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The Lesser Evil: The Catholic Church and the AIDS Epidemic

Miller, PatriciaConscience; Washington Vol. 22, Iss. 3,  (Oct 31, 2001): 6.

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The Lesser Evil: The Catholic Church and the AIDS Epidemic

"When priests preach against using contraception, they are committing a serious mistake which is costing human lives." With this distinctly undiplomatic language, Peter Piot, head of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), voiced the international community's continuing distress over the Catholic church's policy on condoms. "We do not ask the church to promote contraception, but merely to stop banning its use," Piot told the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper following the United Nations' conference on AIDS this past summer.(1) The three-day special UN session stressed the need for nations to begin to talk plainly about AIDS in response to a catastrophic pandemic that has taken approximately 20 million lives in less than 20 years. The final conference document specifically noted the need for countries to expand access to condoms within five years.

Apparently the Catholic church was not listening to the unprecedented statement that many took as a sign that the world was finally ready to deal with the AIDS epidemic in a serious way. Archbishop Javier Lozano, who headed the Vatican delegation to the meeting, called for a prevention strategy revolving around "matrimonial fidelity" and "chastity and abstinence," while excluding "campaigns associated with models of behavior which destroy life and promote the spread of the evil in question" -- a clear reference to the safe sex and condom education campaigns that the meeting delegates had affirmed as essential to halting AIDS.(2)

Lozano's statement foreshadowed a remarkable series of events that occurred later in the summer in southern Africa that illustrated both the deep discontent within the Catholic church hierarchy over condom policy and the intractability of the policy. How this struggle is ultimately resolved may be key to finally controlling AIDS on the African continent and to the future credibility...