KENYA: Catholics divided over Pope's condom comments

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Many Kenyan Catholics say the church's opposition to condom use is impractical
NAIROBI, 21 January 2011 (PlusNews) - Following the Pope's comments in a 2010 book to the effect that condom use may be permissible by HIV-positive sex workers to prevent HIV infection, many Roman Catholic Kenyans have found themselves at odds with their church leaders, who have retained their firm stance against condom use.

Shortly after the news of the Pope's comments in November 2010, Cardinal John Njue, head of the Kenyan Catholic Church, issued a statement asserting that the church remained entirely opposed to condom use.

"We reiterate and reaffirm that the position of the Catholic Church as regards the use of condoms, both as a means of contraception and as a means of addressing the grave issue of HIV/AIDS infection, has not changed and remains, as always, unacceptable," the statement read.

The Vatican is also adamant that the Catholic Church remains against the use of condoms in any other circumstances, stating in December 2010 that provision of condoms did not constitute "the real or moral solution" to the problem of HIV/AIDS and that "the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality".

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But for many sexually active Catholics living with the reality of a 7.4 percent HIV prevalence rate, the church's position is impractical.

"I believe in my Church and what they teach, but when it comes to condoms I depart," said Eric Mulwa, a Catholic living in the capital, Nairobi. "Condoms are about life and I use them because I fear HIV like everybody else. HIV doesn't say this is a Catholic faithful let me spare [him/her].

"I have always used a condom long before the Pope said what he said about them," he said.

Start the debate

Father Elias Orima, a Catholic priest, said he recognized the risks Catholics took by not using condoms but could not go against his religion and advocate for their use. "I don't say I endorse it but I tell my congregation they have a choice to protect life - both theirs and those of others - and that choice must respect the teachings of their church," he said.

Josephine Sewe said the church was burying its head in the sand by continuing to reject condom use for HIV prevention and birth control. "In the end, it is you and not the church that suffers. Even prevention of pregnancy is part of HIV prevention for the infants that might be involved. How do you say you may use it for HIV and not pregnancy prevention? All are about sex," she said.

''Now that the Pope has said something about it, people will run to the shops to grab them [condoms] and debate about it loudly''
She viewed the Pope's comments as a good start for an open conversation within the Catholic Church on condoms. "I respect my church, but on condoms I know they are losing it except it is hard to admit," she added. "Now that the Pope has said something about it, people will run to the shops to grab them and debate about it loudly."

However, some Catholics remain firm in their belief that condom use goes against the core principles of their religion. "To say people can now use condoms when they have sex is to tell them that sex outside marriage is good so long as you don't get sick or pregnant," he said. "People must just be taught to be moral. Maybe we should advocate HIV testing and not condoms so that you marry somebody whose status you know and then stay faithful."

Reverend David Siele, a member of the Kenya Network of Religious Leaders Infected and affected with HIV/AIDS, says the debate about the position of the Catholic Church and condom use has been overtaken by events.

"The circumstances that we live in today, where even the clergy like me gets infected with HIV, make the debate on the morality of condoms irrelevant," he said. "The congregation is using condoms and the morality debate some are engaging in does not work... for example, what is immoral about condom use amongst discordant couples?"


Theme (s): Education, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Prevention - PlusNews, PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews, Stigma/Human Rights/Law - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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