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Catholic Bishops Call for Church to Revise Stand on Condom Education

October 13, 1989

NEW YORK (AP) _ A group of bishops is calling for the Roman Catholic Church to drop its qualified support for teaching about condoms in public schools, and stick to traditional church teaching in the debate on AIDS.

The church should uphold chastity outside of marriage as the only ″sound″ way to prevent the sexual transmission of AIDS, said a report released Thursday by the Ad Hoc Committee on the HIV Statement of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

″There is no such thing as safe, or safer, sex. That’s an illusion,″ said Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony, committee chairman.

AIDS activists criticized the bishops’ proposed policy reversal on condom education.

″To deny these children this information is abandoning them to death. I don’t see anything moral about that,″ said Jay Blotcher, a spokesman for ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. ″If the church intends to save its kids, they’re going about it entirely the wrong way.″

The new statement - ″Called to Compassion: A Response to the HIV-AIDS Crisis″ - will be presented to the conference at its fall meeting Nov. 6-9 in Baltimore.

The committee drafting the statement was made up of Mahony, Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin of Chicago, Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston, Archbishop William H. Keeler of Baltimore and Bishop Raymod W. Lessard of Savannah, Ga.

The committee’s draft statement revises an earlier document released by the church’s 50-member Administrative Board in December 1987, which said the church could tolerate information about condoms in public schools as long as sexual abstinence outside of marriage was presented as the ″only morally correct and medically sure way″ to prevent AIDS.

The board’s document was criticized by some conservative U.S. bishops who said it would be misinterpreted as condoning sex outside marriage and artificial birth control. In spring 1988, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops decided to draw up a new statement.

The new statement differs from the earlier document in its stand on condom education in public schools, and in a larger sense the role of Catholic bishops in public policy debates.

The bishops’ revised document said condom education is a ″quick-fix″ solution to the AIDS crisis.

″The ‘safe-sex’ approach to preventing HIV-AIDS, though frequently advocated, compromises human sexuality and can lead to promiscuous sexual behavior,″ the bishops said. ″Not only is the use of prophylactics in an attempt to halt the spread of HIV technically unreliable; promoting this approach means, in effect, promoting behavior which is morally unacceptable.″

But Richard McCormick, a professor of Christian ethics at Notre Dame University, said the new document ″may well be an attempt to achieve some kind of political peace within the (bishops’) conference.″

McCormick said just as telling students not to drive drunk is not an invitation to insobriety, telling students who refuse to be sexually inactive to use condoms to try to protect the lives of their partners is not an invitation to immoral behavior.

Juanita Quinpero, acting director of the Latino AIDS Project in San Francisco, said the bishops may view condom education ″as a Band-Aid approach, but we cannot sit and wait″ while more youth contract the deadly disease.

On similar grounds as its stand on condom education, the bishops said it was wrong to supply clean needles to drug addicts to prevent them from acquiring AIDS by sharing contaminated needles. The committee said that approach could encourage more drug abuse and discourage abusers from seeking treatment.

But the bishops rejected the idea the disease is a direct punishment from God.

″Recall that unborn children can be infected in the womb and that people can acquire HIV from transfusions with contaminated blood. To suppose that HIV is God’s punishment implies that God is vindictive and capricious,″ the bishops said.

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