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Michael wrote:

Hello! My name is Michael.

I live in Reading, Massachusetts. I am 36 years old and a practicing Catholic for the past two years, after an 18-year absence from the Church. I am happily married, and I teach the sixth grade.

As we all know, the Church is growing in Africa. We also know that millions of people are dying from AIDS, starving to death, or dying from preventable diseases. Most of these victims are women, who don't have a lot of power to make choices about their lives, children, and who are blameless in all things.

  • How is it that the Church can teach that contraception is a sin when AIDS is rampant, and is often passed from husband to wife, and women have an average of seven children, when, due to economic, environmental, and political forces beyond their control, they can barely feed one child?

I understand that in an affluent Western country, like the United States, women have far more choices regarding their lives. They can work, they can marry, they can afford more children, etc.

In the developing world, though, and especially in Africa, women and their children are dying by the millions. In patriarchal societies, like those in Africa, women can't just say,

"Not tonight, dear, I have a headache."

nor can they just go out and get a job to support themselves, unless you count prostitution, which leads to even more AIDS cases. A realistic teaching on contraception and family planning would, literally, save millions of lives.

  • How does the Church respond to these issues?

Thank you for taking my question.


  { How can the Church can teach contraception is a sin and face these issues when AIDS is rampant? }

Mary Ann replied:

Hi, Michael —

Contraception, per se, has nothing to do with AIDS, other than to facilitate it by facilitating sexual promiscuity. Condoms, however, are advanced as a way to prevent AIDS, and the Church has instead spoken for abstinence and fidelity. These work 100%. Condoms do not. Condoms also further the breakdown of the family and social structure, which itself results in an increase of AIDS because poverty gives rise to prostitution.

One country in Africa has been spared much of the ravages of AIDS because it adopted an abstinence/fidelity program, and that is Uganda. Everywhere else, condoms have increased sexual activity, and the provision of condoms has taken the place of real medical and sanitation aid from USAID and UN agencies. As a result, people are dying from malaria and polio and other preventable diseases. Women are at increased risk from AIDS in a broken social structure because of transactional sex, and because men are acting sexually outside of marriage and bringing the virus into the marriage.

We should work for solutions that don't victimize women and children or put them at risk, not for so-called solutions, like condoms, that put women at risk, don't protect their health, and don't help women protect their families. There is much more to be said than I can say in a short answer, but I would refer you to the publications of the Population Research Institute. (

Mary Ann

Michael replied:

Hi Mary Ann,

If people were educated about using condoms, then the number of people contracting AIDS would decrease. It is that simple.

  • Do condoms offer perfect protection?

Of course not.

  • Do condoms offer more protection than good intentions (which seem to be what you are espousing)?

Infinitely so. Abstinence and marital fidelity are laudable goals, but in the face of a disease that kills millions, they cannot be the only weapons at our disposal. Similarly, you mention the "breakdown of the family and social structure" that is furthered by condom use (which is a bit hyperbolic). Compare that with the millions of children who are orphaned and raising themselves in Africa because of this epidemic.

  • Which do you think will have a greater impact on human misery?

I leave it to you to decide. Likewise, reducing the number of children born into the deplorable conditions that exist in most of Africa — disease, poverty, social instability, famine and war — should be a priority. Family planning — especially giving women the information and assistance they need to reduce the numbers of pregnancies they experience — would be a powerful step toward alleviating much of the misery that exists on that troubled continent. I am not talking about abortion. I am talking about birth control. If it is the position of the Church that artificial contraception is immoral in all circumstances, then I am sorry to say that the Church is wrong.

The Catholic Church can be a powerful force for good in this fallen world. I hope and pray that it is not causing more misery by discouraging the most vulnerable — the modern day "anawim" or "poor of Yahweh" — from protecting themselves from AIDS and overpopulation.

Thank you very much for answering my question. I respect your opinion, and the opinion of the Church. I just don't share it.


Mary Ann replied:

Well, I guess you weren't asking a question so much as challenging the Church but I challenge you to read the research on:

  • condom use
  • contraception
  • sexually transmitted disease, and
  • to investigate the "Ugandan miracle".

And there is one other thing, if you are espousing contraception over and above condom use, then that includes chemical contraception, which causes a host of medical and social problems, and which is also abortifacient.

It also includes IUD's, which always work by abortion, and which cause terrible health problems so
I gather you are not so much interested in the lives of children and the health of women as you are interested in population control.

More good could be done for Africa by stopping France and Germany from selling arms, and by legalizing DDT, which would stop malaria, which kills millions and enervates society.

