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Orange County Bishop Sees Condom Policy as Unclear

December 15, 1987|MARK I. PINSKY and DAVID REYES | Times Staff Writers

The Catholic bishop of Orange County added his voice Monday to a chorus of concern about the wording of last week's statement by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on the use of condoms and AIDS education.

"I don't like things that are imprecise or ambivalent," said Bishop Norman F. McFarland of Orange County, describing his opposition to the language although not the basic thrust of the paper that won the bishops' approval.

The part of the bishops' 30-page report that has set off the debate reads, in part, "educational efforts, if grounded in the broader moral vision . . . could include accurate information about prophylactic devices or other practices proposed by some medical experts as potential means of preventing AIDS."

"We are not promoting the use of prophylactics," the bishops wrote, "but merely providing information that is part of the factual picture."

Since the report was issued Thursday, some conservative bishops around the country, led by New York's Cardinal John O'Connor, have criticized the wording and interpretation of the statement. O'Connor called the release of the paper as written "a grave mistake."

O'Connor said Monday that the policy paper on AIDS "has resulted in serious confusion. Some portions of the text have been construed as supporting toleration of educational approaches which I cannot accept as applicable within my area of church jurisdiction."

O'Connor, who was in Rome when the report was released in Washington, said he would not allow condom use to be explained or discussed in his dioceses' schools, hospitals and youth programs.

Call for Abstinence

Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston, with 15 other New England bishops, said in a statement that the policy paper spread confusion. "Abstinence is the only morally acceptable way to avoid the sexual transmission of AIDS," they said. "Apart from the fact that the use of condoms does not guarantee protection from AIDS, their use is morally unacceptable."

Detroit Archbishop Edmund Szoka called the statement confusing and said he "will not permit use of the document in the archdiocese."

A spokesman for Baltimore Archbishop William Borders said the archdiocese probably would not oppose mention of condoms. "We would endorse the principle of the statement, including complete factual information . . . presented in a context which stresses moral values and encourages people to live by our traditions," said Father William Au.

Archbishop Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles made no comment Monday, but his secretary, Father Lawrence Estrada, said a statement would be forthcoming, probably this week.

Controversy in L.A.

One year ago, the Los Angeles Archdiocese withdrew its support of an AIDS education program aimed at Latino church members because the workshops included an explicit discussion of condoms as a way to prevent spread of the disease. Only one presentation, set up by AIDS Project Los Angeles, was held before the archdiocese pulled out.

In the course of a 90-minute meeting of the conference's 50-member administrative board in Washington on Nov. 14, Orange County's McFarland said he tried repeatedly but unsuccessfully to clarify the language, sensing that the wording "would lead to headlines around the country."

The policy paper was not put up for a vote at the bishops' general meeting. Carl Eifert, a spokesman for the national bishops conference, said that given the urgency of the AIDS epidemic, it was decided not to wait until the next assemblage in June.

O'Connor said that the report should not have been issued without a full vote of the bishops conference's 380 members. Asked if the assembled bishops would have rejected the paper's condom provision, he responded, "Unquestionably."

Implication Cited

The final wording of the section "seems to imply our condonation, our acceptance" of the use of condoms, said McFarland, who was trained as a canon lawyer. In fact, he said, the church questions the effectiveness of condoms and considers their use wrong.

"But because using them is wrong doesn't mean you don't mention them," McFarland said. "It's not that you don't make mention of the realities of life."

He added: "I have no problem with (condoms) being mentioned in the proper Catholic context."

McFarland said he had met earlier Monday with diocese representatives to discuss the broad outlines of the diocese's response to the AIDS crisis in the schools and parishes. He pointed out that the statement issued last week is not binding on individual bishops and that each is responsible for local policy.

O'Connor said he had received support from bishops from "all over the country," including retiring Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia and Krol's designated successor, Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua of Pittsburgh, Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Newark, N.J., and McFarland.

Question of Interpretation

Although McCarrick criticized the policy paper itself, Krol and Bevilacqua said Monday that it merely had been misinterpreted.

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