Global Campaign to End Catholic Bishops’ Ban on Condoms Launched in Africa
Billboard and Newspaper ads in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya stating “Banning Condoms Kills” are part of global mobilizing effort to change Vatican’s condom policy.
The first global campaign to end the Catholic bishops’ ban on condoms was launched in Africa today with billboards in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Harare and Nairobi and major newspaper ads carrying the message “Banning Condoms Kills” and “Catholic People Care—Do Our Bishops?” The prominently placed advertisements are part of an unprecedented worldwide public education effort aimed at Catholics and non-Catholics alike to raise public awareness about the devastating effect of the Catholic bishops’ ban on condoms in preventing new HIV/AIDS infections. Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC) is sponsoring the ad campaign.
CFFC, which launched the campaign in Washington, DC, on World AIDS Day 2001, stated that there is nothing controversial about saving lives by encouraging people who are sexually active to use condoms. However, the ads caused an immediate stir and stimulated public debate about the Catholic hierarchy’s position on condoms. The Archdiocese of Washington, DC, tried to get the campaign ads banned from subway stations and bus stops. That attempt failed. In fact, the campaign proved so successful that CFFC extended it for another month on DC bus shelters.
The ads, which will appear in a dozen countries over the next year, invite the public to join a global campaign to end the bishops’ ban on condoms—Condoms4life at www.condoms4life.org. People who join the campaign are asked to contact local policymakers and express support for the availability of condoms and concern that Catholic bishops not undermine responsible public health policy on HIV/AIDS.
“Using condoms and being open about their importance are an essential part of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS,” stated Nathan Geffen of Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa, one of the worldwide partners in the campaign. “It is crucial that the Catholic church revisit its stance on condoms, which is inconsistent with the rest of its approach to fighting the epidemic.”Similar billboard and newspaper advertisements are appearing over the next several months in countries with a significant Catholic population or AIDS crisis, such as Mexico, Bolivia, Chile, and the Philippines. (Ads can be viewed at www.condoms4life.org.) This public education effort is the first phase of a sustained mobilizing effort to change the Vatican’s policy and its aggressive lobbying against availability and access to condoms, especially in areas of the world where HIV transmission and AIDS deaths are rising dramatically.
“There is no doubt that the campaign message is hard hitting and hard for the bishops to take, but there is also no doubt that the message is true,” stated Frances Kissling, president of CFFC, in Washington, DC, who initiated the campaign. “The bishops do ban condoms and education about condoms in over 100,000 hospitals worldwide, in Catholic high schools and colleges and in Catholic AIDS treatment programs. We know that many bishops disagree with the church policy and are very sympathetic to people living with AIDS. We hope that the campaign will touch their hearts and get them to speak out within the church for a change in policy.”
Earlier this year, Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenberg, South Africa, summed up how many Catholics, and at least one bishop, feel when he said, “When people for whatever reason choose not to follow the values we promote as a church within and outside of our community then the bottom line is the real possibility that a person could transmit a death-dealing virus to another through a sexual encounter.” Bishop Dowling went on to conclude that the “use of a condom can be seen not as a means to prevent the transmission of life‚ leading to pregnancy, but rather as a means to prevent the transmission of death to another.”
The effect of the bishops’ ban on condoms—the only technology available that can prevent sexual transmission of HIV— has been noted by world leaders in the fight against AIDS. UNAIDS Director Peter Piot stated in a newspaper interview in June 2001 that, “When priests preach against using contraception, they are committing a serious mistake which is costing human lives. We do not ask the church to promote contraception, but merely to stop banning its use.”
The Condoms4life campaign ads point out that many of the 4,435 plus bishops worldwide actively lobby governments and the United Nations to restrict access to condoms claiming that condoms cause AIDS, not prevent it. For example, the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference said:
“Widespread and indiscriminate promotion of condoms [is] an immoral and misguided weapon in our battle against HIV-AIDS. … Condoms may even be one of the main reasons for the spread of HIV-AIDS.”
The Condoms4Life website contains facts on HIV/AIDS as well as details of the Catholic hierarchy’s opposition to condoms around the world. There is also an online signup form for individuals and groups interested in the campaign. The website is being visited by thousands as the campaign gains momentum in different countries.