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Spokesperson for Catholic Church of Spain Says Church Accepts Use of Condoms to Prevent HIV/AIDS; Bishops Later Backtrack

January 20, 2005

Although the Spanish Roman Catholic Church on Tuesday appeared to have accepted for the first time the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV -- which would have caused a "confrontation" with the Vatican, which opposes all forms of artificial contraception -- the country's Conference of Catholic Bishops on Wednesday backtracked on the comments, saying that the church had not changed its position on condom use, the New York Times reports (McLean/Horowitz, New York Times, 1/20). Bishop Juan Antonio Martinez Camino -- spokesperson for the Spanish Bishops Conference -- on Tuesday, following a meeting with Health Minister Elena Salgado to discuss the fight against HIV/AIDS, said that "condoms have a place in the global prevention of AIDS," said, adding, "The church is very worried and interested by this problem" (AP/Austin American-Statesman, 1/19). Martinez Camino also said the Spanish Roman Catholic Church is willing to cooperate with the country's Socialist government -- which in November 2004 launched a campaign promoting condom use -- to address the "grave problem" of HIV/AIDS, according to AFP/Yahoo! News (AFP/Yahoo! News, 1/19). Martinez Camino said his meeting with Salgado allowed the church and the government "to understand well the postures in question, to allow us to understand each other and to be able to collaborate" to fight HIV/AIDS in Spain and globally, the EFE News Service reports. "The moment has arrived ... for joint work," Martinez Camino added (EFE News Service, 1/18).

Bishops Backtrack
However, "after hours of silence" following Martinez Camino's statements, the Spanish Conference of Catholic Bishops on Wednesday released an unsigned statement saying that Martinez Camino's comments "must be understood in the context of Catholic doctrine, which holds that the use of contraceptives implies immoral sexual behavior" (New York Times, 1/20). The statement said, "It's not true that the church has changed its doctrine on condoms," adding, "It is impossible to advise the use of condoms" under Catholic doctrine (Williams, Washington Post, 1/20). In the "stark rebuttal" to Martinez Camino's comments, the bishops said that sexual abstinence and monogamy are the "only successful" ways to prevent the spread of HIV, according to El Pais (de Benito/Elkin, El Pais, 1/20). "The only truly recommendable practice is responsible use of sexuality, in accordance with moral norms," the statement said, according to the Associated Press (Associated Press, 1/20).

The Spanish Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Transsexuals and Bisexuals "welcomed" Martinez Camino's statements, according to the AP/American-Statesman. "I think it was absolutely inevitable that the church would change its stance," federation President Beatriz Gimeno said (AP/Austin American-Statesman, 1/19). However, Gimeno said that church had reverted to its old position -- abandoning its "attack of lucidity" -- because of pressures from conservatives in Spanish society, according to the Associated Press (Associated Press, 1/20). The United Left parliamentary coalition said that Martinez Camino's statement represents "a historic advance" for the church (AP/Austin American-Statesman, 1/19). However, Isabel Pozuelo, spokesperson for the government on health issues in the Congress of Deputies, said that the bishops' statement shows that the church has "reverted to narrow-mindedness," according to the Associated Press (Associated Press, 1/20). Pozuelo said that "it seems that (Martinez Camino) has received instructions to retract what had been common sense," according to EFE News Service (EFE News Service, 1/19).

Vatican Reaction
The Vatican responded "coolly" to the Spanish church's apparent endorsement of condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS, AFP/ reports. Bishop Jose Luis Redrado Marchite, the Spanish secretary of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, said he believes the Spanish church was not "advocating the use of condoms" to prevent the spread of HIV, a position he said would be against Catholic teaching. The Vatican "expressly forbids" condom use and all contraceptives, and has "openly contradicted" scientific research concerning the effectiveness of condoms as a barrier to HIV, according to AFP/ "A Catholic must listen to [conscience and faith] to be coherent and reject the recourse to a condom, which is contrary to Catholic morals," Redrado Marchite said. No official comment from the pope is expected, according to Vatican sources (AFP/, 1/19).

Other European Churches
Episcopal Conferences across Europe "rowed in behind the Vatican," according to Agence France-Presse. The Catholic Church in Switzerland said it will "remain on the same line as Rome," and the bishops' conferences in the Netherlands and Germany said that they would wait to hear "clarification" from their Spanish counterparts to comment on the issue. Eric Leitenberger, spokesperson for the bishops in Austria, said that the church in that country has never addressed the issue of condom use to prevent the spread of HIV (Agence France-Presse [1], 1/19).

Colombia's Catholic Church to Review Condom Policy
A Colombian Catholic Church official on Wednesday said that the church would review its policy on condoms use to prevent HIV spread after the announcement by Martinez Camino, according to Agence France-Presse. Monsignor Fabian Marulanda, general of the Episcopal Conference of Colombia, said, "Things must be looked at according to the circumstances experienced in each region," adding, "If science has not been able to find a method to defeat this disease, then one should think that the condom is one recourse." Columbia's Episcopal Conference at its Jan. 31-Feb. 4 meeting is scheduled to discuss condom use to prevent the spread of HIV, Marulanda said (Agence France-Presse [2], 1/19).

Back to other news for January 20, 2005

Reprinted with permission from You can view the entire Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report is published for, a free service of the Kaiser Family Foundation, by The Advisory Board Company. © 2004 by The Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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This article was provided by Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. It is a part of the publication Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report. Visit the Kaiser Family Foundation's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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