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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Wed Jul 19 13:48:51 2000
Date: Wed, 12 Jul 2000 22:35:23 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: HEALTH-BRAZIL: Ban on Condom Use Divides Catholic Church
Article: 100271
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Ban on Condom Use Divides Catholic Church

By Mario Osava, IPS, 11 July 2000

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 11 (IPS) - HIV, the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immuno-deficiency syndrome), is taking its toll on human life and on the Roman Catholic Church, especially in Brazil, home to the largest Catholic population in the world.

The Brazilian Bishops Conference has adopted the Vatican's policy against condom use but the move accentuated divisions within the Church here and its discrepancies with society.

Father Valeriano Paitoni has proven to be the most vocal critic of the policy. He runs three shelters in Sao Paulo for AIDS sufferers and serves a local parish.

The Catholic Church will see itself forced once again to ask for humanity's forgiveness for the errors committed with respect to AIDS, just as it had to in the cases of the indigenous and Afro- Brazilian populations, Paitoni predicted during a press conference last week.

AIDS is a world epidemic, a public health problem that must be confronted with scientific advances and methods that have proven effective. Rejecting condom use is to oppose the fight for life, says the Italian priest who has lived in Brazil for the last 22 years.

Paitoni has not only made his position on AIDS public, risking Church-imposed sanctions, he has also produced a video for mass distribution that explains the HIV threat and recommends condom use as an effective preventative measure.

His statements were censured by his superior, archbishop of Sao Paulo Claudio Hummes, who said Paitoni's views and attitudes are unacceptable and conflict with the Church doctrine, which has been reaffirmed by Pope John Paul II.

Reprimands do not exclude administrative and pastoral measures appropriate for correcting this unfortunate situation, said Hummes, rejecting Paitoni's comments that the Brazilian Bishops Conference agreed to take a stand against condoms because of pressure from the Vatican.

Some bishops had previously accepted condom use as a lesser evil, given the spread of AIDS and ensuing deaths. But they were silent by the time the bishops meeting drew to a close in June.

Brazil's Health Ministry came out in Paitoni's defence when sanctions appeared imminent, saying the priest is an important partner in the fight against the disease.

The attitude among Church leaders endangers the health of the country's people and hurts the efforts of the National AIDS Programme, according to a statement released by the Health Ministry's office in charge of the AIDS prevention campaign.

It also reflects the growing distance between the Church's leadership and the grassroots, which encompass several organisations that work with health authorities to try to contain the epidemic. AIDS has left more than 100,000 people dead and 30,000 orphans in Brazil.

There are currently 530,000 people in the country who are HIV positive, according the Health Ministry data. The homes Paitoni runs help an estimated 33,000 of that total, two-thirds of which are children.

Non-governmental organisation specialising in the AIDS fight also mobilised in defence of the priest, calling on the Church to keep Paitoni in Brazil's clerical flock.

Archbishop Hummes' willingness so far to dialogue with the Italian-born priest and to allow him to continue his social action seems to indicate that there will be a favourable outcome, with only minimal punishment, said Rubens Duda, president of the Forum of Organisations for the Prevention and Treatment of AIDS.

The archdiocese of Sao Paulo was headed until last year by cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, seen as a progressive because of his actions on behalf of human rights and his openness to new ideas.

Arns supported the idea of lesser evil when it came to condom use and AIDS, according to Paitoni, who was able to carry out his work without restrictions under the former archbishop.

But now the priest must answer to Hummes, who was chosen by the Vatican to succeed Arns and is considered conservative by religious experts. One of his missions is reportedly to gradually replace the progressive structures his predecessor built during the last two decades.

The condom controversy is not just a local issue. It reflects a choice between options the Catholic Church opposes - a situation imposed by the AIDS epidemic.

Accepting condom use would mean renouncing Catholic principles, such as dealing with sex as a purely reproductive function. The consequences could include damaging the Church's identity as well as losing its conservative followers.

Upholding the doctrine, however, opens the way for accusations that the Church is making a mistake similar to its failure to condemn the slavery of blacks and the genocide of indigenous peoples.

If it does not change its position, the Church will have to respond in the future for the consequences of the spread of the epidemic among Brazilian Catholics, warned the Health Ministry.

The argument that condom use promotes sexual promiscuity denies the human capacity for spiritual growth, and takes advantage of people's fear of death in order to impose matrimonial chastity and fidelity, criticised Father Paitoni, who maintains that protection of life outweighs all other considerations.

For now, the Catholic Church maintains its position, consistent with its condemnation of homosexuality and of sex in a second marriage between previously divorced individuals, as indicated by the Vatican's latest statements.