Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A pastor on prophylactics

Bravo to Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, South Africa, who continues his push for an adaptation of official Roman Catholic teaching on the use of condoms to prevent HIV transmission in sub-Saharan Africa. "There's a sense of security from black and white [when it comes to condoms]," says Dowling, "You can't do this. You can do that. But most of life is gray." He should know; his own diocese is overwhelmed with HIV.

Was that a bishop? Yes it was, and thank God. With tens of millions of Africans infected and with twice as many African children orphaned because of the AIDS pandemic, it's time for the church to recall one of Jesus' more memorable sayings: "The sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27). Elsewhere he points out that even on the sabbath it is lawful to save a life, though it violates the sabbath rest (Luke 13:15). Even better, how about when in frustration Jesus challenges his lawyerly opponents: "Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' "

Perhaps in the best of all possible worlds no one would ever use a condom; maybe the "best" sex is, indeed, the kind where there are no barriers whatsoever to sex's full possibilities. But we don't live in the best of all possible worlds, and this particular law is killing--yes, killing--vulnerable women especially, who often have no choice about sex, and the children who rely upon them. The moral authority and presence of the Catholic church could do much to level the playing field.

Which is more pro-life? Insisting on the validity of a teaching that few in the church really support, or freeing the consciences of poor African women to better protect themselves and their children from HIV? Isn't that what it means to be on the side of the poorest of the poor? Is "the truth" really more important than living, breathing human beings?

Or do we--and I do mean the majority of American Catholics who quietly disagree with the church's teaching on birth control--want to be held responsible on Judgment Day for our unwillingness to speak out on this matter? Because right now the church--and I mean all of us--are failing the moral test big time.


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