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Maher Opposes Report by Bishops on Condoms : Says He Wouldn't Have Voted for Statement Dealing With Their Use in AIDS Education

December 16, 1987|RALPH FRAMMOLINO and JOHN DART | Times Staff Writers

Bishop Leo T. Maher of San Diego said Tuesday that he wouldn't have voted for the controversial statement released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on the use of condoms and AIDS education because it was too vague.

Maher also said that he will not allow any teaching about prophylactics to the more than 15,000 students in the 43 elementary and three high schools in the San Diego Diocese.

"The information on condoms will not be given on an educational basis in the parochial schools in the Diocese of San Diego," Maher said through a spokesman.

Maher joined a growing number of high-ranking Roman Catholic Church officials around the country who have openly criticized a 30-page report issued last week by the conference advising that "morally correct" sex education "could include accurate information about prophylactic devices or other practices proposed by some medical experts as potential means of preventing AIDS."

The critics, led by New York's Cardinal John O'Connor, have said that some news reports and public misinterpretations gave the erroneous impression that the church had changed its opposition to prophylactics. Some cardinals and archbishops said they would not use the document at all; others praised it.

But Los Angeles Archbishop Roger M. Mahony said Tuesday he would adopt the controversial AIDS policy paper issued by his fellow American bishops but only after substituting "clearer language" in sections that gave conditional permission to discussing public health recommendations about condoms.

"Those sections . . . have caused confusion and misunderstanding," Mahony wrote in a letter to priests, educators and other leaders in the Los Angeles Archdiocese. He said his revised version, expected later this week, will become the official policy direction for the 2.65 million Catholics in the nation's most populous archdiocese.

In San Diego, Maher said Tuesday that he thought the controversial statement issued last week was too ambiguous.

"I wouldn't have voted for the statement as it is," Maher said in a statement issued through diocesan spokesman Dan Pitrie. "I would have changed it to avoid the ambiguity.

"It leaves unclear when this (use of condoms) can be taught," said Maher. "My opinion is that this statement is aimed at teaching outside the regular presentation to Catholic audiences, that is Catholic high schools and colleges. Therefore, the statement is vague regarding at what audience these educational programs are aimed."

Since it is the "consistent teaching" of the Catholic Church that use of prophylactics is a "grave wrong," Maher said he believes that the bishops who approved the statement on condoms and AIDS were aiming their message at "people who do not accept the church's clear position on contraception and sexual morality.

"That statement does not represent the teaching of all the U.S. bishops," said Maher. "Bishops do not and cannot approve the use of contraceptives, including condoms. The bishops who issued the statement are saying that educational programs that are based on moral values can include accurate information about prophylactic devices as a potential means of preventing AIDS, so that people who do not follow the moral law can help save their lives."

However, the subject of birth control won't find its way into the official curriculum of the Diocese schools, Maher said.

Mahony, at an impromptu news conference after a Town Hall speech in Los Angeles on world peace prospects, indicated that his revised statement will eliminated references to people who do not follow Catholic moral teachings. "It is not for me to speculate on what they should do," Mahony said.

The trouble with the present document, he said, is that it "tries to blend what the Catholic message should be with a speculative look at what public health officials might say about the problem."

The original document, released Thursday by the 50-member administrative board of the U.S. Catholic Conference, said that in a pluralistic society, not everyone agrees with the Catholic stance that sex should only take place in marriage. In recognizing this, it said that as long as the church's position is stated, public education efforts against AIDS "could include accurate information about prophylactic devices or other practices proposed by some medical experts as potential means of preventing AIDS."

Mahony praised most of the 30-page policy paper, "The Many Faces of AIDS: A Gospel Response," as a "very, very fine document that speaks compassionately and knowledgeably" to the problems AIDS victims face and what church responses should be.

Even the poorly worded sections, "in the total theological context" of the document "could be supported," he told reporters.

Result of Revisions

After consulting with his Priests' Council and moral theologians, Mahony said the revised document will only present what the Catholic position is on the morally and medically correct ways to avoid AIDS. He said the new version will be ready later in the week.

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