By Hilary White

BALTIMORE, Maryland, March 28, 2008 ( – The international aid organization of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has come under scrutiny for its policies on giving “full and accurate” information on the correct uses of condoms for preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. In December 2007, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) issued its policy paper for affiliated organizations on the prevention of sexual transmission of HIV in which, according to a prominent Catholic moral theologian, it tacitly encourages the use of condoms.

  CRS draws a fine line between “promoting” condoms and “giving information” about them. The document says, “Promoting condoms means suggesting, encouraging or urging people to use a condom during sexual intercourse to prevent HIV transmission; providing full and accurate information means giving the fact [sic] about condom use including the benefits, risks and failure rates.”

  The policy document includes the statement, “For persons whose sexual behaviors place them at risk for HIV, correct and consistent use of latex condoms can reduce the risk of HIV transmission.”

  In general, the CRS policy document emphasises the Catholic teaching on sexuality and the scientific evidence that condoms are ineffective against the spread of HIV/AIDS and in fact, have contributed to its spread in many countries.

The document says the CRS supports abstinence, monogamous marriage and faithfulness in marriage as well as other programmes that aim at least towards “partner reduction”, saying that “many researchers believe that abstinence and partner reduction are responsible for the rapid decline in HIV in several countries around the world”.

  CRS policy is written “in the context of the Catholic Church’s teaching on sexuality and condom use” and adds that “CRS does not finance, promote or distribute condoms.”

  But a close inspection of the policy “raises questions”, according to Catholic ethicist Germain Grisez writing for Catholic World Report, who maintains that providing information about what CRS calls the “benefits” of condoms can only lead to their use, a practice that is entirely opposed to the Catholic position.

  Grisez, a professor of moral theology at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmetsburg, MD, writes that the only possible ‘benefit’, that of reducing fluid exchange between sexual partners, results only in encouraging people to engage in sexual intercourse using condoms.

  By providing the information on the “proper use” of condoms, the CRS can only intend that people use them “consistently and carefully” whereas, Catholic teaching forbids their use entirely and medical studies have supported this prohibition noting that the use of condoms tends to increase, not impede, the spread of HIV/AIDS.

  Grisez writes, “CRS policymakers seem to intend to encourage such people to use condoms consistently and carefully-i.e., seem to promote their use of condoms.”

  The CRS justifies their policy of “providing information” by quoting from a 1989 document by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Providing information that is both accurate and appropriate is a logical and necessary starting point.” But Grisez points out that the quote was taken out of context and the Bishops never mentioned the use of condoms in their document.

  Indeed, the argument that merely providing the information is not the same as “promoting” condoms was roundly denounced by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 1988 in a letter to the US bishops. Ratzinger wrote that such instruction involves “compromises which may even give the impression of trying to condone practices which are immoral, for example, technical instructions in the use of prophylactic devices [condoms].”

  Germaine Grisez writes, “Faithful Catholics who have donated to CRS in recent years for AIDS relief did so because they expected the program to be carried out in a distinctively Catholic way. Had they not expected this, they could have donated to a secular organization fighting AIDS. If CRS officials have used donations otherwise than they have led donors to expect, CRS officials have misappropriated those funds.”

  The purpose of a Catholic charitable effort, Grisez says, is not merely to provide physical relief, but “offers everyone it reaches help to rise from the life of this corruption to the life that never dies.” But instead of offering “loving service in the Church’s name” CRS has “scandalized” or led astray the people it purports to help, by encouraging them “to continue engaging-or worse, as early adolescents, to begin engaging-in sinful sexual activity rather than to live chastely.”
  To contact CRS:
  Jennifer Overton, Senior Technical Advisor for HIV
  Program Quality and Support Department
  Catholic Relief Services
  228 West Lexington Street
  Baltimore, MD 21201
  Tel: 410.625.2220, Ext 3772
  Fax: 410.234.3178
  E-mail:[email protected]

  Read the CRS policy paper (Adobe reader required):