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Catholic Group Refutes Bishops’ Claim that Catholic Hierarchy Cannot Ban Condoms

January 10, 2002

New global AIDS campaign irks bishops, who respond with misinformation effort in failed attempt to ban Condoms4Life ads.

Washington, DC–Catholics for a Free Choice President Frances Kissling today refuted claims by the US bishops that the Catholic church does not take an active role in prohibiting the use of condoms.  “The bishops have disingenuously claimed in response to our campaign that they do not have the authority to ban condoms.  In fact the bishops, who control 100,000 hospitals and 200,000 other social service agencies worldwide, ban both education about and the provision of condoms in those institutions,” Kissling said.  She added that as the church claims to provide treatment for 25% of those infected with HIV/AIDS, “Then approximately 9 million people currently infected with HIV/AIDS are treated by a caregiver who denies them information about and actual provision of condoms.”

The statement from Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC) came in response to a failed effort by the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, to ban an advertising campaign by the group that talks about the bishops’ ban on condoms.  The new global campaign from CFFC consists of billboards and ads in subways and newspapers around the world.  The CFFC campaign was launched recently in Washington, DC, where there have been attempts by the Catholic hierarchy—including the distribution of misinformation about condoms—to lobby Metro authorities to stop the ads.

CFFC said that the advertising campaign had proved so successful that they intend to extend it for another month on bus shelters in the metropolitan Washington, DC, area before the campaign goes global at the end of January.

In response to the bishops’ lobbying misinformation concerning the campaign, CFFC released the following fact-based rebuttal:

Claim:  The Catholic church does not “ban condoms” or force nations, organizations, or individuals to act against their will.  (Bishops’ fact sheet)


  • The 100,000 Catholic hospitals and 200,000 social service agencies worldwide are forbidden by the bishops from providing condoms and safer sex instruction. The US bishops’ own rules make their ban on condoms clear. The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, written by the bishops, which govern the 620 Catholic hospitals in the US, clearly state:  “Catholic health institutions may not promote or condone contraceptive practices.” (Directive 52)Not content with just banning condoms in Catholic-controlled health care institutions, the bishops have lobbied to ban them from public schools, hospitals and in advertising: 
    • The New York Catholic Conference in 1991 fought to block a condom-distribution and education program for New York City public schools because it did not give primacy to their message that abstinence is the only way for young adults to protect themselves from AIDS, even as AIDS rates among adolescents increased dramatically. (“Catholic Conference Opposes Condom Distribution,” The Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report, 7/26/91)
    • In 1994, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops lobbied television networks to reject public service announcements on condom use and abstinence produced by the Department of Health and Human Services.  The general secretary of the bishops’ conference claimed the ads “promote promiscuity.”  ABC said it would not run the spots during prime-time “family-oriented” programs.  (“Teen Abstinence in Fantasyland,” Charleston Gazette, 1/11/94)
    • In Connecticut in 1993, local Roman Catholic church leaders lobbied members of the New Haven Board of Education to oppose the provision of condoms at school health clinics.  Rev. Howard Nash, representing the city’s Catholic clergy to the Board of Education, called the program an “official approval of sexual activity.”  (“Condoms an issue for New Haven schools,” The Hartford Courant, 7/20/93)
    • Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza and the Houston-Galveston Catholic Diocese fought to block a condom distribution and education plan by threatening legal action and lobbying school district officials in 1992.  Opponents of the program called it a violation of Texas laws regarding sex among minors.  (“Citizens beg panel to halt condom plan,” The Houston Chronicle, 8/6/92)
    • In Framingham, MA, pastors from five Roman Catholic parishes began a letter writing campaign to the School Committee protesting sex education and condom distribution in public school systems in 1992.  The pastors called the distribution of condoms “troubling.”  (“Priests oppose town’s sex education plan,” The Boston Globe, 6/7/92)
    • In 1992, Los Angeles’ Roman Catholic Archdiocese lobbied school board members to reject condom distribution as part of the district’s AIDS education program.  (“School Board Takes Up Changes in AIDS Program,” Los Angeles Times, 1/7/92)
    • At its annual meeting last year, the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference released an official policy statement confirming its ban on AIDS which stated:  “The bishops regard the widespread and indiscriminate promotion of condoms as an immoral and misguided weapon in our battle against HIV/AIDS.” (Message of Hope, 8/3/01)

    The Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference’s AIDS Office supports 85 projects and programs in Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland and South Africa, making it one of the largest anti-HIV/AIDS programs in southern Africa and active in many of the countries with the world’s highest rate of HIV infection. (“Catholic Church to Rethink Stance on AIDS,” Inter Press Service, 7/16/01)

