In the Catholic magazine America, James Martin, S.J., wrote regarding Pope Benedict XVI’s “comments about the use of condoms in the prevention of passing on HIV/AIDS:”
Once again, the Catholic Church has not changed its teaching on the use of condoms as a means of birth control. Nor has the church “officially” changed its teaching on the use of condoms: an interview is not the same as an encyclical or a document from a Vatican congregation. But the previously out-of-bounds discussion about whether condoms can be used as a means to prevent the spread of disease is now in-bounds. That is change, by any definition. And that change is a good one, for if it moves the conversation ahead, it may mean a further lessening of the spread of HIV/AIDS and the prevention of death. It is a pastoral approach that has listened to the voices of many in the field–Catholic lay health care workers, moral theologians, bishops, priests, sisters and brothers–who have reflected on their experiences ministering to those living with AIDS, especially in the developing world. As such, it may be seen as a new kind of pro-life initiative on the part of the Holy Father.
Read the entire post here.
Regarding the use of latex condoms to prevent Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), Pope Benedict XVI now says, yes. Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi “told reporters Tuesday” that it wasn’t just a matter of HIV-infected male prostitutes seeking to prevent infection of their partners:
“I personally asked the pope if there was a serious, important problem in the choice of the masculine over the feminine,” Lombardi said. “He told me no. The problem is this … It’s the first step of taking responsibility, of taking into consideration the risk of the life of another with whom you have a relationship.”
“This is if you’re a man, a woman, or a transsexual. We’re at the same point. The point is it’s a first step of taking responsibility, of avoiding passing a grave risk onto another,” Lombardi said.
The clarification is significant.
Pope Benedict XVI has rethought his March 17, 2009 remarks to journalists aboard his flight to Cameroon. On that occasion, he put himself at odds with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and ruled out use of condoms to prevent AIDS:
One cannot overcome the problem with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, they increase the problem.
The solution can only be a double one: first, a humanization of sexuality, that is, a spiritual human renewal that brings with it a new way of behaving with one another; second, a true friendship even and especially with those who suffer, and a willingness to make personal sacrifices and to be with the suffering. And these are factors that help and that result in real and visible progress.
The change is startling and, Lombardi made clear, it is not something the pope somehow stumbled into:
“He did it because he believed that it was a serious, important question in the world of today,” Lombardi said, adding that the pope wanted to give his perspective on the need for a greater humanized, responsible sexuality.
The Vatican is displeased with Kepler scientific secondary school in Rome’s decision Wednesday to install condom vending machines for students. To be in the girls’ and boys’ toilets, they will sell condoms at half the usual retail price.
They didn’t do it just to provoke the Vatican. The London Daily Mail reports:
In a recent survey of 7482 students in Italy by the Ministry of Health on sexual knowledge, 18 per cent admitted regularly having intercourse without using a condom, which officials said had contributed to rises in sexually transmitted diseases.
Other Italian schools and British schools are considering the same action. The British have an additional reason, again from the Daily Mail:
According to he latest figures available from the Italian Ministry of health the teenage pregnancy rate is six per 1000 girls aged between 15 and 19, compared to 26.4 in the United Kingdom – one of the highest in Europe.
The Philippines National Press Club has agreed to host the condom debate between Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral and Archbishop Ramon Arguelles and Bishop Deogracias Ynigue. The two bishops challenged her after calling for a ban on condom ads and warnings on condom packages. As a condition of her acceptance, Harvard Medical School trained Cabral insisted that the focus of the debate be scientific, not religious beliefs.
This will be interesting, and perhaps so much more so for those who can actually be there.
President Nereo Odchimar of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) also called for warning labels saying “Condoms may fail to protect from AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.”
ABC-CBN News reported:
Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral has come under fire from the CBCP for promoting condoms as part of the battle against HIV-AIDS. The health secretary said the distribution of condoms is part of the health department’s 3-pronged approach to combat the spread of HIV in the country.
Data from the Department of Health (DOH) showed a total of 4,400 HIV/AIDS cases from 1984 to December 2009. Since the Philippines started monitoring the disease, the number of cases has gone up from 1 to 4,424 confirmed cases.
. . .
“At the rate we are going, in 3 years, we are going to have more than 30,000 people with HIV/AIDS in the Philippines,” the health secretary said.
The CBCP position is in keeping with that of Pope Benedict XVI, albeit not with the conclusions of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga. Specifically regarding epidemiology, the CDC concludes:
Overall, the preponderance of available epidemiologic studies have found that when used consistently and correctly, condoms are highly effective in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV infection and reduce the risk of other STDs.
No, the world leader in matters epidemiological is not recommending a warning label or otherwise somehow supporting CBCP attempts to suppress condom use in the Philippines.
Philippine political figures respond that a ban on condom ads might infringe on freedom of speech. According to INQUIRER.net, Senator Mar Roxas “advised the Catholic church to just prod its followers not to use condoms.”