Mary Ann

Eric replied:

Hi, Michael —

Thanks for the good question.

It's good to hear from a fellow person from Massachusetts.

It's understandable that you would be scandalized by this hard teaching, especially with all the voices we hear from the secular world about condoms and AIDS.

  • But did you know that the countries with the highest level of condom availability also have the highest rates of HIV prevalence, and that high HIV transmission rates have continued, despite high rates of condom use?

In addition, abstinence is working. Uganda at one time had the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world. The government introduced an abstinence program, and its rate dropped from 15% to 5% — the biggest HIV infection reduction in world history.

You can read about the details here: "Will condoms really stop AIDS in Africa?" or at the end of our final reply below.

  • Also did you know that even according to their proponents, condoms only have a
    90% effectiveness in stopping AIDS?

That means one out of ten times, they fail. One out of ten encounters with an infected person and
you are vulnerable to the infection.

  • Do you realize how bad this is?
  • Think about it — What if you had a one in ten chance of an accident every time you entered your car?

The problem is that people get a false sense of security — they are told they are "protected" by the condom, and that just encourages them to pursue more conquests and engage in riskier behavior, but the condom protection is not perfect, and soon that 10% failure rate catches up with them. Even if the failure rate were lower, it would still catch up with them.

Condoms don't work — they are not the answer.

Shake off the indoctrination you've received from the secular world.


Mary Ann replied:

Wonderful article Eric.

Mary Ann

Will Condoms Really Stop AIDS In Africa?
Special Crisis e-Report
May 19, 2005

Dear Friend,

If you've watched any of the mainstream news coverage of the Catholic Church in the past month, you've heard several charges repeated over and over:

  • The Church needs to ordain women to address the vocation shortage.
  • The Church needs to change its attitude on contraception and abortion to better accommodate modern realities.
  • The Church needs to moderate its stance on homosexual behavior to be more inclusive.
  • The Church needs to drop its claim to contain the fullness of salvation, since it hinders ecumenism.

Chances are, you're already well equipped to address these objections. But there's one charge that seems to throw Catholics for a loop.

It goes something like this:

By maintaining its ban on condom use, the Catholic Church is contributing to the AIDS epidemic in sub Saharan Africa. Condoms have been demonstrated to prevent infection 90% of the time. If the Vatican cared more about people's lives than a rigid doctrine that most Catholics reject, they'd make an exception to allow condom use to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. Such a move would do more for "life" than would maintaining a position that allows millions to die as a result of unprotected sex.

Sounds convincing at first, doesn't it? So convincing, in fact, that most Catholics have trouble addressing it.

One approach, of course, would be to explain the Catholic moral/theological position on why contraception is inherently evil. But while absolutely true, that approach isn't terribly convincing to a non-Catholic, let alone a non-Christian. After all, logic and philosophy are easily dismissed as abstractions when human life is involved.

But the debate over condoms in Africa need never get to that point. In fact, the whole matter can be settled without ever bringing in moral theology. You see, the fatal flaw in the
pro-condom argument is both simple and devastating: Condoms aren't working to stem
AIDS in Africa.

Take for example a March 2004 article in the medical journal, Studies in Family Planning (cited by the Zenit News Agency, June 26, 2004). Titled "Condom Promotion for AIDS Prevention in the Developing World: Is It Working?" the piece was a meta-review of the scientific literature on the question.

The results shocked condom advocates. In the article, researchers Sanny Chen and Norman Hearst noted that, "In many sub-Saharan African countries, high HIV transmission rates have continued despite high rates of condom use." In fact, they continued, "No clear examples have emerged yet of a country that has turned back a generalized epidemic primarily by means of condom distribution."

No surprise, then, that Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and South Africa — the nations with the highest levels of condom availability — continue to have the highest rates of HIV prevalence ("The White House Initiative to Combat AIDS: Learning from Uganda," Joseph Loconte, Executive Summary Backgrounder).

How could this be? After all, we're told that condoms are 90% effective.

And that's precisely the problem.

This claim — so prevalent in condom-promotion literature — is actually a tremendous strike against using condoms to reduce AIDS. Think of it: Assuming that the 90% figure is accurate
(a highly contested point), that means that 10% of the time, condoms don't offer protection against transmission.

That's one out of ten.

If you and I were to go skydiving, and I told you, "Don't worry . . . the parachutes work 90% of the time."

  • How comfortable would you be making that jump?

