Thursday, February 21, 2008

CAFOD: dossier

CAFOD, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, clearly find it difficult being a 'Catholic' charity. They have employed the appalling Dermot O'Leary to front a campaingn, and a pagan leader to give spiritual reflections on a pilgrimage to Holy Island. But their major and best known failing is their position on condoms.

In a nutshell, CAFOD endorses condoms as the 'lesser of two evils' to combat AIDS. This is inevitably linked to an approach to sexual relations which aims simply at 'safer' prostitution, a 'reduction' of casual sexual encounters, 'fidelity' to one partner at a time, etc.. This is not what the Church can contribute to human happiness.

It seems extraordinary that an organisation set up by the Catholic bishops with the specific task of providing an ethical alternative to the likes of Oxfam should adopt a policy repeatedly criticised by the Vatican, and certain to cause grave scandal to the faithful. The promotion of condoms to combat AIDS may seem justifiable on a superficial viewing (such a policy does not necessarily imply a wrongful contraceptive intention on anyone's part), but the problems with the policy are plain to anyone who thinks about it for a few moments.

CAFOD has on their website what looks like a denial, dating from Jan 2005, that they advocate this policy:

It should be made clear that CAFOD does not fund agencies for whom condoms are central to their programmes. The vast majority of CAFOD’s partners are Church partners. All partners, including secular ones, are made aware of our stance, which is that CAFOD neither funds nor advocates the supply, distribution or promotion of condoms. In this CAFOD seeks to exercise a role consistent with its Catholic character.

This, however, is disingenuous. On the very same web page, the next item down (4th from top) is a link to a pdf document with a quite different tone (note how the truths of the Catholic faith are referred to as a 'religious ideology'):

Epidemiological data confirm that condoms, when used consistently and correctly, reduce but do not completely remove the risk of HIV infection 12 and this scientific fact cannot be excluded from or misrepresented in any information on risk reduction strategies, regardless of a group’s cultural or religious ideology 13. The available evidence suggests that condom promotion has been particularly effective for identifiable groups at highest risk of HIV infection (e.g. sex workers) and who may have few if any other options for reducing risk. This evidence also indicates that, thus far, condom promotion for the general population has been less effective as a public health strategy. 14 15 Thus an important component of this third strand of a nuanced ABC [Abstinence Be faithful Condoms] must be that C also stands for Choice. An imperative that becomes “Choose what you can change today; choose what you want to change for tomorrow” is informed by sound epidemiology and also compatible with the gradualist theological understanding referred to earlier.

This document describes itself as a revised version of a paper given in July 2004. If CAFOD had a Damascene conversion in late 2004 why is this not mentioned in the Jan 2005 statement? Why is the old policy document still on their website? And why is it is that their 'nuanced' support for condom-promotion in theory and in practice, which has been defended by Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, The Tablet and other supporters of CAFOD? The 2005 statement seems to be simply a sop to critics following the row caused by the (now defunct) Catholic Action Group's criticism of CAFOD (and here). The 2004 paper is also available on the website of Caritas International, international umbrella group for Catholic aid agencies.

Here are Fr Finnigan's comments:

In 2004, a paper was presented by Ann Smith entitled 'An understanding of HIV prevention from the perspective of a faith-based development agency'. This gives a comprehensive outline of CAFOD's policy in this area. The paper refers to an article by Enda McDonagh Theology in a time of AIDS. This argues for the acceptance of the use of condoms as a "lesser evil". CAFOD's approach was strongly defended by Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor and Bishop Rawsthorne in a letter sent to all the priests of England and Wales. The first editorial of the 29 April 2006 issue of The Tablet (click on "sample issue") promotes the same approach.

Here are the moral problems with the policy (lifted from the CAUK dossier on Progressio):

a) The condom-pushers in developing countries simply hand them out as useful for both AIDS prevention and contraception.

b) The promotion of condom-use promotes the social acceptability of contraception.

c) The promotion of condom-use promotes the very sexual immorality which spreads AIDS.

d) Most importantly, it would be insane as well as immoral for a possibly infected person to use a condom simply to prevent infection, because they are not 100% effective (estimates vary between 75-95% for their prevention transfer of the virus between partners: used regularly, this is an effectiveness of zero).
As Monsignor Michel Schooyans of the Pontifical Academy for Life and also Social Sciences said in an interview in June 2006. " can ask oneself if it is truly an act of love for an HIV-positive to have relations with a healthy person. Like a sufferer from tuberculosis, from pulmonary plague orcholera, an HIV-positive knows that he can infect his partner. So if one really loves someone, one is going to avoid his running the risk of death. And it is well known that condoms are not reliable, that the percentage of ruptures is sometimes fairly high.
In morality the principle of the lesser evil is very simple. It consists of saying that when one is confronted by two inevitable evils, one must choose the lesser of these two evils. It is almost a question of good sense. As an example, let us revert to the case of condoms. To have relations with an HIV-positive and trying to protect oneself with condoms, is not something inevitable. There is always the freedom to have or not have this type of relations." (Interview by Arianne Rollier Rome June 2006)

For more information, see this page on Fr Finnigan's parish website.


Mark said...

I believe the comment of Monsignor Michel Schooyans is slightly wrong. From reading the encyclical, 'Humanae Vitae', I believe it is always morally wrong to do evil (even if good would come from it) but it may be morally good to tolerate a lesser evil in order to prevent a greater evil. So for example, we might not go around shutting down non-catholic charities which promote contraception for HIV/Aids because perhaps they might be doing a lot of other good work which would stop as a result of outside interference (tolerate a lesser evil.) As catholics, I believe, we cannot actively promote contraception even if some other good would come about, since we cannot do evil in order that good comes about.

Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Hercules said...

He doesn't say we should *do* evil, but 'choose' it. I assume he merely means that if 5 people die if you do one intrinsically neutral action, and 10 people die if you do another, then you should do the former. This kind of reasoning, as you say, doesn't apply to intrinsically wrong actions.

All he is saying is that *even if* we could use the lesser of two evils argument with condoms, it wouldn't justify their usage in the classic 'one infected partner' case.

If condoms are being used for disease control and without a contraceptive intention, it has been argued that their use is not intrinsically wrong: hence the type of argument against them on this page.

Some people think they are still intrinsically wrong to use because they render the sexual act unnatural. See William May.

Mark said...

I don't think the Monsignor's reasoning works.

For example, lets presume that there are really two possible options, to have contraceptive intercourse, or to have intercourse that would result in the transmission of Aids/HIV. We can easily imagine this scenario to be plausible - for example, they could be mentally disabled preventing them from reasonably abstaining. The monsignor's statement that the freedom always exists is not really correct; in some cases we don't punish insane individuals for crimes that would be otherwise deemed murder, we claim it's not their fault.

The question of whether we choose the lesser evil of contraception to prevent the greater evil of Aids/HIV transmission, then occurs. We cannot use the principle of double effect because it is not a matter of tolerating evil as a by-product, but a matter of actually doing intrinsic evil as a principle thing.

The moral answer is that we cannot choose the lesser evil of contraception even to prevent the transmission of a fatal disease, since there is the deliberate intention to contracept and contracepting is intrinsically evil.

We can't morally justify use of contraception in disease control for the same reason.

Pope Leo XIII's Prayer to St Michael

Holy Michael, Archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust down to Hell Satan, and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen