US Catholic Faith in Real Life

World AIDS Day: Has anything changed in 30 years?

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Thirty years of AIDS: As of the end of 2009 there were about 33 million people living with HIV/AIDS, half of whom are women, about 2.5 million of which are children, and two thirds of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa. There are nearly 17 million children who have lost both parents to AIDS; about 25 million have died since 1980. All these stats are from UNAIDS via AVERT, an international AIDS charity and reflect numbers at the end of 2009.

While there is some news that the epidemic is slowing, it remains a human tragedy, and a complex one that defies any one solution. That's why I for one welcome the pope's measured remarks on the use of condoms in the fight against HIV. Though condoms are only one tool in the fight against the pandemic, I hope the Vatican eventually issues a more official statement that would free Catholic agencies to employ condoms in a responsible manner against the pandemic. I find the moral arguments against condom use unpersuasive--as do many moral theologians--more an ideological response than one rooted in the needs of the children of God. If you want to read a previous World AIDS Day argument, you can find it here.

An article in today's Chicago Tribune, however, put a more local and human face on the epidemic by featuring "serodiscordant" married heterosexual couples--couples in which one partner is HIV-positive while the other is negative. To argue that it would be immoral for them to use condoms to me seems ridiculous, as does saying they shouldn't have sex at all, or that HIV-positive people should only have relationships with other positive people. And I see no reason why Pope Paul VI, who could never have foreseen this epidemic, should have his teaching in Humanae Vitae applied in these cases, which was, after all, captioned "On the regulation of birth"--and not about HIV at all.

I think a saying of Jesus applies here: “Woe to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them” (Luke 11:46). The church's policy on condoms in the fight against HIV is indeed a burden for many battling the disease, and one that can and should be lifted.