8. Condoms and AIDS (I)

Aids is one of the scourges that plague humanity today. There are millions of people affected by this disease. The Church has been present since the beginning of the epidemic, next to these patients – about 40 percent of them receive attention in Catholic centers and even the most affected are sometimes find in them only a little bit of comfort and relief. However, the concealment of this data and the fact that the Church opposes the use of condoms in sexual relations makes the catholic hierarchy be presented as an ally in the spread of AIDS, even to the point of hearing voices that try to portray a cardinal as “an enemy of humanity” for this opposition.

Teaching of the Church and other texts:

“In order to prevent Aids, adequate information is needed along with proper moral values and not allowing anything that violates the value of sexuality. Prevention should take place in accordance with the dignity of man and his transcendent destiny, excluding campaigns that involve patterns of behavior that favor the extension of the evil, which would be information that would hurt more than help. It is necessary to inform and educate without prejudice to ethics. Young people must be enlightened about the values that are at stake. The best remedy against HIV-AIDS, which is transmitted by illicit sexual relations, is the marital fidelity and chastity” (John Paul II).

“The authorities must act to try to resolve the problem of the sick of HIV-AIDS. They should not implement prevention campaigns against HIV-AIDS programs which include models of behavior that favor the expansion of evil; or also to certain kinds of information that would harm more than benefit, with regard to contracting the evil of HIV/AIDS.” (John Paul II).

“One cannot really speak of “safe sex” leading people to believe that the use of condoms is the formula to avoid the risk of HIV, and in this way to overcome the AIDS pandemic. Nor can the people be lead to believe that condoms provide absolute security. It is not told that there is a serious risk, not only of AIDS, but also of different sexually transmitted diseases, and that the failure rate is quite high. I just want to remind the public, seconding the opinion of a good number of experts, that, when a condom is used as a contraceptive, it is not totally safe, and that cases of pregnancy are not rare. In the case of the AIDS virus, which is about 450 times smaller than a sperm cell – the material of latex condom obviously offers much lower safety. Some studies show that the permeability of condoms can reach the 15% or even up to 20% of cases. That being so, talk about the condom as “safe sex” is a form of Russian Roulette! And this is even without considering other possible reasons for the failure of condom use, such as the latex degradation due to exposure to the sun’s light and heat, as well as the breakage and cracking.” (Cardinal Lopez Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family. Statements to Vatican Radio).

“To those who don’t want to accept these limits in spite of the seriousness of the problem, would in any case be obliged to remind them that, with regard to AIDS, the condom does not always work, since there are documented a significant percentage of error (10-15 %). It is good not to forget this. One could object that the statistical fall in the risk would be sufficient in itself to justify the invitation to use the condom, especially for those who are not, in whole or in part, capable of self-control. In this respect, however, it should be noted that, if the entire strategy of prevention is based on the use of condoms, this has just been to acquire among individuals and in mass-psychology the appearance of a panacea with a subsequent freeing effect and, therefore, with the consequence of a general increase in the cases at risk and a population at risk. In reality, the resorting to the condom as the only way of prevention is inadequate and ultimately fallacious” (Bishop Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life).

The “Weller published in 1993, a study based on the data collected in the scientific literature until June of 1990 on the effectiveness of the condom as a prophylactic of the transmission of AIDS through heterosexual contact. The conclusion of this study is that condom use reduces the risk of transmission of HIV would be 69%; that is to say, the risk of infection in heterosexual relationships using condoms would be 31%. These data are consistent with those expressed by WHO, which noted a relative risk of transmission of HIV to the users of the Condom of 0.4; that is to say, at around 40%. The rate of prevention is, according to these studies, between 60% and 70%. It has also been studied about the passing of HIV through the pores of the latex and the passage of polystirene particles of 110 nm in size through the latex in 29 out of 89 condoms, that is to say, 33%. Another source of information comes from the quality control methods that various health institutions in USA perform: the study of 38,000 condoms, 165 different lots revealed leaks higher than permitted in the country, which varied according to the lots, between 12% and 21%. These studies, as a whole, indicate that latex condoms can reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of transmission of the AIDS virus”. (Doctor Javier Marigorta. Valencian Society of Bioethics).

Argument:

It is necessary to begin by recalling that, although the Church’s opposition to the use of the condom has a moral character, due to the fact that sexual relations have to be done within marriage and open to life, their refusal to use condoms for the prevention of HIV/AIDS is an added dimension: the non-complete reliability of the method, associated with a misleading advertising. If the method was totally reliable, the church could say: we will distribute to those who are not Catholic and that, therefore, are not bound by our ethical principles. It would not object, in that case, in a plural society – where there are Catholics and non-Catholics-, publicity in favor of the use of condom as a method to prevent the spread of AIDS. But it is that the guarantees offered, not being total scientific data, speak of faults between 15 and 30 percent- they recommend not to use that system to prevent the spread of AIDS; to top it off, the condom is presented to public opinion as “safe sex”, deceiving the “consumers” of the product in this way and deceiving them to implement all kinds of sex, without any moral brakes; the union of the two things – the partial efficacy and misleading advertising- leads, tragically, to the further spread of the epidemic. Ironically, there are those who are contributing to this – and doing a big business at the same time- those who are the great enemies of aids, while it is the Church – which is, in addition, serves millions of those affected, which appears to public opinion as the main collaborator with the spread of the disease by opposing the use of condoms.

He is right, therefore, Cardinal López Trujillo when he says to use the condom is like playing Russian Roulette – put on his head a loaded gun with a bullet and pull the trigger, hoping that that is not at that time in the shot. With the aggravating circumstance that it is as if you decide to play that game would have said that there was no bullet in the chamber. If out of every hundred uses of condom use, this is ineffective in fifteen – taking the lowest proportion, which could be higher, reaching thirty-, that means that out of every twenty times it is used, at least three times will have contracted the disease in the event that one of the two was infected. It is a very high proportion. In addition, as there is no moral brakes to promiscuity, the number of times you have sex tends to grow, so the possibility of being infected increases. That explains the failure of attempts to stop the spread of the epidemic in Africa, despite the massive shipments of condoms by humanitarian agencies supposedly. In contrast, in countries such as Uganda, where it was decided to carry advertising policies based on moral values – chastity before marriage and fidelity in marriage, the results in the fight against aids have been astounding.

In spite of these scientific data, there are many who argue in favor of condoms by saying that it is better to use an imperfect method – which gives a reliability of between 70 and 85 percent – than to not use one at all. The reality is that the sense of security that the condom gives is so great that the consumer forgets that there are risks, and trusting, he ends up being infected. In addition, the same impression of safety results in abandoning the advertising of other motivations to avoid contagion, such as chastity.

In regard to the strictly moral idea of the use of condoms by Catholics – the previous arguments have been focused primarily on their relative effectiveness-, the subject itself is ridiculous in most cases, since the prohibition of the condom is a result of a previous ban: not to have sexual relations outside of marriage. If a Catholic has problems of conscience by using a condom, the more problems you should have by having sex without being married. If the knowledge that, by having these relationships, committing a mortal sin does not prevent you from committing them, nor will it prevent you from committing them to know that the Church prohibits use condoms. Therefore, the prohibition of the Church of using a condom will not lead any Catholic to have sex outside of marriage without it – with which he could catch or spread AIDS, because if that Catholic would like to make a case to the Church the first thing he would do would be to not have that type of relationship.

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