About AIDS

African bishops condemn condom use in AIDS fight

Recently, the Roman Catholic bishops of southern Africa were to discuss relaxing the church's strong anti-condom stance as a partial approach to stopping AIDS. Not surprisingly, they did not adopt such a position. Instead, they came out more harshly than ever against condom use - and against its proponents.

The bishops' position was that only abstinence and faithful marriages are legitimate weapons against AIDS, and that condoms have no legitimate role. Indeed, spokesman Bishop Napier averred that "condoms may even be one of the main reasons for the spread of HIV/AIDS, (as) they contribute to the breaking down of self control ... " They went on to condemn AIDS prevention programs that employ condoms as a tool, claiming "they are promoting a hedonistic society." Ouch.

Of course, the bishops are right in one pyrrhic sense: Like elsewhere, if rank-and-file Africans would just stop screwing around, the epidemic would go away. However, their moral high ground is an impractical island buffeted by waves of suffering and death.

Education, abstinence, marital fidelity, and condoms are all effective tools in the titanic struggle against HIV. However, people, especially in Africa, are uncomfortable talking about AIDS, so education programs have limited effectiveness. The church's past calls for abstinence obviously haven't born much fruit - witness 25 million infected Africans. Until the church can convince its own parishioners to practice what the church preaches, a more rational approach might be to employ all the tools available. Moral high ground or not, the price in human suffering otherwise is devastatingly high.

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