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Condoms4Life Issues Good Shepherd Awards to Catholic Bishops from Four Countries on World AIDS Day

November 30, 2004

Catholics for a Free Choice applauds efforts of some bishops who have made common sense steps to permit limited use of condoms and chastises as “lost sheep” those bishops who have impeded prevention efforts.


WASHINGTON, DC—As the world marks the 17th World AIDS Day on December 1, 2004, the Condoms4Life campaign, a project of Catholics for  Choice, has issued Good Shepherd Awards to some Catholic bishops for their positions on condom use to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

“In 2004, the Catholic church has been both a positive and negative influence on stemming the pandemic and promoting a responsible policy on HIV/AIDS prevention,” said Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, which initiated the Condoms4Life campaign. “Condoms4Life issues these awards to encourage those bishops who demonstrate sanity, compassion and justice when confronted with HIV/AIDS. While focusing on progress within the church, we also want to call attention to those bishops whose actions are harmful to those at risk of HIV and AIDS.”

Church authorities estimate that 26.7 percent of the centers dedicated to treating HIV/AIDS in the world are Catholic-affiliated. This would make the Catholic church the largest institution in the world providing direct AIDS care. However, those who seek services from a Catholic provider are unlikely to receive adequate information about condoms or access to condoms as a means of preventing transmission of the disease.

Good Shepherds
This year, the Commission for Health of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) receives the Condoms4Life Good Shepherd Award. In September, the Catholic church in India began to construct its first policy on HIV/AIDS prevention. While the institutional church has historically been hostile to condom use and even spread misinformation to deter people from using condoms, the bishops of India are developing a policy to provide people with information about condoms.

According to James Veliath, coordinator of the CBCI program on HIV/AIDS in the northern region, “The church will not be promoting or propagating the use of condoms. We will, however, provide all information about it. In case a couple wants to use it, we would suggest they speak to their pastor and then take a decision based on what their conscience says.”

Condoms4Life acknowledges the courage of the 11 bishops who participated in the development of the HIV/AIDS Policy of the Catholic Church in India.

However, India’s bishops are not alone in the move toward a sensible position on condoms this year. In January,Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium articulated on Dutch public television a highly nuanced position on AIDS prevention that accepts the church’s position on abstinence but acknowledged that if sexual relations are going to occur between people who are at risk, condoms should be used. “When an HIV-positive person says to his partner, ‘I want to have sexual relations,’ he must use a condom,” said the cardinal. “Morally, it cannot be judged on the same level as when a condom is used to reduce the number of births.”

Also in March, Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, South Africa, continued his leadership on this issue when he addressed an audience of 200 at Boston College in Massachusetts. “Abstinence before marriage and faithfulness to a single partner within a stable marriage – obviously, those are key to good living [and] to avoid infection. However, the church ministers in the real world… the church should give people [all] the options, one of which is to use a condom, not as a contraceptive, but to prevent transmission of a death-dealing virus,” he told the crowd. Using the 1968 papal encyclical condemning artificial contraception but supporting the use of oral contraceptives to control menstrual bleeding, the bishop argued that condoms play a similar medical role in stemming the spread of AIDS. The church prohibits the condom as contraception, but when used to protect against AIDS, “it’s not being used as a contraceptive. The basic principle is there to be at least discussed. People end up in relationships for a variety of reasons. Their journey in life takes them to decisions about sexuality for many reasons. I believe the church should be fundamentally experienced by people as a revelation of the compassionate, nonjudging God that gives people space to go through a range of experiences in the quest for basic human dignity.”

In July, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor of Westminster, England, publicly agreed with Cardinal Danneels in an interview with The Independent of London. “While we can say that, objectively, the use of condoms is wrong, there are places where it might be licit, or allowable, as when there’s a danger of intercourse leading to death. It would be wrong to take a special case and make it a universal law.”

Finally, the Condoms4Life campaign applauds CAFOD (Catholic Agency for Overseas Development) for continuing its work to provide a comprehensive and compassionate prevention strategy through its services. According to Ann Smith, the HIV corporate strategist at CAFOD, in a September 25 article for The Tablet, “CAFOD also believes in an ‘ABC’ approach, but not in the simplistic terms in which it is often promoted. We see ABC as belonging to one layer – risk reduction – of the three needed for effective prevention…. The data is clear that condoms, when used correctly and consistently, reduce but do not remove the risk of HIV infection. This fact cannot be excluded from or misrepresented in any information on risk reduction strategies, regardless of the political or moral position of those promoting them.

