The Catholic Church, Their Stance Against Contraception, HIV-Aids and Condom Use
By William Varah
March 22, 2010 - It is widely known that the Catholic church is against contraception. In fact the Pope has made clear statements against the use of condoms, such as:
"It is of great concern that the fabric of African life, its very source of hope and stability, is threatened by divorce, abortion, prostitution,
human trafficking and a contraception mentality."
This article will argue that the negative implications of this position are far greater than the positive and that the Catholic church could do significant
good in the world by advocating the use of condoms.
The negative implications of the Catholic stand against the use of contraceptives are evident around the world, but are especially marked in places
such as South America and Africa. In countries where there is a high percentage of Catholics there is a greater tendency to give weight to Vatican decrees. This coincides
with the fact that there are many developing countries with a high percentage of Catholics. Statements that prohibit or discourage the use of condoms (a barrier
proved extremely effective against the spread of HIV and AIDS) are therefore hugely detrimental to the fight against the spread of AIDS. Also disastrous
are the statements made by the Vatican spreading misinformation about the effectiveness of condoms in preventing Aids. Catholic proposals to combat
the spread of HIV focus on the promotion of abstinence and faithfulness; on first hearing an admirable teaching. It is also a teaching that fails on various levels.
Firstly, it is a teaching that fails because one cannot assume that just because a couple are married they are protected from HIV. In fact, married women in some of the southern
African countries, particularly married adolescents (a common phenomenon in Africa), have a higher risk of being infected with HIV than unmarried women. In the all too common
case that the husbands of these women are not faithful and themselves contract HIV, their wives - even if themselves entirely faithful, also become infected. Moreover
it is not a safe assumption that a woman has any say in who she marries. Around the world women have been sold for cattle and betrothed in childhood or against
their wills: It is therefore not always possible for women to choose a faithful husband, or even a husband who doesn't have HIV. (Of course, even in western
countries there is much infidelity in marriage).
Secondly, teaching abstinence and faithfulness whilst at the same time teaching that the use of condoms is sinful presumes that people are uniform in their acceptance of
any teaching: This is evidently not the case. Many people will accept (whether as myth or belief), because of the teachings of the Catholic church, that they should not
use a condom or that condoms will be ineffectual in preventing HIV infection but many of those same people will maintain an active sex life.
Thirdly, the Catholic stance against condom use has led to national legislation and local pressures against the provision of contraceptives, creating significant problems
relating to family planning. It has also resulted in hardship for those struggling to obtain condoms and sex health information, and raises the risk of individuals having
sex without them. The Catholic church has been a significant factor in the stance taken by the Polish government against the use of contraceptives. The United Nations states that in Poland
"women have no access to affordable contraception."
Indeed the statistics for Poland show that only 49% of women 'in union' between the ages of 15 and 49 currently use contraception as compared to, say, the
United Kingdom where the statistic for the same demographic is 84%. Even within the United Kingdom, an example of a nation dominated by Protestantism rather than
Catholicism, the Catholic church retains an influence. This was demonstrated recently by the blocking (by Catholic leaders) of contraceptive advice for
circa 30,000 Scottish schoolgirls. In short, the Vatican's insistence that a combination of abstinence and faithfulness is a sufficient response
to a global AIDS epidemic is clearly insufficient.
Why then is the Catholic church against the use of contraceptives? Does the bible actually forbid their use? The simple answer is no, the bible has very little
to say on the use of contraception. It is Catholic dogma and not the bible that leads the Vatican to its current stance. One of the fundamental problems for the Catholic
church stems from the fact that they suggest any method for controlling procreation at all (i.e. the rhythm method). This implies that the Catholic church accepts that
the purpose of sex is not only for procreation: an idea that is clearly taught in the bible, which also shows sex to be for intimacy and pleasure. Whether it
is the rhythm method or a condom surely the outcome is the same: That a couple have intercourse without having a child! To suggest, as the Vatican does, that
the rhythm method is natural and condoms 'unnatural' is to allow dogma to get in the way of truth: You are "open to the transmission of life" in neither
case. However, it is not the purpose of this article to debate the biblical basis for the position that the Catholic church takes. This debate has
been carried out elsewhere, conclusively establishing that the bible does not forbid the use of contraceptives. A further point worthy of some
debate, but also not looked at in depth in this article, is whether it is in fact wrong biblically (and when condoms allow us to avoid this)
to deprive each other of sex for prolonged and regular periods (which is the reality of the rhythm method if there is to be any hope
of avoiding a pregnancy before it is intended). We are taught not to deprive each other of sex except perhaps for a time for prayer.
The method proposed by the Catholic church as a solution to AIDS (abstinence and faithfulness) could be a great solution in different global circumstances and if
people did not behave as in reality we know that they behave. Abstinence and faithfulness, although an admirable ideal, is not the answer: The Vatican must find an approach
to the global AIDS epidemic that deals with the realities of the world. What then, could the Catholic church do? The simple answer is to publicly advocate in favour of
condom use. Even if the Vatican were to support only organisations that were not involved in condom manufacture and distribution purely for profit, the benefits
worldwide would be significant. There are organisations that distribute condoms for free in the developing nations, and even in western countries there are
ethical companies from which it is possible to buy condoms online that give large percentages of their profits to charity.
The Vatican advocating in favour of condoms would have two direct consequences.
One: That many more people around the world start using condoms. Individuals who currently struggle with the rhythm
method of family planning would be freed of the worry inherent in that unreliable method, and the guilt brought about when they turn to other forms of contraception. Changes in
government policies to allow and promote the use of contraceptives would surely lead to reduced HIV infection rates, as would the boost in stature and worldwide acceptance of
condom use brought about by any public endorsement by the Vatican.
Two: The considerable good done by the many Catholic charities worldwide would not be hampered by a stance which runs contrary to much of the work that those organisations
attempt, and in fact a stance which many Catholics do not agree with.
In short, the Catholic church has the power to do great good in the world by freeing itself from its fixation on a dogma that has caused much suffering. Without
abandoning adherence to biblical truth the Catholic church could still support condom use and in so doing, significantly reduce the rates of HIV infection worldwide.
1.Data on the effectiveness of condoms in preventing HIV / AIDS transmission can be found on the website of the WHO (World Health Organisation) under 'topics > condoms'.
2.Song of Solomon 2:3-6 TNIV
3.Song of Solomon 1:2 TNIV
4.1 Corinthians 7:5 TNIV
5.See the following link for an example of a company selling condoms online that also gives a large percentage
of its profits to charity.
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