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I wrote about the effect of condom use on HIV infection rates in general terms about three weeks ago, but Andrew Bolt’s post this afternoon titled Pell’s Killer Argument has prompted me to add some more detail.

I noted last time that the only people whose behaviour is likely to be influenced by Catholic theology are Catholics. It is simply silly to suggest that the Catholic Church does not have a right, indeed an obligation, to advise the faithful on morality.

Second, I pointed out that the more likely people are to disobey the Church’s teaching in one area, the less likely they are to be troubled by breaking the rules in others. In other words, encouraging Catholics to ignore Catholic teaching on the use of artificial contraception is also likely to encourage them to ignore Catholic teaching on chastity. And that, of course, will encourage, not discourage, risky behaviour.

Finally I suggested that it is simply silly to believe that someone who is deliberately going to commit a mortal sin by stealing from his family to pay a prostitute or by having sex with another man in a public toilet is at the same time going to be so constrained by his conscience that he will refuse to wear a condom out of a desire to act in accordance with the faith.

All of the above seems to me to be simple common sense. Common sense may be mistaken. But as Cardinal Pell has noted, actual research seem to confirm that the Pope and the Catholic Church are right.

For example, Edward Green, writing in the Washington Post on March 29th, said:

In theory, condom promotions ought to work everywhere. And intuitively, some condom use ought to be better than no use. But that’s not what the research in Africa shows. Why not? One reason is “risk compensation.” That is, when people think they’re made safe by using condoms at least some of the time, they actually engage in riskier sex.

He also noted that when early studies found this to be so, organisations like United Nations’ AIDS programme simply refused to acknowledge or publish them. But more recently, a succession of studies published in journals such as Lancet, Science and BMJ have confirmed that promoting the use of condoms simply has not worked as an AIDS prevention programme in Africa. This is despite millions and millions of dollars being spent on publicising condom use and making condoms easily and freely available.

Note that Edward Green is not a Catholic, and supports the use of condoms. He believes that condoms have worked in places other than Africa (I do not – there are other factors at work in the Asian countries he mentions, and very low HIV infection rates in the Catholic Philippines is a strong counter-argument). But he acknowledges that what works best is faithfulness.

So when Pope Benedict, Cardinal Pell and the wider Catholic Church say that chastity outside of marriage and faithfulness within marriage is right for spiritual reasons and is also the healthiest choice, the evidence is on their side. It is not on the side of the wholesale condom sellers.

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