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Revisiting the Vatican’s Stance on Condoms

1 December marked World AIDS Day, dedicated to raising awareness of HIV and the global AIDS pandemic. Several governments and organisations also observe the whole of December as AIDS Awareness Month. Needless to say, the situation is dire as AIDS has caused – and continues to cause - a great deal of death and suffering. However, more positively, UNAIDS (a coalition of 11 specialised UN organisations) reports that HIV infection rates are dropping throughout the world with an overall drop in new HIV infections and AIDS related deaths. [1] UNAIDS vision is “Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths” and this is the World AIDS Day theme from 2011 to 2015. UNAIDS’ vision is a highly ambitious goal and for it to be achieved proper and consistent condom use, among other things, is essential. This is a widely accepted view and there is plenty of scientific evidence regarding the importance of condoms in the fight against HIV and AIDS [2]. However, despite the evidence, the Vatican’s stance on condoms remains virtually unchanged and people’s lives continue to be damaged and risked by the Vatican’s harmful and irresponsible behaviour.

There was a slight “shift” in Vatican official policy in November 2010 allowing for condom use in a few select situations but this was not even remotely enough. The Pope stated that condom use can be acceptable in a few select situations, for instance where male prostitutes are involved, but generally the ban on condoms stands. [3, 4] Despite strong evidence to the contrary, the Vatican insists that condoms are not a solution and that they make the situation worse. [5] The Vatican continues to demonstrate that it is out of touch with science, the modern world and reality.

The Vatican’s stance is particularly significant as the worst affected region, Africa, is one of the fastest growing regions for Catholicism. 15.55% of the over 1 billion people in Africa are Catholic and the number of adherents and clergy is increasing rapidly. [6] Campaigns encouraging the use of condoms are common and have gained ground throughout the continent. Many of these campaigns are modeled on the ABC (Abstinence, Be faithful, use a Condom) method for fighting HIV and AIDS, a useful and realistic approach. However, with increasing reach of the Catholic Churchthe success of these campaigns could be undermined by Catholic dogma. People have been infected with HIV as they refuse to use condoms because of their religious faith even when they know their sexual partners are HIV positive. In the past there were even attempts to officially acknowledge as martyrs, Catholic women who died because of their refusal to use condoms even when they knew their husbands were HIV positive. [7]

Despite the devastation caused by HIV and AIDS, the millions of lives lost and the hope that condoms bring; the Vatican refuses to promote condoms as they are not only a prophylactic but also a form of contraception. According to the Vatican’s twisted logic, it is unacceptable to protect yourself or another from a life-threatening infection if the action can prevent new life. Preserving already existing life is less important than protecting life that is yet to exist. Rife with hypocrisy, the Vatican is a group of elderly Catholic men who take a vow of chastity but insist that lay people procreate, even if it kills them. Furthermore, the organisation claims it believes in the sanctity of life yet contributes to the spread of HIV and AIDS. However small or large this contribution has been, the Vatican must be condemned for it. Denying people the right to protect themselves from life threatening diseases is tantamount to murder. I acknowledge the role the Catholic Church has played in providing treatment to HIV and AIDS patients but it is not enough to provide treatment while refusing to accept a proven preventative measure. Zero HIV infections and zero AIDS-related deaths are not possible with the Vatican’s unrealistic and dogmatic approach.

References
[1]http://www.unaids.org/en/media/unaids/contentassets/documents/epidemiology/2012/gr2012/20121120_FactSheet_Global_en.pdf
[2]http://www.unaids.org/en/resources/presscentre/featurestories/2009/march/20090319preventionposition/

3http://www.npr.org/2010/11/23/131548545/publisher-of-pope-s-book-weighs-in-on-condoms
4 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2010-11-22/vatican-downplays-shift-on-condoms/2345780
5 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/vaticancityandholysee/5005357/Pope-Benedict-XVI-condoms-make-Aids-crisis-worse.html

6 http://allafrica.com/stories/201203131197.html
7 http://www.aidsmap.com/News-feature-Condoms-cardinals-and-the-Catholic-church/page/1420498/