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The Catholic Church, Their Stance Against Contraception, HIV-Aids and Condom Use

It is widely known that the Catholic church is against contraception. In fact the Pope has made clear statements against the use of condoms, such as:

It is of great concern that the fabric of African life, its very source of hope and stability, is threatened by divorce, abortion, prostitution, human trafficking and a contraception mentality.

This article will argue that the negative implications of this position are far greater than the positive and that the Catholic church could do significant good in the world by advocating the use of condoms.

The negative implications of the Catholic stand against the use of contraceptives are evident around the world, but are especially marked in places such as South America and Africa. In countries where there is a high percentage of Catholics there is a greater tendency to give weight to Vatican decrees. This coincides with the fact that there are many developing countries with a high percentage of Catholics. Statements that prohibit or discourage the use of condoms (a barrier proved extremely effective against the spread of HIV and AIDS[1]) are therefore hugely detrimental to the fight against the spread of AIDS. Also disastrous are the statements made by the Vatican spreading misinformation about the effectiveness of condoms in preventing Aids. Catholic proposals to combat the spread of HIV focus on the promotion of abstinence and faithfulness; on first hearing an admirable teaching. It is also a teaching that fails on various levels.

Firstly, it is a teaching that fails because one cannot assume that just because a couple are married they are protected from HIV. In fact, married women in some of the southern African countries, particularly married adolescents (a common phenomenon in Africa), have a higher risk of being infected with HIV than unmarried women. In the all too common case that the husbands of these women are not faithful and themselves contract HIV, their wives – even if themselves entirely faithful, also become infected. Moreover it is not a safe assumption that a woman has any say in who she marries. Around the world women have been sold for cattle and betrothed in childhood or against their wills: It is therefore not always possible for women to choose a faithful husband, or even a husband who doesn’t have HIV. (Of course, even in western countries there is much infidelity in marriage).

Secondly, teaching abstinence and faithfulness whilst at the same time teaching that the use of condoms is sinful presumes that people are uniform in their acceptance of any teaching: This is evidently not the case. Many people will accept (whether as myth or belief), because of the teachings of the Catholic church, that they should not use a condom or that condoms will be ineffectual in preventing HIV infection but many of those same people will maintain an active sex life.

Thirdly, the Catholic stance against condom use has led to national legislation and local pressures against the provision of contraceptives, creating significant problems relating to family planning. It has also resulted in hardship for those struggling to obtain condoms and sex health information, and raises the risk of individuals having sex without them. The Catholic church has been a significant factor in the stance taken by the Polish government against the use of contraceptives. The United Nations states that in Poland

women have no access to affordable contraception.

Indeed the statistics for Poland show that only 49% of women ‘in union’ between the ages of 15 and 49 currently use contraception as compared to, say, the United Kingdom where the statistic for the same demographic is 84%. Even within the United Kingdom, an example of a nation dominated by Protestantism rather than Catholicism, the Catholic church retains an influence. This was demonstrated recently by the blocking (by Catholic leaders) of contraceptive advice for circa 30,000 Scottish schoolgirls. In short, the Vatican’s insistence that a combination of abstinence and faithfulness is a sufficient response to a global AIDS epidemic is clearly insufficient.

Why then is the Catholic church against the use of contraceptives? Does the bible actually forbid their use? The simple answer is no, the bible has very little to say on the use of contraception. It is Catholic dogma and not the bible that leads the Vatican to its current stance. One of the fundamental problems for the Catholic church stems from the fact that they suggest any method for controlling procreation at all (i.e. the rhythm method). This implies that the Catholic church accepts that the purpose of sex is not only for procreation: an idea that is clearly taught in the bible, which also shows sex to be for intimacy[2] and pleasure[3]. Whether it is the rhythm method or a condom surely the outcome is the same: That a couple have intercourse without having a child! To suggest, as the Vatican does, that the rhythm method is natural and condoms ‘unnatural’ is to allow dogma to get in the way of truth: You are “open to the transmission of life” in neither case. However, it is not the purpose of this article to debate the biblical basis for the position that the Catholic church takes. This debate has been carried out elsewhere, conclusively establishing that the bible does not forbid the use of contraceptives. A further point worthy of some debate, but also not looked at in depth in this article, is whether it is in fact wrong biblically (and when condoms allow us to avoid this) to deprive each other of sex for prolonged and regular periods (which is the reality of the rhythm method if there is to be any hope of avoiding a pregnancy before it is intended). We are taught not to deprive each other of sex except perhaps for a time for prayer[4].

The method proposed by the Catholic church as a solution to AIDS (abstinence and faithfulness) could be a great solution in different global circumstances and if people did not behave as in reality we know that they behave. Abstinence and faithfulness, although an admirable ideal, is not the answer: The Vatican must find an approach to the global AIDS epidemic that deals with the realities of the world. What then, could the Catholic church do? The simple answer is to publicly advocate in favour of condom use. Even if the Vatican were to support only organisations that were not involved in condom manufacture and distribution purely for profit, the benefits worldwide would be significant. There are organisations that distribute condoms for free in the developing nations, and even in western countries there are ethical companies from which it is possible to buy condoms online[5] that give large percentages of their profits to charity.

The Vatican advocating in favour of condoms would have two direct consequences.

One: That many more people around the world start using condoms. Individuals who currently struggle with the rhythm method of family planning would be freed of the worry inherent in that unreliable method, and the guilt brought about when they turn to other forms of contraception. Changes in government policies to allow and promote the use of contraceptives would surely lead to reduced HIV infection rates, as would the boost in stature and worldwide acceptance of condom use brought about by any public endorsement by the Vatican.

Two: The considerable good done by the many Catholic charities worldwide would not be hampered by a stance which runs contrary to much of the work that those organisations attempt, and in fact a stance which many Catholics do not agree with.

In short, the Catholic church has the power to do great good in the world by freeing itself from its fixation on a dogma that has caused much suffering. Without abandoning adherence to biblical truth the Catholic church could still support condom use and in so doing, significantly reduce the rates of HIV infection worldwide.
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Mon, April 30 2012 » News And Society

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