A Cardinal, AIDS and the BBC

A Cardinal, AIDS and the BBC

Msgr Peter J. Elliott

The year 2004 began with noisy rows over the BBC, Tony Blair and the War in Iraq, but we heard little about a clash between a prominent Vatican Cardinal and the BBC.

In December, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, issued a Reflection, Family Values Versus Safe Sex, on the AIDS issue as presented in a BBC Panorama program Sex and the Holy City. The Cardinal made brief appearances in this program and was treated rather like Cardinal Pell in a Sixty Minutes beat-up.

This was not simply another attempt to compromise a Catholic leader by selecting parts of a longer interview. BBC Panorama had a message: the Church of John Paul II is not only out of touch with the enlightened world on sex, poverty, population and birth control, but the Vatican knows little about HIV/AIDS.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Setting to one side the Church's continual ministry of care for AIDS victims and recent Vatican demands for cheaper medication for AIDS victims, the Holy See has closely followed ethical and scientific issues raised by the pandemic. The Vatican sends its own qualified medical expert to international AIDS conferences. He provided much of the technical detail Cardinal Lopez Trujillo included in his forceful Reflection.

But this will not surface in our media. It questions the politically correct dogma that condoms effectively prevent the transmission of HIV/ AIDS.

It is well known that the condom is not a reliable contraceptive. But a woman can only become pregnant during her fertile days each month. HIV/AIDS can be passed on at any time. The Cardinal cites various scientific studies on the effectiveness of the condom. He gives details of a Workshop sponsored by four major US government agencies in 2000, with cautious conclusions that give little comfort to those promoting condom use as "the" answer.

Cardinal Lopez Trujillo contradicts the "safe sex" dogma. Australians still talk about "safe sex". Beyond our shores people prefer to talk of "safer sex". Nevertheless, the difference between "safe" and "safer" is not subtle in an issue of life and death. Using condoms for HIV/AIDS protection is "safer" in the sense that playing Russian Roulette with one bullet in the chamber is "safer" than using two or three.

By rejecting "safer sex" the Cardinal issues a challenge: it is not the Catholic Church, rather interests in the AIDS establishment who are causing deaths by continuing to promote a method that does not work effectively: "I am quite concerned because people, especially the young, are misled when total protection is seemingly offered to them, while in fact there is no such total protection."

Calling for people to be given correct and accurate information, the Cardinal proposed "that the Ministries for Health should require labels for condoms, as they do in the case of cigarettes, stating that the protection condoms provide is not total, and that the risks are indeed significant."

Anti-AIDS campaigns

The Cardinal's Reflection includes information on various HIV/AIDS campaigns. A USAID report on declining HIV prevalence in Uganda is a relative success story. In Uganda emphasis shifted from condom use to promoting marital fidelity and sexual abstinence outside marriage. This change of emphasis led to a declining rate of HIV infection, in contrast to African countries where HIV/AIDS campaigns are based mainly on condom use.

In 2003 Thailand reported 750,000 HIV/AIDS cases, while the Philippines reported 1,935 cases in a population 30 percent higher than Thailand. Yet in 1987 there were 112 cases in Thailand and 135 cases in the Philippines. Condoms are universally promoted in Thailand, whereas in the Philippines HIV/AIDS has been countered more by Family Values campaigns against promiscuity and condoms.

Everyone agrees that changing behaviour reduces the spread of HIV/AIDS, but there are different understandings of "behaviour". The AIDS establishment sees behaviour as people trusting and using condoms. This may allow them to continue with the promiscuous life-styles that spread HIV/AIDS. But Cardinal Lopez Trujillo emphasises that promiscuity, homosexual or heterosexual, is the issue. He calls for radical changes in behaviour, a return to Family Values.

The Church promotes effective behavioural change through fidelity in marriage and chastity outside marriage. Naturally, those given to social pessimism, even within the Church, dismiss this as "impossible". One even detects racist overtones here, yet through campaigns for Family Values, Uganda has demonstrated what is possible.

Cardinal Lopez Trujillo is not alone in his conflict with the BBC. Dismissing it as "biased and hostile to the Catholic Church", adding that it had "given offence to many Catholics", the English Catholic Bishops denounced Sex and the Holy City. Well they might. The program could have been scripted by the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

One zealous young interviewer was particularly biased and insensitive. He barged into the hovel of a poor mother in Manila, depicting her as yet another victim of a callous Church. His message was a standard line: the hypocritical Church is to blame for poverty and the world "population crisis", especially Pope John Paul II, who not only rejects the gospel of contraception, but the condom which prevents the spread of HIV/AIDS. The BBC timed Sex and the Holy City to "celebrate" the Holy Father's silver jubilee.

When I briefly lived in England as a boy in the mid-50s, I recall how the BBC was regarded as "pro-Catholic". How the wheel has turned! Not long ago, BBC attitudes were exposed in a program on the Spanish Inquisition that crudely reversed an earlier scholarly BBC film on that theme. Unfortunately the once great BBC has become a bastion of political correctness infected by anti-Catholicism. But in a virtual world of sound-bytes, hype and spin, both trends are inseparable.

Cardinal Lopez Trujillo's Reflection, Family Values Versus Safe Sex, may be downloaded at either
National Association of Catholic Families (UK): www.catholic-family.org
or www.catholicculture.org/docs/doc_view.cfm?RecNum=5836

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