Is the Catholic Church’s anti-condom law enabling the prevalence of HIV/AIDS?

There appears to be a feud between the Catholic Church and the National Aids Control Council (NACC) in Kenya over an ‘anti-condom’ campaign in the country. This dispute ensued after a Catholic apostolate, called the Human Life International, put up a billboard to campaign against the use of condoms.

The message ‘Faithful condom user – one out of 12 condoms fail’ was written boldly in order to discourage the notion that condoms can aid in the prevention of the spread of sexually transmittable diseases. However, the banner was pulled down and almost immediately the Human Life group pointed an accusing finger at NACC. However, this recent dispute is just one of many that has occurred over the years.

The Catholic Church and its aversion to condoms

Since 1968, the Roman Catholics have repeatedly asserted their stance on artificial birth control, stating that it is a “wide and easy road to conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality.”  The church continues to emphasize fidelity and strongly oppose the use of condoms as a preventive measure against AIDS. On his visit to Africa in 1999, Pope Benedict XVI warned that the use of condoms have the ability to make the AIDS epidemic worse by encouraging immorality.

The reality of HIV/AIDS in Africa

According to statistics, about 25 million people, which accounts for about 70 percent of the global total, are living with HIV in different parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. This alarming figure shows that there are still a lot of obstacles to overcome, and with over 20 million deaths, many place the bulk of the blame on the Catholic Church for the prevalence of AIDS in Africa in pushing abstinence rather than prevention.

Catholic Church to the rescue?

In what might be a sharp contrast to its rigid stance against the use of contraceptives, the Catholic Church may be one of the foremost caregivers to the victims of the deadly epidemic. The Vatican reportedly provides up to 25 percent of all HIV treatment, care and support throughout the world. All their relief programs are aimed at ultimately reducing the number of HIV/AIDS-related deaths globally.

However, some non-governmental organizations have argued for the ineffectuality of the saintly act of caring for the victims, stating that the church can promote an option that inhibits the deadly disease.

Osogo, who lives in Kenya, used to be a nun. However, she left the Catholic Church because of its position on some of the policies it supports, which include the use of condoms. She reportedly remarked that she hopes the Pope is able to reverse the church’s condom ban. “There have been priests and nuns who have died of AIDS; it’s lonely in the church and they sleep together. It is high time the church faces this issue of condoms [and support the] protection in the Catholic Church from their more human emotions.”

However, Pope Francis thinks that there are more salient issues that Africa has to deal with first.

Pope Francis’ reaction to the use of condoms

“The question seems biased to me. Yes, it is one of the methods, the morality of the Church faces a bit of a predicament here. The fifth or the sixth commandment: defend life or a sexual relationship that is open to life. But this is not the problem. There is a greater problem than this: this question makes me think of the question they once asked Jesus: tell me Master, is it acceptable to heal on a Saturday? Healing is obligatory! Malnutrition, exploitation, slave labour, the lack of drinking water, these are the problems. We’re not talking about which plaster we should use for which wound. The great injustice is social injustice, the great injustice is malnutrition. I don’t like making such casuistic reflections when there are people dying because of a lack of water and hunger. Think about arms trafficking. When these problems cease to exist, then I think we can ask ourselves the question: is it acceptable to heal on a Saturday? Why are arms still being manufactured? Wars are the leading cause of death. Forget about whether it is acceptable or not to heal on a Saturday. Make justice and when everyone is healed, when there is no injustice in this world, then we can talk about Saturday.”

This was the Pope’s evasive answer when he was asked if it’s time for the Catholic Church to relax its ban on the use of condoms. The pontiff’s reaction highlight that the Church isn’t ready to shift the conversation to prevention.

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