In the News 2007
The Columbus Dispatch

Catholics in poll say condom use OK


It’s a provocative question: Are condoms pro-life because they can prevent the spread of AIDS?Most Catholics say yes, according to a five-nation survey released in observance of World AIDS Day today.

Catholics for Choice commissioned the survey to show that plenty of Catholics disagree with church teachings on contraception, especially when the distribution of condoms can help curb the spread of HIV and AIDS, said Jon O’Brien, president of the Washington, D.C., advocacy group.

The Catholic Church forbids the use of birth control by its members. Married Catholics who want to avoid pregnancy are encouraged to plan sex at times in the woman’s menstrual cycle when fertilization is unlikely. Premarital sex is never permitted.

So while the church is actively involved in HIV/AIDS relief work, it won’t distribute condoms to stop the disease. There has been debate within the Vatican on whether the church could permit condoms when one partner in a marriage has the virus.

Of 1,009 American Catholics surveyed, 79 percent agreed that condoms are pro-life. A majority of respondents agreed in the other countries as well: 90 percent in Mexico, 86 percent in Ireland, 77 percent in the Philippines and 59 percent in Ghana.

The survey of nearly 4,500 adults also asked respondents whether the church position on condoms should change. Sixty-three percent of U.S. respondents said yes and 22 percent said no. Majorities agreed in Ireland and Mexico. In Ghana, 63 percent preferred to stick to the current teaching, and Filipinos were split.

The survey points to a well-known fact among Catholic clergy, said Deacon Tom Berg Jr., vice chancellor for the Columbus diocese. When it comes to educating rank-and-file Catholic clergy about church policy, “We continue to have our work cut out for us,” he said.

There’s an enormous disconnect between the Vatican’s teachings and the way real Catholics live, O’Brien said. This disparity, in the case of the AIDS epidemic, is costing people their lives, and policymakers must know that bishops don’t always speak for the laypeople, he said.

They do in the case of Mark Fleming, 46, a Worthington Catholic who volunteers with a prison ministry and attends Mass daily.

“I firmly believe God is against birth control,” he said. When it comes to AIDS prevention, education and faith are key. “You put God back into the equation, not condoms.”

AIDS presents many complex health and moral issues, and creating a survey with the sole purpose of indicting Catholic teaching is unhelpful, said the Rev. Larry Rice, director of the St. Thomas More Newman Center at Ohio State University.

“Just because we don’t all agree on the way to approach it doesn’t make some of us evil and some of us heroic,” he said.

Research firm Belden Russonello & Stewart in Washington, D.C., conducted the poll of Catholic adults in face-to-face and telephone interviews during August and September. The margin of error is plus or minus about 5 percent in the Ghana portion of the survey and about 3 percent in the other portions.

Catholics pushing for change have had some reasons for hope.

Last year, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the retired archbishop of Milan who was considered for the papacy, said in an interview that the use of condoms can be considered a “lesser evil” to AIDS.

This article originally appeared in the 1 December 2007 edition of The Columbus Dispatch.

Catholics for Choice