  • When Scottish Health Minister Susan Deacon unveiled a new sexual education program to help cut the estimated 9,000 unplanned teen pregnancies and 4,000 resulting abortions in that country, Cardinal Thomas Winning, the head of the Scottish Catholic church, accused Deacon of “undermining family life.” He further accused Deacon of “throwing condoms and pills at…vulnerable young people,” but offered no concrete solutions for curbing the rising rates of teen sexual activity and teen STD infection. (“Sexual-education Showdown,” Catholic World Report, March 1996.)
  • The Vatican has consistently opposed condom distribution and safe sex education at UN meetings.  The Vatican delegations to all of the major humanitarian meetings of the 1990s—the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), the Fourth World Conference on Women (FWCW), and the five-year follow up meeting to the ICPD—unequivocally condemned the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and made official reservations to the final conference documents registering their objections to international standards that promote condom use or education.  The delegation to the FWCW stated:  “The Holy See in no way endorses contraception or the use of condoms, either as a family planning measure or in HIV/AIDS prevention programs.” (Statement by Professor Mary Ann Glendon at the Concluding Session of the Fourth International Conference on Women, 9/15/95; see also “Holy See: Partial Association with the [Cairo] Consensus,” First Things, 9/22/94; Statement of Bishop James McHugh to the ICPD PrepCom, 3/24/99.)
  • Shortly after AIDS was declared a national emergency in Kenya and the government officially embraced the use of condoms to curb the epidemic—over the loud objections of the Catholic church—a member of the Kenyan Parliament called the Catholic church “the greatest impediment in the fight against HIV/AIDS.” (“Catholic Stand on Disease Criticized,” The Nation (Kenya), 11/29/99)
  • In 1996, the local Roman Catholic church in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, prevented the distribution of one million condoms by health and election officials at polling stations during a primary election.  Honduras has the highest incidence of AIDS in Central America. (“Honduran Church Blasted for Halting Condom Giveaway,” Reuters, 11/28/96.)
  • In 1996 in Nairobi, Kenya, Cardinal Maurice Otunga, Kenya’s leading Roman Catholic church official, burned boxes of condoms and safe sex literature. (“Kenya-Condoms,” AP, 8/31/96)
  • Last year in Zambia, health officials withdrew a hard-hitting anti-AIDS campaign that urged safe sex and condom use after the church complained that it promoted promiscuity. (“African Bishops Slam Condom Use in AIDS Fight,” Reuters, 7/30/01)

Claim:  Condoms are not a means of prevention.  They do not prevent virus infection every time.  Condoms have a 15% failure rate for the HIV virus [sic].” (Bishops’ fact sheet) 


While condoms are not foolproof, they are highly effective in preventing HIV infection.  According to the CDC, studies examining sexually active people at high risk for contacting HIV have found that “even with repeated sexual contact, 98-100 percent of those people who used latex condoms correctly and consistently did not become infected.”  (How effective are latex condoms in preventing HIV?, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

  • On August 16, 2001, the United National Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS and the World Health Organization issued a statement that said that condoms were “the best defense” in preventing sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. (“Condoms still best defense against sexually transmitted diseases,” UNAIDS, Aug. 16, 2001.) 
  • Condoms, like contraceptives, are not 100% foolproof.  Most condom failure is due to human factors such as the failure to use condoms consistently or incorrect use of the prophylactic.  Many of these problems can be corrected through safe sex education, which opponents of condoms also oppose.  Poorly manufactured condoms, which are sometimes found in the developing world, or those stored at excessive heats for long periods of time, can also fail.  Non-latex condoms, such as those made of sheepskin, are not adequate protect against AIDS because HIV can pass through the larger pores of these condoms. (Do Condoms Work?, Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, Feb. 1995.)
  • Claims that latex condoms allow HIV to pass through are unfounded.  The pores of latex condoms are too small to allow HIV to pass through.  Condoms have been shown to be effective barriers not only to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, but also to herpes simplex, CMV, hepatitis B, chlamydia and gonorrhea.  (“Condoms for prevention of sexually transmitted diseases,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 1998; 37:133-137.)

Claim:  The National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergies [sic] and Infectious Diseases’ Scientific Evidence on Condom Effectiveness for Sexually Transmitted Disease Prevention from July 21, 2001 never refers to condoms as a means of prevention, yet it alludes to “mutual lifelong monogamy among uninfected couples” as the best means of prevention.


  • The report does mention condoms and confirmed that condoms are effective in preventing HIV and gonorrhea.  It said that there is less evidence available that condoms effectively protect against other non-fatal STDs such as human papillomavirus, chlamydia, syphilis, and genital herpes. (“NIH Report Opens Debate on Effectiveness of Condoms Against STDs,” Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, July 20, 2001.)
  • An analysis of the NIH report by Willard Cates, president of Family Health Intentional, notes that the report did not say that condoms do not work against STDs other than HIV, only that there is less data because these diseases have not been as extensively studied.  Furthermore, as “HIV is less easily transmitted and gonorrhea is more easily transmitted during unprotected coitus; thus the condom is more forgiving of imperfect use when it comes to HIV protection.”  Cates concludes:  “Deliberate attempts to characterize the evidence as demonstrating the ‘ineffectiveness of condoms’ constitute a misunderstanding of what the report states.  Moreover, such misrepresentation can undermine the public’s confidence in condoms, thereby leading to nonuse and to further spread of STIs and HIV.”  (Willard Cates, “The NIH Condom Report:  The Glass is 90% Full,” Family Planning Perspectives, Sept./Oct. 2001.)