The debate over ads is part of an ongoing furor over contraception in which the bishops earlier called for Cabral’s removal from office. They seemed to be especially offended by his Valentine’s Day condom distribution effort.
Condomonium ensued following news that four “Catholic High Schools in the Archdiocese of San Francisco are scheduled to host a performance of the condom-endorsing sex-education play Secrets:”
The play depicts a teenager who is HIV positive. Some content in Secrets was considered, by the Fremont, California Unified School District, to be sufficiently graphic to require that a permission slip be signed by parents before their child would be allowed to see it. The Fremont Unified School District also posts an online flyer (in English and Chinese) for parents, informing them of the performance, and inviting them to watch a video of Secrets before giving their permission. The flyer also describes two of the scenes: “A character dumps dozens of brightly wrapped condoms on the floor with a discussion about which type of condoms are the best to use and how to use them effectively.”
Forecast? Cloudy with a chance of fallout.
AIDS, condoms and contraception are a concern even for “superstar” Catholic theologian Hans Kung.
One of the architects of the second Vatican council and also the first major Catholic theologian to attack the concept of papal infallibility, Kung said in an interview this week with euronews:
The Pope is without any doubt a figure who embodies hope in the fight against corrupt dictators and regimes, and this is why I am saddened. The Pope didn’t seize the opportunity to tell people reasonable family planning and sensible contraception is justified.
The interview deserves close attention and we will come back to it, later.
The United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ have joined together in support of distribution of condoms and comprehensive sexual education by houses of worship and faith-based education institutions.
Their initiative contradicts recommendations which follow from Pope Benedict XVI’s plane-board statement during his visit to Africa that “You can’t resolve [AIDS] with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, it increases the problem.”
The Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, the UCC’s executive for health and wholeness advocacy, urges a more scientific and compassionate approach to the prevention of HIV. “The availability of condoms as part of a comprehensive approach to HIV prevention sends the right message and more importantly, it saves lives.”
Shuenemeyer said, “The message is rooted in the belief that loving carefully is a moral responsibility. The practice of safer sex behavior is a matter of life and death. People of faith make condoms available because we have chosen life so that we and our children may live.”
The United Church of Christ HIV and AIDS Network (UCAN) speaks directly to a key issue in the raging international debate over condoms and sex education, and is on sound behavioral ground, when it says:
There is no evidence that making condoms available promotes sexual activity. In fact, condoms, when distributed with educational materials and integrated into a broader, more comprehensive prevention package, have been shown to delay sexual debut among those who are not sexually active. Among sexually active youth, HIV prevention education programs have resulted in a reduced number of partners and increased condom use.
UCAN says making them available does provide “opportunities to open conversations that can save lives. In this context, condoms become educational tools.”
They are in good faith striving to follow the best available science.
The 27 March Facebook group is protesting Pope Benedict XVI’s condemnation of use of condoms by sending him a few (tens of thousands, even millions).
The group had close to 30,000 members as of this writing. The organizers expect(ed) to send 60,000 condoms to the Vatican on Friday. Der Speigel reports:
Similar social networking groups supporting the condom campaign have sprung up elsewhere on Facebook, triggering pledges of participation from across Europe and beyond. Some estimate that deliveries to the pontiff may total 5 million. One Web site calls on people to either send a real condom addressed to “His Holiness” at the Vatican or a photograph of the contraceptive to his email address.
He went on to say of himself and other members of the group:
. . . none of this group believes that the condom is the “holy hands” to the eradication of HIV from Africa, but there is one thing that has never been emphasized: the Pope’s words were not in Africa. The condom is used throughout the world . . . no one should make it possible to convey the message that the condoms do not drastically lower the risk of infection.
Try a thought experiment: There are two large groups of people of both sexes. Each group is half and half not HIV-positive. Members of one group have sex using condoms. The group other does not us condoms. What do you expect?
The ongoing criticism of the Pointiff’s condom remarks has made some church officials unhappy. The London Telegraph reports:
Senior Catholics rallied to the Pope’s defense this week, with the head of the Italian Bishops Conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, saying the depth of opprobrium directed towards the pontiff had “been prolonged beyond good reason.”
What the critics seek, however, is the change of Vatican policy they believe reason requires. Thus the number of protest-participating Facebook groups is multiplying, along with the number of voices raised in disagreement with the Pope’s unretracted remarks.
It did so after spawning an international uproar over the original post-facto editing of the Papal words. The Pope told reporters that distribution of condoms to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic “even aggravates the problems.” The Vatican published an official record which said condoms merely “risked” aggravating the problem.
The rollback to “aggravates” does not nullify The Lancet’s suggestion that “the Vatican’s attempts to tweak the Pope’s words, further tampering with the truth, is not the way forward.” It underlines the Vatican’s problem.
Surviving ink-stained wretches, creatures of newspaper newsrooms, know corrections must be published with attendant apologies, not circumvented. The Vatican has merely made another “tweak,” lacking acknowledgment of and repentance for the original error. We all know that if we sweep enough things under the rug, our audience’s faith in our integrity will go there as well.