Friday, 22 December 2006

HIV, AIDS, Africa, Condoms, and Pope John Paul II

More and more recently I've come across nice middle class Catholics espousing 'justice and peace' but not really interested in pro-life issues. It confuses me. As Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said often, there can be no justice while the lives of the unborn are destroyed, and no peace while such a silent holocaust of violence against the unborn continues. But I don't want to talk abortion today. I want to talk condoms. Well I don't exactly want to, but I feel the need to raise this.

The Church in our country seems to have ditched talking about sexual issues publically - what one might call 'from the pulpit' if our churches actually had pulpits any more - just at the time when sex has become the one thing everyone else talks about. The lack of teaching in the public forum means that many people think that, although they know that there is official Church teaching on these moral issues, they can make up their own version to live by. And having made up their own version to live by, they then keep to it dogmatically, and impose it on everyone else. So, a young Catholic might think it's OK to use contraception, and so not only is it right for him or her to use it but it is wrong for anyone to try and say that it's wrong.

The issue which has been coming up in my conversations recently is the matter of condoms and AIDS, with the focus generally being on Africa. I have come across Catholics who think it's an absolute necessity to promote the Church's teaching on peace and justice, but who think that we can't possibly proclaim the teaching of the Church on the use of condoms. Without going into a complete diatribe, I'd just like to bring up two things. First, was an 'Any Questions' recently on Radio 4, where the question was put "Do you think Tony Blair has the right to tell religious leaders to change their teaching on the use of condoms in the fight against AIDS in Africa?" The target of that comment by Tony Blair was obviously the Pope. The first person to respond on the panel was the commentator, Matthew Parris. Now, he being gay and either atheist or agnostic didn't bode well for an answer that I was going to like. But hats off to him! He put his finger right on the button. He said that Tony Blair had no right at all to make any comment. The Pope, for example, does not proclaim what he proclaims because it is good world health policy - said Parris - but rather because he believes that what he proclaims is in accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ, and that he is proclaiming virtue.

Just to put more flesh on the bones, I also recently read an article by Michael Cook, entitled "
Was Karol Wojtyla the Greatest Mass Murderer of the 20th Century?" I recommend it - it's a good read.

Before coming to Birmingham University as chaplain, I was over in Erdington as Parish Priest, and chaplain at St Edmund Campion School. I had the great privilege of working alongside Jim Meehan, who taught RE at the school, but has now retired. He introduced me to the work of Fr Matthias Nsamba, the youth chaplain in the Aliwal Diocese in Eastern Cape of South Africa. Fr Matthias has put together a programme called 'Youth Alive' for the young people of his Diocese, with workshops which help them to gain self-respect, to give each other support, and to change their behaviour as the only sure way to avoid HIV/AIDS. The programme is growing. In this country Jim Meehan has founded an organisation called '
Christ the Healer Project' to raise funds for Fr Matthias. I recommend it to you.


Brian Haill said...

For some very useful background on this issue, I invite you to visit the website of the Catholic AIDS-care charity...The Australian AIDS Fund Melbourne,Australia.

The website is

We also wish everyone a happy Chriustmas.


Brian Haill
The Australian AIDS Fund Inc

Fr Julian Green said...

How can the following be on a site which proclaims to be Catholic?

" The Condoms4Life campaign, launched on World AIDS Day 2001, is a worldwide public education effort to raise awareness about the devastating effect of the Catholic bishops’ ban on condoms. Through advocacy and provocative ad campaigns declaring “Banning Condoms Kills” and “Good Catholics Use Condoms,” Condoms4Life has challenged the bishops on their position, educated providers and policy makers about Catholic support for condom use and mobilized citizens across the globe to protest the injustice of this devastating ban. Condoms4Life provides a voice for people of faith to question these policies and articulate their support of condom use to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS."

It completely disregards:
1 That the Catholic Church's position on the use of condoms affects the worst hit epicentres of infection - see the article I quoted in the main blog.
2 That if people in Africa are not obeying the Church's teaching on sex belonging only in faithful marriage, then they are hardly going to listen to the Church's teaching on use of condoms - again see that article.
3 That the Church should resign its call to holiness and virtue in order to proclaim pragmatic social health policy. This would mean accepting a completely pessimistic vision of humanity - one that sees it enslaved to promiscuous sex, with no way of dealing with the infections it causes other than using condoms.

On other parts of that site it does speak about the Ugandan ABC - which has - as a social policy - been very successful. But even so, it is not the role of the Church to proclaim the ABC. Governments can do that. The Church is to call to fidelity to the Gospel, and to the teaching on sexual virtue.