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International Youth Coalition Calls on Pope to Lift Ban on Condoms

August 15, 2005

Progressive young people ask Benedict XVI to build culture of life through prevention,
education and care for those at risk of HIV/AIDS at 20th Catholic World Youth Day.

COLOGNE, GERMANY—On the eve of the 20th Catholic World Youth Day, concerned young people from around the globe gathered in Cologne to address the Vatican’s opposition to condom use to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS at a press conference Monday. The young activists also called on Pope Benedict XVI to use Catholic World Youth Day as an opportunity to hear the voices of young Catholics and non-Catholics who are or might in the future be affected by the ban.

“We are here today to let our new pope know that young people all around the world—both Catholic and non-Catholic—are facing the threat of HIV/AIDS, and we need our church to take a strong stand in favor of prevention,” said Germany’s Tobias Raschke, 26. “It is both moral and essential that the Catholic church, which provides more than 25% of all the HIV/AIDS care in the world, makes a stand for our lives and our safety by lifting this ban on condoms to prevent the spread of the pandemic.” Raschke is the youth leader of We Are Church—Youth Germany, a network of teens and young adults who are working for the reform of the Roman-Catholic church.

“We hear a lot about the ‘culture of life’ from our bishops, but it’s hard to read the Vatican’s position on condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS as life-affirming,” said Molly O’Gorman, 24, who works at the US-based Catholics for a Free Choice, an international non-governmental organization that works to shape and advance sexual and reproductive ethics. “A true culture of life promotes responsible sexuality that incorporates AIDS prevention. It encourages healthy sexuality and communication about these issues. It honors the truth and does not use lies to advance an anti-sex agenda.”

“While some Catholic bishops have made misleading or even untrue statements about condoms’ efficacy, there are many Catholic bishops who have made courageous and moral stands in support of condoms to save lives,” said Ozzi Warwick, 30, of Trinidad & Tobago. “We are proud of bishops like Kevin Dowling (South Africa) and Cardinals Godfried Danneels (Belgium) and Cormac Murphy-O’Connor (England) who promote sensible, compassionate and just policies to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.” As one of the non-Catholics in the coalition, Warwick believes that it is imperative for non-Catholics to speak out against the Vatican’s anti-condom stance as the policies and lobby efforts of the Holy See influence the provision of health care to individuals around the world regardless of their religious identification.

Etse Sikanku, of Ghana, was expected to attend the press conference but was denied a visa to enter Germany. The 23-year-old youth advocate said by statement, “Even when the overall HIV rate dropped in my country, it still increased for young people. And too many are having unprotected intercourse. Young people need information, and young people need help. The Catholic church may treat almost a quarter of the 42 million people in the world who are suffering and dying from HIV/AIDS, but the Vatican does not support efforts to educate people about the effectiveness of condoms as a means of preventing the spread of the virus. Not one of the tens of thousands of social service agencies and hospitals controlled by the church is permitted to provide condoms or safe sex instruction to those who seek assistance. This prohibition applies to those of the non-Catholic faith who visit these facilities as well. This is not helping the situation we face on the ground in Africa. As a young Catholic, I don’t feel that my church is on the side of justice in the struggle against HIV/AIDS.”

Bolivia’s Andrea Ramírez told reporters, “In Bolivia, there are about 5,000 people living with HIV/AIDS. We are a Catholic country, but that doesn’t mean that we believe the pope is right about this. Eighty-eight (88) percent of Bolivians believe that Catholics should be allowed to use condoms to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS. And when you poll Catholics from all over the world, you see that Catholic people care, and we want to protect each other and ourselves.”

“The pope’s position on condoms matters to all of us,” added Portugal’s Joana Almeida, a sexuality educator and a member of the steering committee YouACT, a European youth network of volunteers promoting sexual health and reproductive rights. “When the Vatican instructs its health care providers to deny condoms to their patients, whether they are Catholic or not, or when the Holy See uses its position at the United Nations to influence funding and prevention policies, its beliefs are having a worldwide impact. Prevention is too important to be playing politics. According to a recent AP/Ipsos poll, the vast majority of people in countries all around the world are clear on the role they want religion to play in public affairs: they do not want their religious leaders trying to influence government decisions. I would say that the prevention of a global pandemic is both a governmental and a moral imperative. If the pope cannot join us as being part of the solution, it is my hope that he will not be an obstacle to saving peoples’ lives.”

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