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, it was obvious the ban should urgently be lifted, and innumerable experts in medicine and international development were calling for just that. But even when it became clear the ban would indirectly cause millions of deaths, the church stuck to its guns. A whole series of Popes stubbornly refused to solve the church's most serious problem, at the same time as millions of people were dying as a result.

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. Fidelty is certainly a good strategy, with or without condoms. But why have thousands of "celibate" priests failed to avoid sex? And why is the church so obsessed with a topic that Jesus never mentioned?

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 is probably the worst human rights atrocity of the late 20th century. 

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. The Wikipedia page is shamelessly biased, or at least it was in 2020. Jesus would have been horrified.

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