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Vatican Continues to Debate Condom Use to Prevent HIV Transmission, Church Leaders, Theologians Say

March 22, 2004

Individuals within the Vatican are debating whether to condone condom use to prevent HIV transmission, but they are "far from resolution" and there is no official Vatican policy on the issue, according to several top church leaders and theologians, the AP/Hartford Courant reports (Winfield, AP/Hartford Courant, 3/21). Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who is a leading candidate to succeed Pope John Paul II, in January said that in certain circumstances condoms should be used to prevent the spread of HIV. Although Danneels said he prefers abstinence as a means of HIV prevention, he added that if an HIV-positive person had sex without a condom, they would be guilty of a contravention of the commandment "thou shalt not kill." However, Danneels' statement clashed with statements made last year by Colombian Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo. Trujillo, who is president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, said in an episode of BBC1's "Panorama" program, titled "Sex and the Holy City," which aired on Oct. 12, 2003, "The AIDS virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon. The spermatozoon can easily pass through the 'net' that is formed by the condom. These margins of uncertainty ... should represent an obligation on the part of the health ministries and all these campaigns to act in the same way as they do with regard to cigarettes, which they state to be a danger" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/14). Mexican Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan recently said that condom use should be condoned in situations of forced sexual contact, adding that people can defend themselves by any means, according to the AP/Courant.

No Official Vatican Policy
Despite the publicly stated views of the cardinals and the Roman Catholic Church's official opposition to artificial contraception, the Vatican has not issued an encyclical -- its most authoritative type of teaching -- about condom use and HIV prevention, the AP/Courant reports. The Vatican in 1968 issued an encyclical in which Pope Paul VI stated the "inseparable link between the unifying and reproductive dimensions of sexual intercourse for husband and wife," but that teaching and others have specifically addressed condom use as contraception and not condom use as a means to protect oneself or others from a potentially deadly virus, the AP/Courant reports. Some bishops' conferences worldwide have suggested exceptions to the Vatican's opposition to the use of condoms. The South African Catholic Bishops' Conference in 2001 condemned HIV prevention programs that encouraged condom use but condoned condom use among married couples in which one partner was HIV-positive if the couples abstained from sex during ovulation, thus reducing the likelihood that the condom was preventing the "creation of life," the AP/Courant reports (AP/Hartford Courant, 3/21). Because there is no official Vatican policy on the issue, the way that Catholic leaders handle the issue "comes down to nuance," Australian Bishop Anthony Fisher said, the Associated Press reports. He said that although it might "sound hypocritical or confusing," church leaders privately may counsel individuals to do things that the same leaders "can't put in a public education campaign," the Associated Press reports (Winfield, Associated Press, 3/20).

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