Human rights and the Catholic condom ban

Richard Parncutt

May 2020

The following criticism of Christianity comes from within. As a child, I learned the foundations of morality and personal responsibility from Christians (the Church of England and Presbyterian/Uniting Church in Melbourne, Australia). I am grateful to Christians and Christianity for a large part of my music education. As a musician and musicologist, I know how much of the wonderful music of the past was enabled and promoted by Christian churches.

Image this fictional scenario: A corona vaccine is found but a religious group forbids it, claiming that it is immoral. Death from corona is God’s will, they say. God doesn’t do things without a reason. We have no right to intervene. Besides, it is more reliable to wash your hands, keep your distance, and wear a mask. This “vaccine ban” indirectly causes thousands of deaths.

That’s more or less what happened with HIV/AIDS in the 1980s, except the consequences were much worse. Not thousands, but millions died unnecessarily. The Catholic church had banned the most reliable way to stop AIDS transmission, the condom, in the 1960s. In the 1980s, as the AIDS pandemic gathered speed, it was clear the ban should urgently be lifted, and innumerable experts in medicine and international development called for just that. But even when it became clear the ban would indirectly cause millions of deaths, the church stuck to its guns. A series of Popes stubbornly refused to solve the church's most serious problem.

If not for the Catholic condom ban, many (10%?) of the 30 to 40 million people who died of AIDS would never have contracted the disease. In terms of the likely death toll, and if we regard every human life as equally important ("equally sacred", as the church might say), the Catholic condom ban may be the worst human rights atrocity of the late 20th century.

The mega-deadly consequences of the Catholic condom ban have become one of history's greatest taboos. We are talking about an even bigger scandal than Catholic sexual abuse and pedophilia. This is not genocide, because no-one ever intended to kill anyone. But the case is legally similar to gross negligence. From Wikipedia:
In the U.K., a conviction for gross negligence manslaughter requires that the prosecutor prove the existence of a duty of care, breach of that duty by the defendant resulting in death, and a risk of death that would be obvious to a reasonable prudent person in the position of the defendant.

The case is also related to crimes against humanity, given that the perpetrators were well informed about the mega-fatal consequences but proceeded anyway.
From that perspective, the case should be considered by the International Criminal Court -- even if the crime was strictly not "purposely committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian or an identifiable part of a civilian population", to quote the Wikipedia definition of crimes against humanity (in August 2020).

The Wikipedia page on the Catholic church and AIDS disguises the problem by focusing on the positive contribution of the church to AIDS treatment. I have tried in the past to remind readers of this page of the arguments presented here and in particular that prevention is better than cure, but it was not easy to negotiate with pious Catholics, of which there are very many. Jesus would have been horrified. Perhaps others will have more luck by inserting links to published literature.

The church argues that any form of contraception is immoral -- an idea that has nothing at all to do with the documented teachings of Jesus Christ. The church also argues that the best way to avoid AIDS is to avoid sex except within marriage. Fidelity is certainly a good strategy, with or without condoms. But that raises some big questions. Why have thousands of "celibate" priests failed to avoid sex? And why is the church so obsessed with a topic that Jesus never mentioned? That, of course, is an old argument, dating to the reformation.

Astonishingly, hardly anyone seems to care about this. Probably no-one will comment on the present text, no matter how I present it. It is not often that one finds an accurate and honest
statement on this topic by someone who actually cares about human rights and has the courage to present something close to the truth.

How might we explain the almost total failure to address one of the biggest human rights violations of our time?
One possibility is that almost everyone is one or more of the following five things: racist, sexist, homophobic, bigoted (by which I mean blindly devoted to Christianity and intolerant of anything else), or afraid. Implicit stereotypes are a well-known and well-understood phenomenon in psychology. Many AIDS victims were gay (at least at the start of the epidemic), black (the epidemic started in Africa, and the church pushed the condom ban harder in Africa), or female (many women are forced by poverty into prostitution). Regarding "bigotry": however you look at the church's standard arguments on this topic, they are closer to superstition than common sense, and they contradict expert opinion in both medicine and international development. But people still accept them! Regarding fear, are we still afraid of suffering the fate of Galileo? Surely freedom of speech has never been greater than it is today in Western countries -- in particular, Western Europe? 

Be that as it may: Anyone, religious or not, who admires and aspires to the moral courage of Jesus, as so powerfully portrayed in the gospels — especially when he directly criticized religious authority (woes of the Pharisees) — should be speaking out against the Catholic condom ban. The right to life is the most important human right. Lest we forget.

The opinions expressed on this page are the author's personal opinions. Readers who know and care about this topic are asked to contact the author with suggestions for mproving or extending the content: parncutt at gmx dot at. Back to Richard Parncutt's homepage