Philippines Catholic row over condoms and HIV-AIDS

By Ecumenical News International
March 2, 2010

Catholic leaders in the Philippines have lambasted a government campaign that encourages condom use to help prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS, while a health official has blamed the church for thwarting its drive - writes Maurice Malanes.

The Archbishop of Lipa, Ramon Arguelles, has called for the resignation of the Philippines health department secretary, Esperanza Cabral. Arguelles was quoted on the Catholic Bishops Conference website as saying it is "immoral [for Cabral] to be pushing for the use of condoms, which we all know are not a deterrent to AIDS".

Cabral told reporters, however, "We are a secular state where the Church and State are separate." She said, "We are always willing to discuss and negotiate" the matter with Catholic Church officials. She added, "We should now be alarmed that we are now diagnosing two persons a day with HIV/AIDS, compared to just one person a day two to three years ago."

back on 18 February 2010 Manila Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales told the Church-run Radio Veritas that the health department was teaching something wrong, saying "Such mentality is pitiful." He was referring to the department's AIDS prevention programme, which it launched by providing free condoms on the eve of 14 February, St Valentine's Day.

Rosales said HIV and AIDS could be prevented only through "accurate information, respecting moral values, teaching people about a responsible and moral attitude toward sex, abstaining from premarital sex, and fidelity in marriage". The cardinal added, "I pity the Philippines for having leaders like those in the health department."

After local media carried details of Rosales' radio interview, health secretary Cabral had retorted by blaming the Catholic Church for contributing to an increase in the number of HIV and AIDS cases in the country.

"Our programme to prevent HIV and AIDS has failed because the church is blocking the third component of our programme, which is to encourage the use of condoms," Cabral told reporters.

She said the health department has an "ABC programme" to combat HIV and AIDS. A means "abstinence from sex"; B is for "be faithful to your partner"; and C means "condom use" if a person ignores A and B.

She agrees that the only foolproof strategy against HIV and AIDS is to avoid multiple partners, but adds that condom use, although not totally reliable, can still lower the risks.

Earlier Archbishop Arguelles had told reporters that condoms should also be labelled with, "Condoms may fail to protect you from AIDS." He added that the public should also be told about the "ill effects of condoms."

The Catholic Church also bans the use of condoms for birth control purposes, and advocates what it calls, "natural family planning methods" and "responsible parenthood".

About 81 per cent of the 98 million people in the Philippines identify themselves as Catholics.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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