Condom campaigns have been particularly effective with groups at the highest risk – prostitutes, for example – who may have few if any other realistic options for reducing this risk.” CAFOD director Chris Bain confirmed the group’s policy, stating, “Our stance has always been that the only solution is basically being faithful and abstinent but you cannot lie to people if they are making their own choices. They have to be given factual information. There is more scientific evidence that condoms are an effective reduction of risk but they do not eliminate it.”

Lost Sheep
Unfortunately, not all the bishops have demonstrated good judgment this year. Over the last year, the Vatican has been promoting a new paper from Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council on the Family. In “Family Values versus Safe Sex,” the cardinal, most known for an appalling misstatement about condoms’ ability to prevent the transmission of the HIV on the BBC’s Panorama program “Sex and the Holy City,” misrepresents scientific research to advance his flawed and unjust view on the ethics of condom use. Cardinal Trujillo has been a “lost sheep” in his promulgation of misleading information that exacerbates the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Cardinal Trujillo is not alone. In February, the Croatian Catholic bishops opposed a safe-sex program in the public school system because of the inclusion of condoms as part of a broad prevention strategy. Bishop Valter Zupan has drawn the ire of the medical community with similar distortions of science, including claims that the HIV virus passed through “pores” in condoms and that the use of condoms “increases the risk of HIV infection.”

In June, Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala, the Archbishop of Kampala, supported the choice of a Catholic Ugandan woman who chose to sleep unprotected with her infected husband rather than using condoms. “If it is wrong to use the condom, then she has made the right choice,” the cardinal said on the June 27th edition of the BBC’s Panorama program.

Finally, the Vatican itself has once again missed an opportunity to revisit its ban on condoms, instead promoting abstinence as the only option for prevention. In his written message for the XIII World Day of the Sick to take place in Cameroon in February 2005, Pope John Paul II states, “As regards the drama of AIDS, I have already had occasion in other circumstances to emphasize that AIDS is also a ‘pathology of the spirit.’ In order to fight AIDS in a responsible way, its prevention should be increased through education in respect for the sacred value of life and through formation in the correct practice of sexuality.”

Good Shepherds will receive a small sculpture honoring their contributions to HIV prevention efforts. For those whose actions have been harmful to those at risk of HIV and AIDS, Condoms4Life will make a $500.00 contribution in the bishops’ names to an HIV/AIDS organization in each of their countries that is working to provide those at risk with comprehensive information about HIV/AIDS prevention.

Because of the damage done by the Vatican and Cardinal Trujillo, the recipient of the Lost Sheep grant in their names will be the Frontiers Prevention Program (FPP) of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, which seeks to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in vulnerable countries. FPP includes the promotion of condom use as part of a sensible and comprehensive strategy to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS.

In Croatia, Condoms4Life is proud to provide a Lost Sheep grant in the name of the Croatian bishops toMEMOAIDS, the program targeted by the Croatian Conference of Catholic Bishops. MEMOAIDS is school-based extracurricular peer education for high school students. MEMOAIDS teaches the ABC model, and it involves condom demonstration and supports condom use to prevent the transmission of the virus. MEMOAIDS was developed by a team from the reproductive health department of a leading Croatian children’s hospital.

Condoms4Life will also present a Lost Sheep grant to an educational program in Uganda that incorporates condoms into HIV/AIDS prevention strategies. The grant will be made in the name of Kampala’s Cardinal Wamala.

The Condoms4Life campaign is a worldwide public education effort to raise public awareness about the devastating effect of the bishops’ ban on condoms. Launched on World AIDS Day 2001, the first phase of the campaign included billboards and ads in the US, Mexico, the Philippines, South Africa, Kenya, Chile and Zimbabwe to change the Vatican’s policy and challenge its aggressive lobbying against availability and access to condoms in areas of the world most at risk. The ads are available online at Condoms4Life has also developed Sex in the HIV/AIDS Era: A Guide for Catholics to assist at-risk Catholics who are struggling with questions around faith and conscience, sexuality and the use of condoms for HIV/AIDS prevention.

Condoms4Life urges the Vatican to lift its ban on condoms as a moral and humanitarian matter. By the end of 2003, there were an estimated 37.8 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS, including the almost 5 million new people who acquired HIV. We ask bishops opposed to the use of condoms to clarify that their objections to condoms as a means of HIV/AIDS prevention are ecclesiastical, not scientific. Finally, we call upon the bishops and clergy to repudiate the incorrect information that has been circulated by officials of the Catholic church, and we strongly encourage all to be scrupulously honest in describing the effectiveness of condoms in the future.