Safety Issues: Group of Catholics launch Condoms4Life Campaign
I know I’ll be accused of beating up the Catholic Church with this column (though honestly, I doubt the Pope loses much sleep over me) — but I’ll take my chances.
The story at hand is the Condoms4Life Campaign being launched at the International AIDS Conference starting today in Toronto. The people behind Condoms4Life are Catholics who believe, and I quote, in God, in the sacredness of sex, in caring for each other, and incidentally, in condom use. They also believe the Vatican’s ban on condom use is killing people. So much for being pro-life.
Members of Condoms4Life are leading a workshop at the IAC on how to answer questions about HIV/AIDS prevention and religion. High on the list of priorities is anticipating and arming yourself for personal attacks. The question is when they’ll come, not if.
Often these personal attacks take the form of holier-than-thous — you’re not a “good Catholic” unless you think like me. These charges are hard to refute, unless you know your church doctrine — or more to the point, the spirit behind the doctrine. Anyone can recite the catechism; it’s harder to speak intelligently to the rationale behind the rules in the catechism.
The folks at Condoms4Life meet this challenge head on. First, they are Catholics. The campaign is spearheaded by Catholics for a Free Choice. These Catholics haven’t left the fold, though many would probably like to throw them out. These ordinary church-goers are joined by at least two dozen Catholic bishops and bishop’s conferences that support relaxing the condom ban. These people are not trying to bring down the church, but rather reform it from within. To that end, they are circulating a petition calling on Pope Benedict to lift the ban on condoms.
Second, and most importantly, the Catholics at Condoms4Life go after the rationale behind the Vatican’s objection to contraceptives and turn it brilliantly to their defence.
Condoms and other contraceptives are banned for a good reason — the best of reasons: The readiness to accept new life at any moment. Banning contraceptives invites a culture of life, instead of a culture of convenience.
And yet, when it comes to HIV/AIDS, banning contraceptives achieves the opposite of its lauded goal. Instead of life, we have death — often of women infected by their own husbands. It’s a horrifying irony.
Condoms4Life meets the challenge posed by religious arguments not by saying religion has no value, but by saying precisely the opposite — that religious values are paramount — life, fidelity, charity. These values are so important, in fact, that we must change our rules when they conflict with our values. And in the case of HIV/AIDS, they most certainly do conflict. The ban on contraceptive use as a way to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS sacrifices the living for the potentially pre-born.
People opposed to condoms like to quibble that condoms don’t really prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. But that’s shifting the plane of the argument. The religious opposition isn’t because condoms don’t work (and there’s plenty of evidence that they do; a UNAIDS report in 2003 found a 90% rate of protection when condoms are used properly). Rather, religious opposition is because condoms are a contraceptive. It’s the contraceptive argument which must be challenged.
Religious leaders who support condom use to prevent HIV/AIDS argue that other church teachings take precedence over the contraceptive ban — namely the importance of preserving life, preventing evil (in the form of spreading HIV/AIDS) and honouring the right of individuals to act according to their own conscience (No. 1782 of the catechism).
Though these people will undoubtedly be accused of bad religion, it sounds to me like they know — and respect — their own religious teachings.
This article originally appeared in the 13 August 2006 edition of the Toronto Sun.