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Catholics Stand Behind Pope’s Statement that Condoms Save Lives—Urge Conference Attendees to Resist Minority Dissent

May 27, 2011

In an unprecedented statement in Rome’s prominent daily, Corriere della Sera, Catholics for Choice and the Condoms4Life campaign welcome attendees to Saturday’s Vatican conference on HIV and AIDS with the message:

We believe in God.
We believe that sex is sacred.
We believe in caring for each other.
We believe in using condoms.
We thank Pope Benedict for acknowledging that condoms save lives.

(See a copy of the ad here.)

Jon O’Brien, the president of Catholics for Choice, issued the following statement.

“Catholics for Choice welcomes attendees to the Vatican conference this weekend, where we hope you will live up to the challenge of its title, ‘Toward an Equitable and Human Health Care,’ especially as it relates to the prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS. Your mission has clearly been expanded since the pope’s recent acknowledgement that condoms do help save lives and their use is a step toward more humane sexuality when the intention is to prevent the risk of infection.”

The Vatican conference will focus on caring for those living with HIV and AIDS and preventing further spread of the virus and will include discussions about the morality and effectiveness of condom use.

According to its own figures, the Catholic church provides as much as one quarter of all care to people living with HIV and AIDS. The meeting’s organizers have said their purpose is to “throw light on the ways of enhancing the much desired equal access to basic health care, which is at the same time respective of man’s inalienable dignity.”

O’Brien said, “The first ray of light from the Vatican came from Pope Benedict XVI himself last year when he acknowledged that condom use can prevent the spread of the disease. Since then, conservatives within the church have worked to try and muddy this clarity, but Catholic health workers must resist their attempts to roll back progress and endanger the lives and health of millions of people at risk for contracting HIV and AIDS. No longer can the Vatican stand by dangerous statements of men like Cardinal Trujillo, who claimed that HIV could pass through a condom.”

Despite the pope’s remarks recognizing the value of condoms in the fight against HIV transmission, a few vocal, ultraconservative members of the Catholic hierarchy have tried to rewrite the pope’s words and with it the truth about condom use for Catholics and in healthcare delivery by Catholic organizations across the globe. This would not be the first time a minority has tried to hijack progress in the church’s slow march toward a reasonable sexual ethic for Catholics.

O’Brien reminded conference attendees of the risk of following an ill-informed minority whose only rationale for retrenchment is resistance to change. “More than 35 years ago, Pope Paul VI asked for advice on the morality of contraception from experts, including bishops, priests, theologians, women religious, and lay Catholics. While the Birth Control Commission overwhelmingly supported an official statement that using modern methods of contraception was a moral choice for Catholics, a minority prevailed upon the pope, using fear of change to argue for a rejection of common sense, good medical science and the sensus fidelium. That decision has done untold damage to the lives of Catholics and their faith in their leaders. It cannot and must not be repeated today.”

In addition to all the medical and scientific evidence arguing in favor of condom use in any comprehensive HIV prevention program, Catholics around the world support the morality of condom use, saying it is prolife. A poll in 2007 found that Catholics from five countries—the US, Mexico, Ireland, Philippines and Ghana—agreed that condom use is in line with Catholic values. The poll also revealed clear majorities in some countries for changing the Vatican’s position on condoms and supporting condom distribution in any Catholic healthcare institution that receives public funding.

O’Brien said, “It is vital for attendees to illuminate this weekend’s conference with a progressive vision of Catholic healthcare. The needs of people living with HIV and AIDS, their families and their communities will never come second in any ‘equitable and human’ solution.”