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Statement by CFFC President Frances Kissling on Pastoral Letter on HIV/AIDS by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington

May 22, 2003

“I read with real anticipation the pastoral letter of the Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, “The Fullness of Life.” The need for church leaders of the cardinal’s stature, compassion and intelligence to speak out on this problem is critical. There is much that is positive in his pastoral letter. The cardinal’s call for us to love one another and treat each person with dignity and respect, his call for universal access to health care, the insistence that both treatment and prevention be funded are all important goals.

However, there are two major shortcomings in the Cardinal’s letter. While he speaks of the importance of both treatment and prevention, he is clearly captive to the Catholic church’s view that all use of condoms to prevent the transmission of AIDS is immoral. And this trap leads to a dangerous and incorrect claim in the pastoral letter.

The Cardinal baldly claims “condoms often fail.” This is simply not true. Condoms sometimes fail, but far more often, they prevent the spread of AIDS. To tell those at risk that “condoms often fail” is to give them information that may cause their death. This is simply not acceptable.

The Cardinal cites church claims that 25% of those with HIV/AIDS are treated by the church. Imagine the destruction to those people’s lives if the medical advice they are given by church providers of HIV/AIDS education and treatment is that “condoms often fail”! While a program that includes abstinence and faithfulness in marriage is important, it is sad to ignore the fact that for those who are sexually active, condoms are the only means of preventing the spread of disease.

Moreover, AIDS increasingly has a woman’s face. The cardinal rightly notes the pandemic in developing countries, but makes no special mention of women’s needs or realities. Many women are faithful in marriage and wish to be abstinent before marriage. Male dominated cultures often mean women are forced to have potentially risky sex. For them, condoms as well as empowerment are essential.

We expect more from a compassionate cardinal. We need church leaders who will join the Catholic laity and theologians in breaking the taboo on condom education and use. Those with HIV/AIDS or at risk from HIV/AIDS deserve more than the Cardinal’s pastoral has offered. Indeed, in the current climate, cardinals, I am afraid, fail more often than condoms.”