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Many Catholics Reject Church Ban on Birth Control, Condoms for HIV Prevention; New Pope Unlikely to Have Differing Views

April 11, 2005

A large majority of Roman Catholics in the United States, Europe and developing nations largely ignore the church's teaching banning the use of artificial birth control, the Baltimore Sun reports. The late Pope John Paul II in 1968 restated the Catholic Church's doctrine on the issue, saying that "every marriage must remain open to the transmission of human life" and that all forms of contraception are intrinsically evil. However, more than 75% of U.S. Catholics believe the church should allow the use of contraception, according to a recent Gallup poll (Roylance, Baltimore Sun, 4/10). Because U.S. Catholics tend to abide by the values they consider most important and "quietly ignor[e]" church teachings with which they disagree, many U.S. Catholics use birth control regularly, the New York Times reports (Murphy/Banerjee, New York Times, 4/11). In addition, Italy -- which is 97% Catholic -- has the lowest birth rate in all of Europe, and that rate has declined since 1978, when John Paul II became pope, according to the Sun (Baltimore Sun, 4/10).

Differing Views Unlikely
Despite this, the next pope is unlikely to have differing views from John Paul II on contraception or other "hot-button" issues, including bans on human embryonic stem cell research, abortion, same-sex marriage, divorce and euthanasia, the AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports (Ostling, AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4/9). Of the 117 cardinals, each of whom will vote during the conclave and among whom the new pope likely will be chosen, only three were not chosen by John Paul II, according to the New York Times (Goodstein/Wakin, New York Times, 4/10). If the newly elected pope is more moderate than John Paul II on the issue of contraception, he might speak less often about his opposition to contraception than the former pope did. It also is possible that the new pope might be more conservative than John Paul II on such issues, the AP/Post-Intelligencer reports (AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4/9). However, even if the new pope leads the church to alter the interpretation on certain traditions, contraception "is considered a matter of doctrine" and therefore is unlikely to be changed, according to the Times reports (New York Times, 4/10). Russell Shaw, former spokesperson for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that issues such as abortion, birth control and stem cell research are "too close to the heart of the tradition for the next pope, or any pope, to change" (AP/Post-Intelligencer, 4/9).

However, regardless of who is elected as the new pope, he will have to address the issue of contraception, especially as it relates to the use of condoms to help prevent transmission of HIV, the Sun reports (Baltimore Sun, 4/10). Many Catholics in South Africa, which has one of the highest HIV-positive populations worldwide, contend that the church should view condoms as a disease-prevention tool, not as a contraceptive, when considering HIV/AIDS, the Washington Post reports. Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenberg, South Africa, shares the Vatican's view that sexual abstinence and fidelity within marriage are the best ways to prevent the spread of HIV, but he feels that the church has "no moral choice but to advocate condoms" as a way to prevent HIV transmission among those who do not remain abstinent or faithful to one partner, according to the Post (Timberg, Washington Post, 4/9).

Sun Profiles Dowling
The Baltimore Sun on Sunday profiled Dowling, who "has embraced any tool he can find to prevent" HIV, including condoms, and believes that the Church "must realize that it is naïve to preach only abstinence and fidelity" (Calvert, Baltimore Sun, 4/10). The complete article is available online.

Back to other news for April 11, 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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