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Vatican Tells People Worldwide That Condoms Do Not Prevent HIV Infection, Despite Scientific Consensus That They Do

October 9, 2003

Members of the Roman Catholic clergy are telling people worldwide that condoms are permeable enough to allow HIV to pass through, despite scientific consensus that condoms are effective in preventing HIV transmission, London's Guardian reports (Bradshaw, Guardian, 10/9). The Vatican, which is opposed to contraception, has consistently refused to encourage the use of condoms to prevent HIV transmission and instead advocates behavior change to prevent the virus. However, the church is now telling people that condoms do not work, according to a BBC1 Panorama program, titled "Sex and the Holy City," which is scheduled to air on Sunday. Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, says on the program, "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." However, a World Health Organization spokesperson said that "consistent and correct" condom usage can reduce the risk of HIV infection by 90%, adding that the Catholic Church's "incorrect statements about condoms and HIV are dangerous when we are facing a global pandemic which has already killed more than 20 million people and currently affects around 42 million" (BBC News, 10/9). The program includes a Catholic nun who advises her HIV-positive choir director not to use condoms with his wife because "the virus can pass through." The program also found Catholics making similar claims about condom permeability, including that condoms can spread HIV, in Asian and Latin American countries (Guardian, 10/9).

Panorama's "Sex and the Holy City" program will be available online in RealPlayer simultaneous with U.K. broadcast, and video excerpts of the program will remain available for a few days after the program airs.

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