The right decision on contraception won’t be popular, or easy

Father John A. Kiley

Shortly before Christmas, Bob Kerr, columnist for the Providence Journal, wrote about two men with AIDS who visited the Lincoln Middle School to advise the eighth graders about this wasting disease.

The article and the presentation contained anecdotal suggestions for avoiding and dealing with this drug and sex associated illness. Kerr records this dialogue between a student and the presenter: “The kid eagerly raised his hand at the back of the room at the Lincoln Middle School. He had the answer. ‘A condom,’ he said. Right he was. ‘A condom is the safe way. Abstinence is probably not going to work for most people,’ Scott Mitchel told the class. ‘You can make a choice,’ he said.”

Just after Christmas, the National Catholic Reporter offered an article by Rose Murphy about her disenchantment with the Church as she grows older: “But I am more disillusioned by dogmatic bans on birth control that afflict poor women in developing countries and that too often obscure the core message of Christ’s call for compassion.” Practicality and compassion are difficult arguments to contradict. Quick measures with speedy results and empathetic measures with kindly thoughts win the day in modern America.

In great and reassuring contrast to the anecdotes of Kerr and the feelings of Murphy is an essay published in Ethics and Medics, by the National Catholic Bioethical Center in Philadelphia. Dr. Douglas A. Sylva laments that the international community selected the condom as the only option for risk reduction and AIDS infection decrease. “This, despite the fact that any significant level of protection would require condoms to be available in their billions, at all possible times and at all possible places, to be used 100 percent of the time, and to be used correctly 100 percent of the time. Nonetheless, condoms and their many imperfections were sold to the people of the developing world as ‘safe sex.’ The nations that embraced this program most emphatically, such as South Africa, saw infection rates continue to soar.”

Sylva also notes that at the same time, a few nations promoted traditional sexual morality — abstinence and fidelity — and they succeeded. The victory in the Philippines, for example, was acknowledged by United Nations’ own research: “The Philippines remains a low HIV prevalence country (0.01 percent). ... The number of HIV/AIDS cases is not expected to increase substantially over the next few years.” The New York Times admitted that the victory was because of traditional sexual morality: in the Philippines, “a very low rate of condom use and a very low rate of HIV infection seem to be going hand in hand. AIDS-prevention efforts often focus on condoms, but they are not widely available here — and are mostly shunned — in this conservative Roman Catholic country.”

The world’s AIDS epidemic has been used as a cudgel against Christianity, Sylva observes, especially the Catholic Church, (e.g., Murphy above). The Church’s stance against condoms allows the failure of the international safe sex campaign to be blamed on the Church. A columnist for the New Statesman newspaper even eulogized Pope John Paul II by claiming that he “probably contributed more to the continental spread of the disease in Africa than the trucking industry and prostitution combined.”

The embrace of artificial contraception by the modern world and the corresponding denigration of abstinence and fidelity have clearly led to promises that secular powers cannot keep. Had the time, energy, money and enthusiasm invested in artificial contraception been directed toward Natural Family Planning, the world would be a much safer and saner place. Condoms are not compassion; they are a cheat and a disappointment. Enabling the modern world to understand and employ the designs of nature in family planning and in disease prevention is true compassion and true practicality. Jesus is certainly noted for his compassion. The people swamp him in today’s Gospel. Jesus was also practical. He had to push away from healing the crowds to preach the Gospel. Jesus had to make tough decisions that were sometimes misunderstood even by the well-meaning Peter: “Everyone is looking for you.” Still Jesus never let popular stands or fashionable agenda compromise his mission.