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. "...one 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.