In the News 2011
San Francisco Chronicle

My pilgrimage to promote condom use


Like all pilgrims, I was guided from the United States to World Youth Day in Madrid by a belief – in my case, the belief that everyone should know the life-saving truth about condoms. When I hear about communities affected by HIV/AIDS that can’t get condoms at Catholic clinics, or about conservative bishops claiming that condoms actually spread AIDS, it makes me want speak out. That’s why I was at World Youth Day – to tell my peers from all over the world that everyone should protect themselves from HIV and AIDS using this simple, responsible method.

As a Catholic and a reproductive health advocate, I think young people deserve to hear about the values and practices that go into responsible sexuality. It’s a message that hasn’t reached enough young people in the United States. More new HIV infections occur among people under age 30 than any other age group – an average of two young people an hour.

We know that condom use and education can and do save lives. The pope knows it. Unbelievably, some people in the Catholic Church and even in some governments continue to try to block a lifesaving message: that good Catholics use condoms and using condoms is pro-life. It’s time that we said enough is enough.

In the 1960s, the pope convened a commission of bishops, theologians and married Catholic couples to consider lifting the Vatican’s ban on birth control, including condoms. They voted 30-5 to support lifting the ban. That’s right: The pope’s advisers said there’s no good reason to tell Catholics they can’t use contraception. Sadly, a few powerful conservatives couldn’t accept the idea of change and persuaded the pope to ignore the experts and continue the ban, which he did in the encyclical “Humanae Vitae.”

Can you imagine if the pope had listened to the voices of the majority of his commission? What if, instead of the Vatican’s outrageous statements like “HIV can pass through a condom” or that the distribution of condoms “increases the problem” of AIDS, we heard that good Catholics use condoms to protect themselves and people they care about? The world would be a different place.

Last year, in a book-length interview with German author Peter Seewald, the pope acknowledged that condoms can help prevent the transmission of HIV. Pope Benedict XVI noted that using a condom to protect yourself or your partner showed an understanding of a “more humane sexuality.” We couldn’t agree more.

Unfortunately, there are still powerful people with ultraconservative ideas about sex and sexuality who are trying to silence this message. We cannot let them do it again.

The World Youth Day 4 All Coalition came to Spain to share with Catholic young people some critical messages about condom use. We invested in billboards and bus station ads so we could reach as many young people as possible. At the last minute, our permission to put up the ads was revoked by a local advertising company. We were told they could be offensive.

We don’t know who put on the pressure to reject our ads, but we came to Madrid to make sure the message gets out. Our coalition told other young people that we believe in God and we believe that sex is sacred. We invited them to join us in saying that we believe in caring for each other and in using condoms. And together with thousands of young people from around the globe, we thanked the pope for acknowledging that condoms save lives.

This article was originally published by the San Francisco Chronicle.

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