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L.A. Archdiocese Revises Statement on AIDS, Condoms

December 22, 1987|JOHN DART | Times Religion Writer

The Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archdiocese on Monday released a five-sentence revision of a controversial church policy paper on acquired immune deficiency syndrome, saying flatly that it cannot endorse public health recommendations on condoms to prevent the spread of the disease.

Archbishop Roger M. Mahony had announced last Tuesday that a 30-page paper issued by the administrative board of the bishops' U.S. Catholic Conference on Dec. 10 would become the official policy of the 2.65-million-member archdiocese--but only after "confusing" wording was clarified.

The policy is intended to give direction to Catholic educators, health-care officials and parish priests, as well as parishioners.

Several conservative bishops complained that the language of the U.S. Catholic Conference was unclear, leading some Catholics to think that the church's disapproval of contraceptives had been altered.

In one key change, the document, as revised for Los Angeles Catholics, drops references to people who "will not agree with our understanding of human sexuality" and "will not refrain from the type of sexual or drug-abuse behavior which can transmit AIDS." Mahony said last week that "it is not for me to speculate on what they should do."

The new wording concentrates on the moral role of Catholic educators, emphasizing that apart from married fidelity or unmarried abstinence from sex, "there are no absolutely safe alternatives."

The Catholic teaching on chastity, the revision stated, "is not an expression of social naivete but rather a matter of justice, so that the well-being of all human beings may be preserved."

The archdiocese's revisions do not rule out the use of "responsible AIDS education materials" and "recommendations by public health officials," but the new wording attempts to clarify the limited use that Catholic educators may make of them.

Here are the changes made in the paper, "The Many Faces of AIDS: A Gospel Response," by the Los Angeles Archdiocese:

ORIGINAL (Page 16): "Because we live in a pluralistic society, we acknowledge that some will not agree with our understanding of human sexuality. We recognize that public educational programs addressed to a wide audience will reflect the fact that some people will not act as they can and should; that they will not refrain from the type of sexual or drug-abuse behavior which can transmit AIDS.

"In such situations, educational efforts, if grounded in the broader moral vision outlined above, 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 but merely providing information that is part of the factual picture. Such a factual presentation should indicate that abstinence outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage, as well as the avoidance of intravenous drug abuse, are the only morally correct and medically sure ways to prevent the spread of AIDS.

"So-called 'safe-sex' practices are, at best, only partially effective. They do not take into account either the real values that are at stake or the fundamental good of the human person."

REVISED: "While responsible AIDS education materials contain much valuable information concerning the nature, transmission and prevention of the spread of the HIV virus (including faithful monogamy and chastity for the unmarried), recommendation in such materials concerning the use of prophylactic devices are ( sic ) not to be endorsed by educators operating under Catholic auspices.

"Rather, the special contribution of Catholic educators is to provide moral guidance and to assist in the clarification of the values of authentic human sexuality. The fact remains that apart from the exercise of monogamy or abstinence for those who are not in faithful, marital union, there are no absolutely safe alternatives to the spread of AIDS. Therefore, the articulation of a moral vision which promotes and supports the chaste exercise of human sexuality is not an expression of social naivete but rather a matter of justice so that the well-being of all human beings may be preserved."

One sentence was changed after the following two sentences, which were retained:

"It is important that Catholic health-care institutions provide educational programs about AIDS for their staffs and the public at large. It would be contradictory for these institutions to advocate a 'safe-sex' approach to the prevention of the disease."

ORIGINAL: "It would be permissible, in accord with what has been said earlier about not promoting 'safe sex' practices, to speak about the practices recommended by public health officials for limiting the spread of AIDS in the context of a clear advocacy of Catholic moral teaching."

REVISED: "Catholic health-care facilities should take care that a proper moral analysis of recommendations by public health officials to prevent the spread of AIDS is an essential component of their AIDS education programs."

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