Some Catholic Bishops Say Condom Policy Is ‘Mistake’
Some conservative Roman Catholic bishops, led by Cardinals John O’Connor of New York and Bernard Law of Boston, have rejected a national bishops conference recommendation that said the use of condoms could be explained in church-sponsored AIDS education programs.
The policy paper on AIDS “has resulted in serious confusion,” O’Connor said Monday. “Some portions of the text have been construed as supporting toleration of educational approaches which I cannot accept as applicable within my area of church jurisdiction.”
O’Connor, who was in Rome on Thursday when the report was released in Washington, said he and like-minded bishops would not allow condom use to be explained or discussed in their dioceses’ schools, hospitals and youth programs.
But Archbishop John May of St. Louis, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, defended the paper.
“For us not to address such aspects of the AIDS phenomenon would leave people to learn of them from factually misleading campaigns designed to sell certain products or to advocate ‘safe sex’ without reference to a moral perspective,” he said.
“Many public health officials have recommended use of condoms to reduce the risk of transmitting or acquiring the AIDS virus, and we acknowledge this fact will be part of a comprehensive factual presentation on the disease.”
On Sunday, O’Connor told reporters that the condom statement was “a very grave mistake” that should not have been issued without a full vote of the bishops conference’s 380 members.
Asked if the assembled bishops would have rejected the paper’s condom provision, he responded, “Unquestionably.”
O’Connor said he had received support from bishops from “all over the country,” including retiring Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia and Krol’s designated successor, Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua of Pittsburgh; Cardinals Law of Boston and Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles and Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Newark, N.J.
Although McCarrick criticized the policy paper itself, Krol and Bevilacqua said Monday that it merely had been misinterpreted.
Mahony had no comment Monday and the Los Angeles Archdiocese said he might have a statement on the subject by the end of the week.
The statement released by the bishops conference’s 50-member administrative board said instruction about condoms in AIDS education programs could be permitted if presented within the context of a church teaching that advocates “abstinence outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage.”
Urgency Called a Factor
Carl Eifert, a spokesman for the conference, said the policy paper was not put up for a vote at the bishops’ last general meeting in November. But he said that given the urgency of the AIDS epidemic, it was decided not to wait until the next assemblage in June.
Law and 15 other New England bishops said that the policy paper spread confusion.
“Abstinence is the only morally acceptable way to avoid the sexual transmission of AIDS,” they said. “Apart from the fact that the use of condoms does not guarantee protection from AIDS, their use is morally unacceptable.”
“It’s a great document, 99.8% of it, but one small point is confusing,” said a spokesman for Law, the Rev. Peter V. Conley.
Detroit Archbishop Edmund Szoka, siding with O’Connor and Law, said he “will not permit use of the document in the archdiocese,” his spokesman, Jay Berman, said.
Source of Confusion
The section of the policy paper dealing with condoms “is confusing, it’s misleading and certainly could lead to misrepresentation of what the church teaches,” Berman said.
A spokesman for Baltimore Archbishop William Borders said the archdiocese probably would not oppose mention of condoms.
“We would endorse the principle of the statement, including complete factual information . . . presented in a context which stresses moral values and encourages people to live by our traditions,” said Father William Au.
The diocese of Cleveland will follow the bishops’ recommendations, including mention of condoms, said Anthony Iezzi, spokesman for Bishop Anthony Pilla. He said the diocese had been doing so for two years.
“Because we live in a pluralistic society, there are those who cannot or will not accept these teachings of abstinence,” he said. “For those persons, it is appropriate in an educational setting to mention that some medical authorities recommend condoms as a means of preventing AIDS.”
Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, who was the subject of a Vatican investigation for his allegedly unorthodox views, said he fully supported the paper and called it “a much-needed expression by church leadership on how Catholics should respond to the AIDS crisis.”
On Friday, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, a member of the bishops’ AIDS task force and a leader of the American church’s liberal wing, said he was “particularly pleased with the document.”