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The Church and Condom Sense May 28, 2006 2:31 PM

The Church and Condom Sense

by Laura Lambert
05.17.06

Will the Roman Catholic Church lift its ban on condoms?

The Vatican has been steadfast in its official opposition to condoms, as part of its overall stance against contraception. The use of condoms, the Vatican has said, is immoral. But in the wake of the global HIV/AIDS pandemic and amidst growing outcry within certain ranks of the church, the Vatican has been pushed to reexamine the issue. Pope Benedict XVI himself recently commissioned a council to study the acceptability of condoms in the fight against HIV/AIDS — though through a narrow lens, focusing on the issue of HIV/AIDS within heterosexual marriage.

While conflicting reports make it unclear whether such a study presages a formal change in the Vatican's stance, or merely an internal exploration, it has brought the issue of the church and condoms to the forefront.

"Abstinence is fine as an ideal, but it does not work in all circumstances. What about the vulnerable women who don't have that option?"

What happens when the church's "culture of life" and the death toll of HIV/AIDS collide? Can condoms be considered an acceptable "lesser evil" in the time of HIV/AIDS? Which will prevail — disease or doctrine? It is, as stated in a recent New York Times article, "one of the most complicated and delicate [issues] facing the church."

Humanae Vitae

The modern history of the Catholic Church and its stance on condoms can be traced to the 1968 encyclical letter of Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, subtitled "On the Regulation of Birth." In it, Pope Paul VI prohibits all means of artificial contraception — reaffirming the church's age-old teachings.

Humanae Vitae emerged in the early days of the birth control pill and changing notions about sex and sexuality. According to polls from that era, an increasing number of Catholics believed the Vatican should sanction birth control — by 1965, the rate was 63 percent. And there were signs of change within the church, as well.

An internal study carried out in the mid-1960s by Vatican-appointed theologians and laymen overwhelmingly found that birth control was not, in and of itself, evil. The commission agreed that Catholics could be allowed to choose for themselves whether and when to use birth control. Nevertheless, Pope Paul VI rejected the majority opinion and cemented the church's official ban with his 1968 decree.

Straight away, Catholic bishops throughout the world — from Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States — spoke out, stating that circumstances existed in which a Catholic's conscience could prevail against the ban on contraception — if a woman's life were in danger, for instance.

But the beliefs set out in Humanae Vitae held — and it has remained the official prevailing doctrine since. Then, in the 1980s, HIV/AIDS began to change the world, and many Catholic leaders began to see condoms in a different light.

Catholic Leaders on Condoms

Catholic leaders began to speak out about condoms and HIV/AIDS as early as 1989. That year, the French Bishops Council encouraged widespread HIV/AIDS education, stating decisively, "Prophylactic measures exist." Cardinal Archbishop of Paris Jean-Marie Lustiger recognized that those with HIV/AIDS infections who could not live in chastity should use means to "prevent infection of others."

Four years later, the German Bishops Conference agreed that condoms could be appropriate within a marriage touched by HIV/AIDS, saying "The church ... has to respect responsible decision-making by couples." And in 1996, the French Bishops Council condoned condom use for individuals at risk for HIV "for whom sexual activity is an ingrained part of their lifestyle."

In 2000, Bishop Eugenio Rixen of Goias, Brazil, stated that the Catholic principle of "the lesser of two evils" justified the use of condoms, deeming it "less serious, morally speaking, than getting infected or infecting other people with the AIDS virus." Then, in 2001, Bishop Kevin Dowling, of Rustenburg, South Africa, challenged the Vatican's ban outright, having seen, firsthand, the plight of women and men stricken with HIV/AIDS in a poor mining town in South Africa.

And yet, even as these views bubbled to the surface, other church leaders sought to drown them out. Some went so far as to blame condoms for the HIV/AIDS pandemic. (cont.)

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 May 28, 2006 2:32 PM

Archbishop of Nairobi Raphael Ndingi Nzeki has called condoms "a licence [sic] for sexuality" and suggested that HIV/AIDS had spread so quickly and so far because of the availability of condoms. And, in 2003, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, falsely suggested that condoms were not reliable for safer sex, alleging that the HIV virus could pass through "pores" in the latex — despite consistent scientific findings to the contrary. In his 2003 document, "Family Values Versus Safe Sex," Trujillo states that condoms, instead of inhibiting the spread of HIV/AIDS, promote it.

In lieu of acknowledging that condoms can prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, the church has emphasized abstinence until marriage and fidelity within marriage. Just last year, Pope Benedict XVI underscored that point in a speech to African bishops, claiming that abstinence and fidelity were the only "fail-safe" ways to prevent HIV/AIDS.

But what about when abstinence and fidelity fail — as they so often do? "Abstinence is fine as an ideal, but it does not work in all circumstances," said Bishop Dowling, in an interview with The Washington Post. "What about the vulnerable women who don't have that option?" he asked. "What about realizing that the official church in circumstances of human living does not respond to that reality?"

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salaam Ginger!! May 29, 2006 9:33 AM

salaam girl!!  missed you sis...pray all is well with you hun...

wow-the Catholic church has come a long way -relatively....their stance against contraceptives has been SO strong historically...we are making some advances in the religious arenas...thank you for posting those articles...many churches (non-catholic) now discss HIV/AIDS openly-n the pulpit!  when christian, my pastor was fiirst ever to take HIV test on pulpit, during sermon..made national news..many others followed suit shortly after...since religion has been and continues to be a large part of many peoples lives, it is up to the spiritual leaders to bring this issue to the forefront...they just dont know the influence they have over a given community..or,perhaps they do...

love you Ginger

hugs, A'isha

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 May 30, 2006 2:29 PM

Ginger... Great article....

A'isha.. .... It is so true... the religous leaders do have such a great impact on our communities and it's people.  I wish there was a "set way" to approach community religous leaders with the message that the need for them to speak up for the cause can only benifit their Church memebers and all community member's as well....

~Hope & Peace~

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Enviroment! August 13, 2006 11:57 PM

Eventually? Humans - people must realize "we must protect our environment or protect ourselves from it!"~Smile
AIDS is in "the water" figuratively perhaps but each other carry the disease -_ potentially fatal and a hellacious burden at best!
Mother Earth. Do not Mothers Protect? Could this be simply the message to take to HEART here on EARTH?

Father - Son - Holy Spirit.

With ALL due respect?. 

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LEO'S ANGEL'S FOR HIV/AIDS ADVOCACY; KEEPING A BROTHERS DREAM ALIVE
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