BY SIMON CALDWELL
CAFOD, the Catholic overseas development agency of England and Wales, has publicly declared its support for the use of condoms in the fight against Aids.
Ann Smith, the charity’s HIV corporate strategist, said in a speech that the policy of the agency was to support the “ABC” approach to the problem — Abstain, Be faithful, use a Condom.
Though the Church forbids married couples from using contraception to prevent pregnancy, Cafod director Chris Bain insisted this week that the use of condoms with the intention of reducing the risk of infection from the HIV virus — and therefore the potential numbers of people dying from Aids — was consistent with the teachings of the Church.
Mr Bain said Cafod’s policy was at least four years old but admitted that the speech by Ms Smith, delivered at an Aids conference in Bangkok, Thailand, in July, represented the first time that it had been publicly expounded “in full”. “Cafod believes in an ABC approach but not in the simplistic terms in which it is often promoted,” said Ms Smith in her speech. “The data is clear that condoms, when used correctly and consistently, reduce but do not remove the risk of HIV infection.
“This fact cannot be excluded from or misrepresented in any information on risk-reduction strategies, regardless of the political or moral position of those promoting them.
“Condom campaigns have been particularly effective with groups at the highest risk — prostitutes, for example — who may have few if any other realistic options for reducing this risk. But these campaigns have been considerably less effective in general population public health strategies.
“Cafod’s approach condemns the ‘condoms only’ or even ‘condoms mainly’ campaigns for the general population, which have often been promoted with the same dogmatism as some ‘abstinence only’ campaigns, and which similarly distort information.” The position of Cafod is supported by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the leader of the Catholics of England and Wales, and Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the Archbishop of Brussels, both of whom have argued for the use of condoms in the battle against Aids on the grounds that to knowingly transmit the HIV virus would be a sin against the commandment not to kill.
But other Catholics are angry because they believe the teaching is unsound theologically and that it is likely to fail in practice.
Nuala Scarisbrick, a trustee and counsellor of the pro-life charity Life, said she was shocked that Cafod was apparently “sneering” at “abstinence only” programmes. “I don’t know where they get their figures to sneer at ‘abstinence only’ but the figures coming from America on properly promoted ‘abstinence only’ campaigns show that they are successful,” said Mrs Scarisbrick, speaking in a personal capacity. She added: “It is a great pity that Cafod, with all its wonderful work, should get itself caught up in this. I don’t think I would be the only person to say I can’t in all conscience continue to give money to Cafod and I would look for other organisations working against Aids and all its misery which don’t advocate the use of condoms.” Mr Bain said this week that he feared the publicity generated by Ms Smith’s speech could hit the charity’s funding but said there was so far no evidence that supporters would divert their cash elsewhere.
“We think we are a strong Catholic agency with a strong Catholic ethos and we want to keep our support for this area of work and we do think what we are doing is well thought through,” said Mr Bain.
“It is simply not right to say we support condoms. We have never promoted birth control and in all our programmes we don’t promote or distribute condoms.” He said that Cafod’s sup port for the ABC approach was limited to educational initiatives carried out by the charity’s partner aid agencies which sought to give people full and accurate facts about condom use, including information on the reliability of the devices.
Mr Bain said: “When they [the partners] do tell them about condoms they will tell them that condoms will not solve their problems but can reduce the risk of infection. They won’t promote it in their programmes — church groups don’t do that.” He added: “People should be aware of the choices that reduce risk. It is about people being aware of the choices available if they can’t fulfil the higher demands of abstinence or being faithful. As far as we are concerned, people should have the full scientific knowledge.” Mr Bain likened the use of condoms as a defence against HIV transmission to the use of the Pill to regulate menstrual cycles rather than prevent pregnancy. This principle of “secondary effect” was also advanced by the London-based Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR) when it announced two years ago that it supported the use of condoms for the same purpose. The CIIR also cited Church acceptance of the concept of the “lesser of two evils” as part of its argument.
But although the agencies maintain they are faithful to the teaching of the Church it is clear that the question of the use of condoms is far from resolved.
According to the Vatican press office, the Pope has not formally addressed the matter but Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, has publicly questioned the efficacy of condoms.
And in 2002, Mgr William Smith of St Joseph’s Seminary, New York, argued in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review that the “secondary effect” did not apply to condom use to stop Aids.
He said: “The first condition of the ‘double effect’ analysis requires that the primary action (the cause that has two effects) must itself be morally good or indifferent.
“Since the primary act here is condomistic intercourse, it is not morally good nor indifferent; indeed, it is an intrinsically disordered act to which the ‘double effect’ analysis cannot apply at all.” Then in July, Opus Dei priest Fr Martin Rhonheimer, professor of Ethics and Political Philosophy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, said in The Tablet that it was impossible for the Church to have any teaching on the use of condoms by “promiscuous people, sexually active homosexuals and prostitutes”.
“The moral norm condemning contraception as intrinsically evil does not apply to these cases,” he wrote. “It would be simply nonsensical to establish moral norms for intrinsically immoral types of behaviour.
“Should the Church teach that a rapist should never use a condom because otherwise he would additionally to the sin of rape fail to respect ‘mutual and complete personal self-giving and thus violate the Sixth Commandment? Of course not.” Neither Cardinal MurphyO’Connor nor Bishop John Rawsthorne of Hallam, the chairman of Cafod, were available for comment. A spokesman for the Catholic Communications Service also refused to comment and instead referred the Herald to paragraph 170 of Cherishing Life, this year’s document by the English and Welsh bishops on human life and sexuality.
The paragraph reads: “If a man or his wife become infected with a serious illness such as HIV, what ways do they have to express their love for one another?
“The desire to have a child and the sexual expression of love are important values in marriage, but it is important to recognise that the only assured way to prevent passing on such an infection is to express love in ways other than through sexual intercourse. Indeed, this may in fact strengthen and deepen the bond of love between them.”