So, Let’s Talk About – Condoms and AIDS Prevention

Is it really true that Pope Benedict’s approval of condoms to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS is backed by very traditional teaching of Augustine and Aquinas? James Heffernan, writing at Huffington Post, seems to think so. First, he refers to Aquinas on the validity of self-defence, and  asks, does this imply that condoms are justifiable in AIDS prevention, as self-defence against infection?

In the 13th-century Summa Theologica, perhaps the greatest of all treatises on Roman Catholic doctrine, Saint Thomas Aquinas says that one may lawfully kill an assailant in self-defense. In such cases, says Aquinas, one’s action has a double effect: killing another and saving one’s own life. “Therefore, this act” he says, “since one’s intention is to save one’s own life, is not unlawful, seeing that it is natural to everything to keep itself in being as far as possible” (ST II-II, Qu. 64, Art 7).

If Aquinas says it is “NOT unlawful” to kill in self-defense, could he possibly say it IS unlawful to use a condom in self-defense, as a means of protecting oneself against fatal infection, or one’s partner from such infection?

St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), the eponym ...

St Thomas Aquinas (Fra Angelico)

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The Problems of the Pope’s “Condom” Interview.

Two things are clear about Benedict XVI’s interview with his remarks on condoms: the extraordinary interest, and the widespread confusion it has created. A front page story in yeterday’s Guardian featured interviews with Catholic students at my previous home parish in Johannesburg, Holy Trinity.  They objected  to the “approval” given to gay prostitutes, as gay sex (in their view) was totally wrong. Instead, they believed he should have approved it for married couples. Gay activists nearby had  a different take – they were concerned that the restriction to condom use in prostitution was insufficient- he need to approve gay relationships more generally.

Even professional journalists and regular bloggers cannot agree on the precise context: was he referring to all prostitutes, only to male prostititutes, or only to male gay prostitutes.

This has since been clarified. The papal spokesman Fr Lombardi has confirmed that the gender is not relevant: Read the rest of this entry »

Condoms and the “Marital Act”.

I got home late last night to find the news sites ablaze with reports that Pope Benedict has conceded that there could be some justification for the use of condoms “in certain cases”. Most reports see this (very slight) shift as significant: the Daily Telegraph headline calls it “historic”. Others are less convinced, noting that the example he gives is very specific, that of a male (homosexual) prostitute, for whom contraception is clearly a non- starter in the first place.

Condom Permitted?

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DIY Catholicism: Swiss Church’s Condom Campaign

There have been many illustrations of ordinary Catholics open defiance of Vatican doctrine, especially on contraception, but this is one of the most remarkable I have seen: a Swiss Catholic church openly distributing condoms as part of an AIDS awareness program:

Photograph showing rolled up condom
Image via Wikipedia

 

From Swiss Info:

Catholic condom campaign sparks controversy

The Catholic church of Lucerne has launched a controversial Aids prevention campaign which includes the distribution of condoms.

At the same time, a Catholic mission is hosting a road show that educates young people about Aids in Africa.

From Monday until Wednesday, a multimedia exhibition staged in a truck outside the main railway station illustrated the harsh reality of life in Uganda and in South Africa, where HIV and Aids are a severe problem.

Small rooms represented African huts, a classroom, a market and a clinic. An accompanying audio guide tells the story of two young people affected by Aids.

Flavio Moresino, responsible for Missio’s youth-related activities in German-speaking Switzerland, said that the exhibition had enjoyed a good response.

Fourteen school classes signed up to visit the exhibition in Lucerne. Over the next three weeks, the truck will travel to other parts of Switzerland.

“We are really very happy about it – the HIV/Aids situation in Africa has had quite an impression on the schoolchildren. This exhibition makes the problem more concrete and interesting for them,” Moresino told swissinfo.ch. He added that somebody in the world is infected with HIV every 12 seconds.

 

Love thy neighbour

The Catholic church of Lucerne set up a stand to coincide with the Aids truck’s stay in the city. As part of its campaign, the church produced 3,000 custom-wrapped condoms to distribute.

Reactions have been mixed, with criticism from other branches of the Swiss Catholic Church.

The condom packaging features a stylised skyline of the city’s Catholic churches under a rainbow-coloured spray of condoms. The motto reads: “Forgetfulness is contagious. Protect your neighbour as you would yourself.” The church’s URL is printed on the back.

“We want to discuss this problem with youths and other people and show that we are from this millennium and that they can talk about this openly with us – there are no taboos,” said Florian Flohr, spokesman for the Catholic church of the city of Lucerne.

Flohr told swissinfo.ch that he was impressed by the young people he had spoken to.

“They respect their partners and are conscious of the fact that they have to think about Aids when they have sexual relationships,” Flohr said.

He emphasised the fact that he and his colleagues had not simply been passing out condoms to everyone who walked by. As of midday on Tuesday, he estimated that about 150-200 condoms had been given away – but only after a conversation about the importance of safe sex.

Although the Roman Catholic Church is officially against the use of condoms, pastoral workers supporting the Lucerne campaign say that it is unethical to ignore them when addressing the danger of HIV.

Youth workers will continue to broach the subject in and around the parishes of Lucerne.

 

It’s cool

Reactions to the Aids campaigns – in particular the one involving free condoms – have been mixed. The diocese of Chur has expressed its dismay in the Swiss media.

“It sends the wrong signal,” diocesan spokesman Christoph Casetti told Swiss television. He added, “From a medical point of view, I also think it’s wrong because we know that condoms don’t provide absolute protection.”

Diocese of Basel spokesman Guiseppe Gracia told swissinfo.ch the bishopric had not yet formed an opinion but was planning to issue a formal statement soon.

“It’s not a condom distribution campaign – it’s an information campaign,” Gracia pointed out. He added that most of the people who had reacted negatively had only informed themselves through the media.

The story has been picked up by the Associated Press and appeared in international newspapers including the Boston Globe and the London-based Telegraph.

Around the train station, swissinfo.ch found the responses to be quite positive.

“I think it’s cool,” said 17-year-old Tatjana Jud. “It’s surprising,” added her friend Valerie Beschwanden, 19. Seventeen-year-old Stefan Rogenmoser said he didn’t know much about the campaigns, but that he would feel comfortable talking to a church group about sex and Aids.

Alda Beck, an older woman waiting for her train, also spoke well of the project.

“I find it good – young people have sex and need to protect themselves. It’s high time that the church did something like this.”

 

 

HIV/AIDS, Bishops Kevin Dowling, and Me

One of the oddities of my personal journey as an out gay man is that, entirely by chance and without any credit on my own part, I found myself twenty five years ago organizing what I believe may have been the first ever public meeting on HIV /AIDS awareness in South Africa –  two of them! I have had a deep and personal interest in the “progress” (and anger at the lack of progress) of Aids prevention in the country ever since.  This gives me a particular interest in the story of Bishop Kevin Dowland, and his courage in speaking the truth on the topic.

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