited recently, "there were condoms everywhere, in libraries, schools and even churches," the SAPA/Business Day reports. "The cardinal is coming with a stupid message. It's either you use a condom or face premature death," Matwa said, adding, "We are a very sexually active nation. If you divide the number of condoms that is freely available to the public, it is not enough" (SAPA/Business Day, 1/25). UNAIDS estimates that the average man in sub-Saharan Africa only has access to three condoms a year (Reuters, 1/26). Matwa said TAC was urging the government to make more condoms available to the public (SAPA/Business Day, 1/25).
Bishop Boniface Lele of Kitui, Kenya, said condoms could "mean the difference between life and death," the East African Standard/AllAfrica.com reports. He said HIV-positive couples "faced with the sad prospect" of having their family "wiped out" by the disease could prolong life by using condoms, which might be a "lifesaver" in such situations, according to the Standard/AllAfrica.com. However, Lele maintained that he fully supports the Catholic Church's stance on condoms and denied reports that he is appealing for a review of the church's position. Lele said that "emerging circumstances in the life of the living church confront our conscience every time members of our church are under threat." Nairobi Catholic Archbishop Ndingi Mwana'a Nzeki and Muslim officials have teamed up to burn condoms at Uhuru Park in Nairobi (Openda, East African Standard/ AllAfrica.com, 1/26).