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Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Devastating consequences of Catholic condom ban.

As Pope Benedict XVI initiates a review of the absolute Catholic ban on condom use, Dr Marcella Alsan, a physician who worked in a Roman Catholic hospital in Swaziland, explains the consequences of the ban in Africa in the excellent Catholic magazine Commonweal. She is convinced the church has made a moral error in the fight against HIV/AIDS by not acknowledging the dilemma facing women:

The typical patient is a young woman between eighteen and thirty years of age. She is wheeled into the examining room in a hospital chair or dragged in, supported by her sister, aunt, or brother. She is frequently delirious; her face is gaunt; her limbs look like desiccated twigs. Surprisingly, the young woman is already a mother many times over, yet she will not live to see her children grow up. More shocking still, she is married; her husband infected her with the deadly virus.

This is the reality: a married woman living in Southern Africa is at higher risk of becoming infected with HIV than an unmarried woman. Extolling abstinence and fidelity, as the Catholic Church does, will not protect her; in all likelihood she is already monogamous. It is her husband who is likely to have HIV. Yet refusing a husband's sexual overtures risks ostracism, violence, and destitution for herself and her children. Given these realities, isn't opposing the use of condoms tantamount to condemning countless women to death? In the midst of the AIDS epidemic, which has already killed tens of millions and preys disproportionately on the poor, the condom acts as a contra mortem and its use is justified by the Catholic consistent ethic of life.

At least, this is the view of many Catholics at the front lines of the global HIV battle. Catholic organizations mercifully provide around 25 percent of the care AIDS victims receive worldwide. Many of the clergy and laity involved in treating people with AIDS, who otherwise fully ascribe to the church's teachings on sexual ethics and the sanctity of marriage, nevertheless endorse the use of condoms. They argue that the preservation of human life is paramount. Fr. Valeriano Paitoni, working in São Paulo, Brazil, summarized this perspective: "AIDS is a world epidemic, a public-health problem that must be confronted with scientific advances and methods that have proven effective," he says. "Rejecting condom use is to oppose the fight for life."

Bishop Kevin Dowling of South Africa has also been imploring the Vatican to view condom use as curtailing the transmission of death rather than precluding the transmission of life. In South Africa, 5.3 million people are infected with HIV and 25 percent of all pregnant women test positive for the virus. Dowling prays that the Holy Spirit will intervene to change minds in Rome. . . .

Of course, never having sex will significantly reduce the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. (It will not, though, completely eliminate the risk of contracting HIV, since the virus is also transmitted via blood products, birthing, and breastfeeding.) But the Vatican must be made aware that abstaining from sex is not a choice that many women living in the developing world have. To preach fidelity and abstinence assumes that a woman can determine with whom she sleeps and when — a grave misunderstanding of the relations between the sexes in places where women are sometimes betrothed at birth or sold for cattle. How can the Vatican continue to prohibit the use of a life-saving intervention amid a pandemic of unprecedented proportions? By reflexively invoking Humane vitae whenever the condom issue arises, the church has tragically misdiagnosed the moral problem at hand.

It's an important and illuminating essay.

("Ideals collide as Vatican rethinks condom ban," Ian Fisher, New York Times 5.2.06, reg req'd; "The Church and AIDS in Africa: Condoms and the culture of life," Marcella Aslan, Commonweal 4.21.06)

Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 3 May 2006 at 10:13 PM

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May 4, 2006 12:52 AM | Permalink for this comment

This was a very interesting article. I hope the Roman Catholic church listens.
Also why did you assume the Doctor is a man. The only Marcella I knew was a woman.
I looked up Dr. Aslan and here is a brief bio.

h sofia:

May 4, 2006 01:58 AM | Permalink for this comment

I read about this yesterday on another UU blog and it just breaks my heart. While the religious scholars try to (or not) figure this one out, people are dying. This is in my book of pointless endeavors, right up there with Muslim scholars trying to figure out if the Prophet Muhammad's mother is going to heaven (after all, she wasn't technically a Muslim).

It just makes me sick.


May 4, 2006 06:13 AM | Permalink for this comment

Good catch, knomad. I'll adjust the post.

Steve Caldwell:

May 4, 2006 10:18 AM | Permalink for this comment

You may want to check Rev. Debra Haffner's post on this topic:

Will the Pope Allow Condoms to Prevent the Spread of AIDS?

"Catholic theologians in the article are guessing that the Pope won't change church policy instead counseling such MARRIED couples to abstain from sexual intercourse completely. Rev. Thomas Berg from Westchester is quoted as saying that to use a condom (again in heterosexual marriage where one partner has HIV or AIDS) would 'still be opting for something that dramatically disorders those sexual relations.' That's the exact quote -- trying to protect one's spouse from a life threatening disease would dramatically disorder the relationship."


June 25, 2006 09:14 PM | Permalink for this comment

The Catholic Church is not reviewing its ban on condoms. A cardinal's comments were taken out of context by the media. Pope Benedict XVI has not, and I pray will not, review the rightful ban.

Condoms are sinful and they certainly will not help combat AIDS.

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