Friday October 29, 2010

Swiss Parish Condom Campaign Not Church Sponsored

By Hilary White

LUCERNE, Switzerland, October 29, 2010 ( – Some Roman Catholic parishes in the central Swiss city of Lucerne caused an uproar by participating in a state-sponsored campaign in which condoms, bearing the slogan “protect thy neighbor as thyself,” were handed out to teenagers.

When the group organizing the campaign issued a media release, headlines around the world carried the claim that the Catholic Church in Switzerland is distributing condoms as part of World Mission Sunday events.

The packages of condoms were printed with the slogan, “Forgetting can be infectious – Protect yourself and your fellow man.” The packages were signed, “Catholic Church of Lucerne.” A spokesman for the group, Florian Flohr, told media, “We needed something to appeal to people who wouldn’t dream of talking to the church about that kind of issue.”

“We feel supported by various bishops around the world who have said that talking about AIDS without discussing condoms is unethical,” he said.

But Human Life International (HLI) Switzerland pointed out that headlines saying the “Catholic Church” is handing out condoms in parishes are misleading.

“The official Swiss Catholic Church is not responsible for this action. Only the ‘Catholic Church of Lucerne,’ a local Catholic State organisation, is responsible for the distribution of the condoms.”

This organization, HLI said, has “misused” a legitimate Catholic Church event, World Mission Sunday, which is observed throughout the Catholic world, to piggyback their own event. “They abused the name of the Catholic Church in a very grave manner and produced headlines all over the world,” HLI said.

HLI says that in Switzerland the state sponsors and recognizes “Catholic sub-institutions” which act on their own, independently of the dioceses, to administer tax funding for various state-approved projects. HLI found that the Catholic Church of Lucerne group spent 15,000 Swiss francs, which came from state-collected church taxes, for the 3,000 condoms.

In terms of provoking any sort of official response from the diocese, the timing of the condom campaign was well-chosen. Former Archbishop of Basel was recently transferred to Rome and a new bishop is nominated but not officially appointed.

A spokesman for the neighboring diocese of Chur told local Swiss television only that the condom campaign was “a mistake.”

“It sends the wrong signal,” Christoph Casetti told SF1 television. “From a medical point of view, I also think it’s wrong because we know that condoms don’t provide certain protection.”

However, Christoph Keel-Altenhofer, Secretary of HLI-Switzerland, lambasted those responsible for the campaign for having “abused the name of the Catholic Church to launch their own action against Catholic doctrine.”

Of the 3,000 condoms, only 100 were distributed on the first day, and by the end of the three day event about 1,000 had been handed out.

HLI members were present during the campaign most of the time in Lucerne and said they spoke to school children, teens and their teachers about condom failures and the consequent the risk of pregnancies and HIV infections.

HLI members present said that some “youth-workers” “filled their bags with condoms to distribute them locally.”

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