Now, of course, the fact that a condom fails to "work" doesn't mean the person will automatically contract HIV/AIDS. Nevertheless, this is hardly the solution to the crisis.

You see, the pro-condom lobby's exaggerations over the effectiveness of its product is actually making the problem worse, for one simple reason: Condoms provide a false sense of security to those who use them. Being convinced of their effectiveness and feeling invulnerable, users will simply continue — or actually increase — their high-risk behavior. In this way, the claimed 90% effectiveness rate plummets in proportion to the increase in self-destructive behavior. This phenomenon is borne out in the countries that focus on condom distribution to fight the disease.

But while condoms clearly won't solve the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa (or anywhere else), there is an approach that will: abstinence. Indeed, in African nations — where HIV/AIDS is transmitted almost exclusively through sexual contact— abstinence is the obvious solution.

And better yet, it has been proven effective.

Uganda at one time had the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world. Starting in the mid to late 1980s, their government instituted a program to teach abstinence before marriage and fidelity to one's partner. They only reluctantly advised condoms for high risk groups (like prostitutes) whom they knew would not accept the other two approaches.

Billboards, radio announcements, print ads, and school programs all promoted the virtues of abstinence and fidelity to prevent HIV/AIDS.

The results were astonishing.

In 1991, the prevalence rate of HIV was 15%. By 2001, it had dropped to 5%. It was the biggest HIV infection reduction in world history.

Among pregnant women, the drop was even more dramatic (as reported by CNS News, January 13, 2003). In 1991, 21.2% of expecting mothers tested positive for HIV. By 2001, the number had plummeted to 6.2%. Compare this with the 2001 numbers from Kenya (15%), Zimbabwe (32%), and Botswana (38%). All three countries focus on condom distribution, and all three countries continue to see their rates rise.

But wait, the condom advocates object. The Ugandan "miracle" is simply the result of more widespread condom use.

Not so, says Dr. Edward C. Green, an anthropologist at the Harvard University School of Public Health. Dr. Green was a strong proponent of condom distribution to stem HIV/AIDS . . . that is, until the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) hired him to study the reasons behind the success in Uganda.

The results of his research left him little doubt. "Reduction in the number of sexual partners was probably the single most important behavioral change that resulted in prevalence decline," he noted. "Abstinence was probably the second most important change" (testimony before the Subcommittee on African Affairs, as reported by Joseph Loconte).

"It is a very indicting statement about the effectiveness of condoms," he told Citizen Magazine. "You cannot show that more condoms have led to less AIDS in Africa . . . I look at the data and I see that what might be called a more liberal response to AIDS — more and more millions or billions of condoms — has simply not worked, especially in parts of the world with the highest infection rate, Africa and the Caribbean."

Unfortunately, not everyone was pleased with Dr. Green's conclusions. USAID shelved his study and enlisted a well-known condom advocate and employee of ETR Associates (an organization dedicated to "safe-sex" education) to write a new one. Apparently, USAID wasn't concerned with the apparent conflict of interest.

This is especially tragic, as the effectiveness of abstinence and fidelity education has been demonstrated by numerous research groups. As Loconte notes, evidence for the success of Uganda's approach has come from "USAID, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Harvard Center for Population and Developmental Studies, the Ugandan government, and numerous independent studies published in medical journals."

Yet we're still told condom distribution is the solution to the AIDS crisis in Africa. And the Catholic Church is an easy media bogeyman, standing in the way of that effort.

Ironically enough, Uganda's successful approach is very close to that recommended by the Church. The only exception, of course, is the African country's concession to giving condoms to prostitutes. But if the people of that nation — and indeed, of the world at large — took seriously the Catholic notion of the dignity of women and the nature of sexual intercourse, that last point would be addressed as well.

But what about allowing condoms for faithful married couples, where one partner is HIV/AIDS positive? Isn't that reasonable?

Actually, it's not reasonable at all. Love requires sacrifice. And a person who claims to love another would never knowingly put his beloved in danger. But that's precisely what this approach does.

Imagine if I get drunk one night and drive my wife around town. That's not a loving act.
And it doesn't suddenly become loving just because I tell her to put on her seatbelt. When an HIV/AIDS positive person has sex with someone who's free of the disease, he puts that person at grave risk. That's not love . . . that's selfishness.

In a marital situation where one spouse is HIV/AIDS positive and the other negative, the loving thing to do is to abstain from sex. In those cases, love must be shown in other ways, like the self-sacrifice that abstinence requires.

It's not easy, but real love rarely is.

I'll talk to you next week,



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