African cardinal on condoms and AIDS

by John L. Allen Jr.

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During the course of a Vatican news conference early this afternoon, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana took a number of questions on a wide range of topics. Turkson is the relator, or general secretary, of the Synod of Bishops for Africa currently meeting in Rome.

One of those question was on anti-AIDS efforts in Africa, in the course of which Turkson discussed the always-controversial issue of condoms. The Vatican this evening provided a transcript of Turkson's remarks, which appears below.


The question of HIV/AIDS … I think in Africa there are so very, very many various scenarios involving the HIV/AIDS question. There is a situation in Southern Africa which is tragic, which is very pressing and that’s where most of the references about the situation of HIV refers to. I personally have an experience of this in Botswana where I spent some time and I witnessed the fact that almost every weekend, about four-five people are buried, young people and not. It’s like … it’s dissipating the work-force of the nation and the effect is bad.

So the treatment of it: I mean, there are two prevailing … I suppose this, in this regard: there is the discovery now of the antiretrovirus, and it is either the antiretrovirus or it is the use of condom to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, unless we go with the abstinence, you know, and fidelity to partners and things like that. And from my own, you know, we’ve learned from Ghana we’ve not done a total and thorough research on this, but the small tidbits that we have from our hospitals, because in Ghana the Catholic Church is small, about 30 per cent, of all the health institutions in the Country; next to the government, we provided the biggest number of health facilities, so from this small survey we’ve discovered in our hospitals, when even people propose, you know, the use of condom, it becomes effective only in families where they resolve also to be faithful.

The ordinary use of condoms, just as a stop of AIDS, it is not the given, appreciable resort in our case. When young people resort to condom, it is only also when it goes with fidelity, in that situation where one of the partners may be suffering from HIV/AIDS themselves. When that is the case, let’s talk it over plainly here: we are talking about a product of a factory, and there are different qualities. There are condoms which arrive in Ghana (where in the heat they burst during sex), and when that is the case, then it gives the poor a false sense of security which rather facilitates the spread of HIV/AIDS. And when that is the case, then we are reluctant even in the case of, you know, conjugal relation and people who are faithful, people are reluctant to talk about it.

But still our primary concern and our priority are such that what we will talk first about will probably be this: the abstinence and loyalty and fidelity and you refrain from sex when it is not the case. And as once I suggested to somebody: if anybody came to me ever with HIV/AIDS and wanted my view, I know that in all situations of pastoral counselling the pastor never decides what a candidate must do. It’s the same in psychological counselling situations: you just expose the issues, discuss the issues with the candidate and allow the person to decide, take his own decision.

And when that is the case, I would not undervalue the possibility that somebody who has AIDS, recognizing his own Christian commitment, would simply just decide to refrain from sex. I have not come across too many, but I have come across a few; a few Christians and Catholics, who recognizing that they have AIDS, have just refrained or refused to have … because of fear of spreading it.

Some would, in such a situation, have advised the use of condom by the partner who has HIV/AIDS so it doesn’t spread. But again, in our part of the world, even the use of condom is sometimes risky: risky in the sense that will we have cases of condoms that have burst during sex and it is they themselves who have come to talk about it otherwise we would not have known it in our hospitals. So, since that is the case, if we have provided a top quality condoms, no one can probably uncertainty speak of this, but this is also not the case.

So, I would basicly wish that the amount of resources which are available to put into the production of condoms, if they were spent to subsidize the antiretroviral drugs, now I think we would be happier, in Africa, for the availability of the retroviral drugs then. So, the resources are there to produce condoms for our use; there would probably, in my opinion, so like me, if I were ever asked, then I would probably say: then let us use those resources to support the production of retroviral drugs so they can be more available to people. Right now it is not available to very many, because of the cost. So if you have the means of bringing down the cost, that’s probably the big favour that we can do to people suffering from HIV/AIDS.

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