Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

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Responsible sexual practice only realistic solution to AIDS: Vatican conference

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

VATICAN CITY, June 2, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Despite the hopes of secularist aid organizations, the Vatican has strongly reiterated its position that the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS has been and will continue to be a deadly failure. At a conference this weekend sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, a roster of speakers defended and promoted the Church’s position that teaching responsible sexual behavior is the only realistic solution to the global HIV/AIDS crisis.

Michel Sidibé, the head of UNAIDS, one of the world’s most energetic promoters of the condom solution, had recently praised what he took to be Pope Benedict’s recent “clarification” on the use of condoms. He said he welcomed the pope’s comment in an interview that to use a condom for HIV prevention purposes could represent “a first assumption of responsibility.” Sidibé called this an important step: “It has helped me to understand his position better and has opened up a new space for dialogue.”

But since those comments hit the media, the Vatican has been at pains to make clear that the pope had not intended them to indicate an acceptance of condoms for AIDS prevention. That message was reiterated at this weekend’s conference when Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Permanent Observer of Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, quoted from the same interview, saying, “We cannot solve the problem (of AIDS) by distributing condoms.”

Tomasi went on to say that the promotion of condoms has failed to address the underlying issue of the epidemic, that HIV/AIDS is a sexually transmitted infection that is spread primarily by irresponsible sexual behavior.

The conference, entitled, “The centrality of personal care in the prevention and treatment of HIV / AIDS,” also highlighted another topic of central concern to the Vatican. Jean-Marie Mupendawatu, Assistant Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Health Services, said that the rich nations of the world have a responsibility to the sick in poor nations to provide the means of care.

Too many AIDS sufferers in poor countries “die because they do not access to the medicines they need and more particularly to antiretrovirals,” he said.

This is an ongoing theme among some Vatican officials who have pointed out that the emphasis on AIDS prevention by international secular organizations fails those who already have the disease. The Catholic Church operates the great majority of facilities in Africa where those who are already ill with HIV/AIDS can receive care.

In a separate interview with Vatican Radio, Dr. Edward Greene, the former director of the AIDS research project at Harvard University, backed the Vatican’s position, saying, “Condoms have not proven to work very well.”

Condoms, the main element of the secular world’s fight against AIDS, are typically used incorrectly, or not at all, Greene said. Condoms are popular for casual or “commercial” sexual encounters, but are often not used by longer-term couples. 

“If condom [use] rates are seen to rise, that may be indicating a rise in casual and commercial sex. We now know that having multiple concurrent sexual partners is what drives the so-called hyper epidemics of southern and east Africa. So discouraging multiple concurrent partners is the single most important intervention on behavior change that will bring down HIV rates. ”

HIV rates, Greene said, are going down in Africa thanks to “common sense” behavior changes, even though there is no widespread promotion of such behavior-change. “We don’t see promotion of that, and yet people are doing it. I think out of common sense and because of the influence of the Church.”

In response to the ongoing criticism of the Church’s position, Greene said that in populations where HIV is not restricted to prostitutes but is found in the general population, condoms are counterproductive. “Condoms have never been found to be used consistently in any general population.”

Greene, whose work used to involve the promotion of condoms for “family planning,” said that in Uganda, the first African country to take up the fight against AIDS, the Catholic Church was the first organization that regularly cared for the sick and dying “when other people were afraid to get near AIDS.” He noted that Catholic organizations, such as Youth Alive, could not get funding from international organizations because they refused to promote condoms.

“I hope that the Catholic Church would believe that the evidence is actually in their favor. That the kinds of things that the Catholic Church and all other churches and all other religions promote, [fidelity and monogamy] that this is the key to bringing down HIV infection rates.”

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