Westminster Cardinal and Blair in condom clash

Westminster Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor has responded to comments by British Prime Minister Tony Blair apparently attacking the Vatican's condom policy in Africa, saying the continent was awash in condoms with little impact on the rate of infection.

Christian Today reports that Mr Blair called on religious leaders to "face up to reality" on the HIV and AIDS pandemic and consider the use of condoms to halt the further spread of the virus.

In an MTV interview on World AIDS Day, Mr Blair, an Anglican whose wife, Cherie, is Catholic, criticised the Vatican's longstanding opposition to the use of condoms, as he argued that preaching abstinence was not enough.

"The danger is if we have a sort of blanket ban from religious hierarchy saying it's wrong to do it, then you discourage people from doing it in circumstances where they need to protect their lives," Mr Blair told the program.

Mr Blair's criticism comes as the Vatican continues to consider a limited use of condoms following a report released last week by Cardinal Lozano Barragan, the head of the Vatican's Council for pastoral healthcare, which advised that a limited use of barrier contraception might be acceptable in the fight against AIDS.

The Prime Minister made clear that the government would be increasing its distribution of condoms throughout the developing world.

He said: "We are spending 1.5bn over the next few years trying to fight HIV/AIDS. It's also very important that we work on prevention, and we are planning to uplift the amount of condoms that we will be distributing too. They may be sex workers, they may be women in a difficult situation. If they don't get that help, there's no point in being prissy about it, then they end up with HIV/AIDS."

Mr Blair insisted that people should be encouraged to protect themselves against HIV, and that it was "silly" to say otherwise.

He said: "I think that the real key to it is education. That is about two things: educating people about sex when they are young, but also making sure that if people are sexually active, then they are taking protection. There is a big debate about this; how far are you going by saying to people, 'take protection with you'? Are you encouraging young people to have sex?"

Mr Blair added: "You should try to encourage people to be responsible, but you should recognise that, if you are sexually active, it's better to be sexually active and responsibly so."

But in a BBC Sunday AM interview, Westminster Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor said he had spoken to bishops in Africa who told him "that their dioceses are flooded with condoms".

The bishops told Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor that the promotion of the condoms has "meant more promiscuity, and more AIDS".

It would be much better if Britain focused its aid on providing "more anti-retroviral drugs, medicines, for the millions of children and women who are affected", Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor told the program.

"And let me also say that the way to combat AIDS is primarily, as everybody should know, you know, behavioural change, monogamous partnerships between a man and a woman," Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor added.

However, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor also noted that the Pope has received a report that examines the use of condoms "within a very restrictive area of marriage".

"In a particular restrictive case, I think Pope Benedict asked for a report. But in general I think that the Church stands by what it says," Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor concluded.

Catholic viewpoint (BBC Sunday AM, 3/12/06)
Blair Urges Vatican to Face Reality on Condoms (Christian Today, 2/12/06)
Blair calls on Churches to lift condom ban (Daily Telegraph, 2/12/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Tony Blair (Wikipedia)
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor (Wikipedia)

Vatican condom rethink could save millions, says Catholic AIDS activist (CathNews, 24/11/06)
Pope to rule on condoms Pope to rule on condoms (CathNews, 23/11/06)
Jesuit says Vatican condom concession would be nothing new (CathNews, 4/5/06)
Vatican set to OK condoms for disease prevention (CathNews, 26/4/06)
PNG bishops argue condoms OK for some (CathNews, 30/3/06)
Archbishop OKs condoms for HIV couples (CathNews, 14/4/05)
Papal theologian weighs condom use against AIDS (CathNews, 2/2/05)
Ugandan president calls church to back condom use (CathNews, 16/1/05)

4 Dec 2006