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Letters & Op-Eds - 2009

The times (london)

Cracks in the Hierarchy are Magnified in Shanty Towns

Jon O'Brien

18 March 2009

The Pope is being more than disingenuous in his statement claiming that condom use will not solve the Aids crisis. No responsible agency or individual claims that condoms are a panacea. But they are a critical aspect of any programme that seeks to stem the spread of HIV.

The problem with the Vatican’s position is that the argument against the use of contraception and condoms was lost many years ago. Catholics around the world use contraception at the same rate as nonCatholics and support its inclusion in international development aid programmes.

Even within the hierarchy itself, cracks are apparent. The usually monolithic world view of the Vatican is broken by brave souls such as Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, South Africa. He works on the front line in shanty towns and speaks for those working with Catholic relief agencies when he argues that condom use is not about preventing the transmission of life, as the Vatican would argue, but about preventing the transmission of death.

If ever an issue posed the question: “What is the truly pro-life position?”, this is it. Consider the issue of sexual activity in a serodiscordant couple, where one partner is HIV-positive and the other is not. Does condom use not give them the opportunity to love responsibly? Having failed to win the hearts and minds of Catholics, the hierarchy now tries to lobby at the UN and in capital cities around the world against funding for condoms. In the recent negotiations over the multibillion-dollar US President’s emergency plan for Aids relief, US bishops successfully lobbied against the inclusion of funding for family planning measures that would have reduced the incidence of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

It is not just in its irresponsible rhetoric that the Catholic hierarchy hurts people, but also in its actions. The Vatican, in pursuit of its myopic obsession and desire to control sexuality, has chosen to denigrate science and deny the reality of relationships. The science is strong, and human relationships are what they are. The Vatican must change its position and support the use of condoms – because Catholics already do.

This Op-Ed originally appeared in The Times (London).