BY SIMON CALDWELL
Ti a BBC misled the public about a repo' t it used to accuse the Catholic Church of spreading widespread poverty and death, a pro-life group has claimed.
The Panorama documentary, "Sex and the Holy City", screened at the start of the week of the Pope's silver jubilee celebrations. relied on a report by the US National Institute of Health to make a case against the Church's teachings on contraception.
The film said that the Twit found that "intact condoms are essentially impermeable to the smallest sexu ally transmined virus" and "the consistent use of male condoms protects against HIV/AIDS transmissions".
Presenter Steve Bradshaw then went on to accuse the Church of "peddling rumour and superstition", preaching "scientific nonsense", "ignoring widely agreed scientific evidence on AIDS", "peddling superstition and ignorance" and making "extraordinary claims".
John Smeaton, director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, later found the key quote did not come from the conclusion of the report but was cut and pasted from two sections. hi an open letter to Greg Dyke, the Director General of the BBC, he also Said that Panorama had failed to refer to at least five references in the same report which cast doubt on the efficacy of condoms in offering reliable protection against either diseases or conception.
He said that although the report said condom use might reduce the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases by about 85 per cent, it also conceded that there was "insufficient evidence from the epidemiological studies on these diseases to draw definite conclusions about the effectiveness of the latex male condom in reducing the transmission of the diseases".
The rePort also said that three per cent of couples experienced an unintended pregnancy in the first year of "perfect" condom use.
"Not only does this source emphasise that condoms are not 100 per cent effective, Panorama accused the Archbishop of Nairobi of `scientific nonsense' simply for making that point," wrote Mr Smeaton.
"Mr Bradshaw would have been prudent to point out that there is not a single scientific study that states that condoms are 100 per cent effective in preventing the spread of HIV. Furthermore, condom manufacturers themselves do not dare to make such a claim when the consequences in human and legal terms are so serious."
Mr Smeaton then quoted the website of condom manufacturer Durex which said that abstinence and fidelity were the only safeguards against disease prevention.
He also cited a study in the medical journal The Lancet which concluded that "increased condom use will increase the number of transmissions that result from condom failure" and that "a vigorous condom promotion
policy could increase, rather than decrease, unprotected sexual exposure if it has the unintended effect of encouraging a greater overall level of sexual activity".
Mr Smeaton added: "Even the International Planned Parenthood Federation has indicated in the past that 'the risk of contracting AIDS during so-called "protected sex" approaches 100 per cent as the number of episodes of sexual intercourse increases'."
The BBC had not received the letter as The Catholic Herald went to press. It has previously defended "Sex and the Holy City" as an investigation into "how men and women around the world are affected by the Catholic Church's teaching on abortion".
The documentary was supported by Martin Pendergast of the Catholics for AIDS Prevention and Support (Caps) and the Roman Catholic Caucus of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.
"We strongly reject the dishonest statements of Vatican officials," he said. "Vatican departments have lost the ethical and theological arguments on the need to promote the preservation of life and well-being rather than the promotion of death and disease. Their officials are now forced to resurrect spurious arguments about the quality of latex and the effectivity of prevention. They lose sight of the reality. Theirs is not so much an argument of 'how many angels on pinheads?' but rather 'how many pores in condoms?'
"Numerous independent, peer-evaluated, research studies have appeared in scientific journals showing that where good quality condoms are stored in proper conditions, used carefully and consistently with appropriate lubrication, they are an effective means of prevention."