In the News 2007
Inter Press Service

WORLD AIDS DAY: Catholics Snub Vatican’s Condom Ban


NEW YORK, Nov 30 (IPS) – As millions of people plan to show solidarity with the struggle against HIV/AIDS on Saturday, a new multi-nation poll released in Washington by the group Catholics for Choice shows that a majority of Catholics around the world believe that — contrary to the edicts coming from Rome — “good Catholics can use condoms”.

The poll asked Catholics living in Ghana, Ireland, Mexico, the Philippines and the United States if “using condoms is pro-life because it helps save lives by preventing the spread of AIDS.” It found an overwhelmingly positive response, with agreement expressed by 90 percent of Catholics in Mexico, 86 percent in Ireland, 79 percent in the United States, 77 percent in the Philippines and 59 percent in Ghana.

The Vatican has yet to lift its ban on the use of condoms, and the Catholic hierarchy’s position holds the most sway in the countries that are least able to deal economically and medically with the disease.

Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, told IPS: “The poll results carried out in four continents actually show that the Vatican’s policy on condoms is fatally flawed. They have spoken a lot of rhetoric about being pro-life and the importance of the ethic of life, and when it comes to this particular situation it’s very obvious that the interests that the Vatican is holding onto are not interests that celebrate human life but are ones that are actually costing it.”

The survey found that majorities of Catholics in Ireland (79 percent), the U.S. (63 percent) and Mexico (60 percent) agreed that “the church’s position on condoms is wrong and should be changed”. However, far fewer Catholics in the Philippines (47 percent) and Ghana (37 percent) agreed with that statement.

The Catholic Church hierarchy’s teachings often hold great sway over people’s behaviour, particularly in the developing world, even if following those teachings runs contrary to their health and that of their families. Ghana, which showed the greatest support for the Vatican’s position, has the highest HIV prevalence rate of all the countries surveyed.

According to a 2006 report on the global AIDS epidemic by UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation (WHO), Ghana has an estimated 320,000 people living with HIV/AIDS. Some 170,000 of them are orphans under the age of 17.

Worldwide, according to WHO figures, there are an estimated 33.2 million people living with HIV, with 2.5 million people newly infected this year.

In the poll, respondents were questioned about the church’s responsibility to help prevent the spread of AIDS in a health care context. Eighty-seven percent of Irish Catholics, 86 percent of Mexican Catholics, 73 percent of U.S. Catholics, 65 percent of Filipino Catholics and 60 percent of Ghanaian Catholics believe that “Catholic hospitals and clinics that the government funds should be required to include condoms as parts of AIDS prevention.”

Younger Catholics are the most convinced. More than nine in 10 of those under age 35 in Ireland (94 percent) and Mexico (91 percent) agreed. Moreover, O’Brien says it appears that many young people are being alienated from the church because of its hardcore stance.

“I think it’s not just younger people who know that about their options,” he noted. “I think inter-generationally, people know that the Vatican is not speaking about justice when it denies people the option of using condoms to protect their health.”

The poll also found that more than seven in 10 U.S. Catholics (73 percent) believe condoms should be included in AIDS prevention in government-supported Catholic institutions. Seventy-seven percent of those under 35 agreed, as do 71 percent of those over 35.

Even though they are largely opposed to changing official church doctrine on condoms, Ghanaian and Filipino Catholics still had a majority of respondents favour including condoms in government-funded Catholic hospitals for AIDS prevention. More than six in 10 Catholics from both countries (65 percent in the Philippines; 61 percent in Ghana) agreed that condoms should be included.

O’Brien also said that the poll results show that Catholics the world over, living in very different cultures, understand that having the option to use a condom makes a great deal of sense.

The poll also found that few Catholics have heard their own bishops or priests actually speak out against the use of condoms. Only in Ireland and Ghana did even four out of 10 Catholics report hearing priests or bishops speak against condom use. All other countries reported smaller numbers.

This article was originally published by the Inter Press Service on November 30, 2007.

Catholics for Choice