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People of Faith Join Catholics Worldwide to Thank Cardinal Danneels for Supporting Condoms for HIV/AIDS Prevention

July 15, 2004

As the XV International AIDS Conference in Bangkok confronts dangerous strategies to discourage condom use, Catholics send thanks to Cardinal Danneels and ask him to urge other bishops to follow his lead

WASHINGTON, DC—Belgium’s Cardinal Godfried Danneels inspired more than 200 Catholics, religious people and organizations to send a letter of thanks today acknowledging his courageous support of the use of condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS in some limited circumstances.  Noting the absolute prohibition on the use of condoms articulated by the Vatican and some bishops, the group urged Cardinal Danneels to work with his fellow bishops to end the church’s ban on condoms.

Among the signers are prominent Catholic theologians Leonardo Boff and Ivone Gebara from Brazil, where the incidence of AIDS is among the highest in Latin America.  According to Demographic and Health Surveys’ data, only 18 percent of Catholic women in Brazil use condoms for family planning and to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.

Cardinal Danneels, who is not affiliated with the Condoms4Life project, has clearly stated his agreement with the general thrust of the Vatican’s position, which holds that abstinence is the most moral response to the prevention of HIV/AIDS transmission.  He has, however, departed from the Vatican position in addressing the question of what was appropriate behavior if one were to choose not to be abstinent. Earlier this year, Cardinal Danneels told the Roman Catholic television program Kruispunt in the Netherlands that if any HIV-positive person who decides not to abstain and has sex without using a condom, they would be sinning against the fifth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”  In recent remarks, the cardinal stated, “[F]or one who does not want or cannot follow this path [of chastity and faithfulness] and who opts to engage in unsafe sexual behavior, it is morally justifiable to use a condom.  Indeed it is never permissible to transmit death.  On the matter, one may invoke the principle of lesser evil.  Other cardinals and bishops all over the world share this perspective.”

Catholics for a Free Choice president Frances Kissling noted, “We wish the Cardinal were correct in his assessment of the view of most of the world’s cardinals and bishops. Unfortunately very few have publicly stated that the lesser of two evils theory applies.  In fact, Vatican officials have gone so far as to add false scientific information to their absolute prohibition of condoms. They have claimed that condoms cause rather than prevent HIV/AIDS transmission. At least one bishop in Africa publicly burned condoms. In such a climate, we applaud Cardinal Danneels for his common sense and courage.”

The Condoms4Life Campaign, a project of Catholics for a Free Choice, initiated the group letter to Cardinal Danneels.  The letter follows on the heels of a contentious week in Bangkok where NGOs and health activists have engaged in debate that at times seems to pit condoms against abstinence.  Conference participants have been especially critical of the Bush administration and the Catholic church for downplaying the value of condom use in preventing HIV infection.

For World AIDS Day 2002, the Condoms4Life Campaign initiated a postcard campaign to send letters to Bishop Kevin Dowling of South Africa, thanking him for “showing compassion, leadership, courage and good sense in the fight against HIV/AIDS.” Bishop Dowling has been outspoken for years on the morality of condom use for HIV/AIDS prevention. Bishop Dowling wrote an article in a recent issue of US Catholic, stating, “I believe our credibility as a church is on the line here…. For me, the condom … question is not simply a matter of chastity but of justice.”