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Brazilian Bishops Back Condom Use

June 13, 2000

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) _ In a break with Vatican doctrine, some Roman Catholic bishops in Brazil are proposing allowing the use of condoms in some cases to check the spread of AIDS.

``We are reflecting whether the use of condoms is less serious, morally speaking, than getting infected or infecting other people with the AIDS virus,″ the Most Rev. Eugenio Rixen said by telephone Tuesday. Rixen is the bishop of Goias and a member of the Brazilian Catholic church’s Health Pastoral, a group of religious and lay social workers that debates health issues.

Rixen’s opinion _ that condom use should be allowed among what he called ``high-risk groups,″ including homosexuals and prostitutes _ is not the official position of the National Bishops Conference but could be eventually. The Brazilian church is discussing the issue, and the position of its pastoral committees weighs heavily in its decisions.

Leandro Lindner, a spokesman for the Health Pastoral, did not specify how many church leaders endorse the idea but said ``influential bishops″ support it _ including Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, former archbishop of Sao Paulo.

Allowing restricted use of condoms was first suggested by the French Bishops Conference in 1996, but the Vatican insisted that artificial birth control is unacceptable for any reason. Monsignor Elio Sgreccia, vice president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, said recently that the remedy for AIDS ``lies in chastity before matrimony and in faithfulness during marriage.″

Rixen contends his proposal has a theological basis. People should have the freedom to choose the lesser of two evils, he said, and that idea applies to AIDS.

``It’s like in a war,″ he said. ``Killing is always bad, but sometimes you have to kill to save your own life.″

Brazil is the world’s largest Roman Catholic country, with 80 percent of its 165 million people registered Catholics. It has 200,000 registered HIV cases and an estimated 400,000 unreported cases.

The Vatican’s ban on artificial birth control methods was laid out in 1968 by Pope Paul VI in his Humanae Vita encyclical. The ban, however, has not prevented Catholic women here and elsewhere from using birth control. The Brazilian government even distributes free condoms during Brazil’s annual Carnival bash.

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