Should Vatican alter condom stance?: Yes
If recent reports are true, and we do see a modest change in official Catholic opposition to the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS, it would be a lifesaver.
UNAIDS, the United Nations program on the disease, reports that there are more than 40 million people worldwide living with HIV. And the epidemic is raging, not tapering off. In 2005, there were almost 5 million new infections and 3.1 million deaths. Some 15 million children have lost one or both parents to the pandemic.
Condoms are one of the most effective ways to prevent HIV transmission. That is a fact.
Yet church officials in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 25 million people are living with the virus, persist in burning condoms and claiming that they causeAIDS because they have “small holes through which the virus can pass.” Access to condoms on the continent and in other developing nations is limited.
A sincere and honest presentation of Catholic theology and Christian compassion would first admit that using condoms to prevent the transmission of AIDS has nothing to do with the church’s opposition to contraceptives. Condoms used to prevent AIDS are comparable to vaccines that prevent deadly diseases – which the church once opposed as being against natural law and now provides in primary health care centers all over the world.
Church officials are the first to remind us that people cannot be treated as a means to anyone else’s end. It is time to apply that principle to people at risk of AIDS: Provide them with education about and access to condoms and let them decide whether to abstain or use them.
I remember the early days of the pandemic in New York. Courageous Catholic health care institutions were often the only place a person with AIDS could die with dignity. That same respect for the dignity of each person now needs to be extended to helping people at risk of contracting AIDS live healthy, sexually responsible and mature lives. No ideology or misguided theology should get in the way of the gospel of love.
Kissling is the president of Catholics for a Free Choice and founder of the Condoms4Life campaign.
This op-ed originally appeared in the 14 May 2006 edition of the New York Daily News.