The Catholic international development charity Progressio has welcomed comments made by the most senior figure in the Catholic Church in England and Wales, who said that he understands why condoms are seen as an “attractive” option when considered in the context of developing world poverty.
In an interview with BBC WM, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, said: “I think when it comes to Third World poverty, and the great pressure under which many women are put by men, I can see the arguments why, in the short-term, (the) means that give women protection are attractive.”
Although Archbishop Nichols indicated he did not believe the Church has a direct role in promoting the use of condoms, he said it should be involved in tackling the root causes of poverty.
He also stressed that the Catholic Church would continue to highlight the message that: “If we solve the poverty then consistently we know that the birth rate comes down, if we provide people with security then consistently birth rates will come down.”
He did not address the issue of condom use in preventing the spread of the killer HIV-AIDS virus and syndrome.
The Archbishop's comments have been interpreted as being in contrast to the hard and unyielding line against birth control coming out of the Vatican and from leading Catholic conservatives.
He stressed the policies and practices Catholics could commend, including action on fundamental injustices, rather than condemning others who use condoms as part of an overall set of responses to poverty and HIV.
Progressio, which has been working with some of the world’s poorest communities in parts of Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America for over 40 years, welcomed his comments as “showing a great understanding of and empathy with those, especially women, who are facing difficult circumstances caused by poverty and powerlessness.”
Progressio’s Executive Director, Christine Allen commented: “In some countries where we work, the church hierarchy' s inability to understand the daily reality of poverty in people's lives is a major obstacle to our partners' efforts to help women to gain control over their lives and achieve their social, economic and political rights."
She added: “While we understand why the Archbishop says it is not the Church's role to champion the use of condoms, we hope his comments will encourage other leaders to similarly engage and understand the multiple causes and responses to poverty.”
Many grassroots Catholic health promoters, including clergy and religious, find themselves in tension - if not downright disagreement - with the Church's total prohibition on condoms and all forms of 'unnatural' birth control.
But they, together with progressive Catholic agencies, find themselves restricted in what they can say to challenge the Vatican 'line' - which critics say condemns millions to misery and some to death, and which many theologians have said is based on an outdated and mistaken interpretation of 'natural law'.
Progressio is an international charity with Catholic roots which seeks to support poor communities in solving their own problems. It also lobbies decision-makers to change policies that keep people poor. The organisation was formerly the Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR). www.progressio.org.uk