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Peter Hardy
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I very much agree with Jim's point, but I dispute that this would save many lives. Catholic doctrine is idealistic -it is designed to create saints- and its relationship with practice very complex. While contraception is certainly considered sinful (because it says 'no' to the creation of new life) the prohibition on it is not a solemn dogma, let alone an infallible teaching. Secondly, we read in The Catechism of the Catholic Church that couples should organise their sex lives through prayerful use of their God-given consciences. And of course consciences sometime disagree with Vatican, particularly where one partner is not Catholic. The main thing I stress on this issue again and again is that the Church does not teach, and has never taught that contraception can cause AIDS. That is anti-Catholic propaganda. It's true that many ignorant and irresponsible ministers -not just Catholic ones- in the developing world have taught people that condoms can cause AIDS, but that has never been the position of the Vatican and they condemn that behaviour. We must, however, call on the Vatican to take a lot more action to censure those they are responsible for when they spread unscientific information, especially in such situations when it can be so harmful. Note that this requires the Church to be more authoritarian, not less! What the Church does say -and has been right about thus far- is that the shift in cultural attitudes to sex brought on by the widespread availability and popularisation of contraception will tend to increase rates of unwanted pregnancies (and thereby abortions) and sexually transmitted infections. Of course the Church concedes that this is counter-intuitive, contraception by definition protects against unwanted pregnancy, and condoms do prevent the spread, through genital intercourse, of STIs (contrary to what this research popularised by this Cardinal in 2003 suggested: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/oct/09/aids?INTCMP=SRCH - note the deliberately misleading generalisation from one Cardinal acting alone to 'The Catholic Church is teaching...'). So how then is what the Church teaches true? First, we must distinguish between the use of contraception in theory and the use of it in practice. In theory it should work every time. In practice people become over-reliant on contraception and expect to be able to have sex whenever they want without risking pregnancy. This spreads a culture of causal sex and 'riskier' forms of sex. This culture has now had several generations to develop unchecked, with increasing complacency about the depth of the link between sex and procreation. So with the amount of causal sex having dramatically risen its obvious that the rates of unwanted pregnancies and transmission of disease will rise too. This can occur for four reasons. First, people do not develop a healthy attitude of temperance towards sex, such that when contraception is not available they will have sex anyway, too impassioned to appreciate the gravity of the risk and deluding themselves that 'it cannot happen to me'. Second, it only takes a condom to be fitted improperly once for unwanted pregnancy to occur. Third, it is likewise the case with condoms splitting, it only needs to happen once. Even high quality ones can do this, it happens every day. But the condoms available in developing countries are very seldom of a high quality. This is not only because they can only afford the worst quality but because it has not been possible to enforce and regulate production standards like we do in developed countries. So the forth reason is that condoms in the developed world are unfortunately more likely to fail at least one time. And it is only one time that is needed to spread a fatal disease. So the only way to protect 100% against AIDS is through abstinence and/or fidelity to one partner. And if you really do care about human life, you should respect as superior the one method that guarantees 100% protection. Next, I urge you to read this short article (from a secular and reputable news source) which cites empirical evidence for the Church's stance being correct: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/27/AR2009032702825.html Having read that you may agree that yes, in practice the Catholic method is safer than the contraception method, but maintain that this view of the practicalities of the situation is flawed because it is itself dependent on the theory that all Catholics in countries effected by the AIDS pandemic will be able to be abstinent or keep faithful to one partner. That is to say, the Church's teaching that the use of contraception is sinful does cause a substantial amount of suffering because while they are not supposed to, in reality many Catholics will spread AIDS by having sex with multiple partners without using protection. Now, at first glance that may look like a reasonable objection, but there is a gaping hole in the logic. Did you spot it? It imputes no small amount of irrationality to these people to suppose that they would disregard the Church's central dogma on sex- that sexual relations are to be reserved for husbands and wives within a monogamous marriage (which Christianity inherited from Judaism), while remaining obedient to the Church's much less important teaching on contraception. Of course if they are prepared to commit the grave sin of adultery they are not going to be concerned about the comparatively trivial sin of using a condom. So when a Catholic does have unprotected sex where there is a risk of transmitting a fatal disease they cannot be doing so out of obedience to Catholicism; it is their own selfish interest in pleasure and disregard for the safety of their sexual partner that is to blame and not the Church. Finally, the charitable arm of the Catholic Church is the single largest provider of care for AIDS victims in Africa, so it is very unlikely that they would devote so much resources for tackling a problem if it could reasonably shown the particularities of their teaching was causing it. Indeed the evidence shows that countries with small proportions of Catholics tent to have higher HIV/AIDS infection rates, not lower ones. So to conclude, while the Church does need to do a lot of work to clarify it's view here, particularly on the ground level in the affected areas, the the Church and its particular doctrine here are certainly not in themselves making the pandemic worse.
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Aug 25, 2011