French Bishops have openly defied the Pope and decided that Catholics may
use condoms to fend off the deadly disease aids. And this is just months
before the Pope’s planned visit to France.
Published by the French episcopate, a report called La Societe En
Question says, while the Catholic Church generally advocated a different
kind of solution, fidelity in love, it acknowledges that condoms have
“partly” slowed down the spread of AIDS in France and that they may be
“necessary” in that context.
bishops call on “fears to be exorcised” and for “everything to be
done to overcome the isolation of AIDS sufferers.” This move was
startling to say the least, after so many years of official silence (which
rang loud with the implication that AIDS is God’s punishment for deviant
behaviour). It comes on the heels of criticism of the episcopate as a
“silent” body, made up of “submissive and fearful officials”, and
about the constant talk of a widening rift between the Church and society.
the move sent a signal to religious institutions worldwide, that it is
time the Church takes an active role in providing succour and practical
help to people afflicted by the AIDS scourge. And the issue hits closer to
home than we realise. After Central Africa, the region most affected by
the HIV/AIDS epidemic is the Caribbean. As in Central and South America,
an increasing number of heterosexuals - men and women - are contracting
young man is thought by his employers to be HIV positive. Unaware of his
legal rights, he is afraid to say anything because he needs the job to pay
his rent. He is probed and finally admits to carrying the disease. He is
fired. He falls ill, cannot afford treatment and is admitted to San
Fernando General Hospital. He responds to treatment and is discharged, but
his family constantly find excuses not to take him home despite
reassurances that he will not infect anyone. Eventually he dies in the
hospital, afraid and hurt. (Godfrey Sealey. Contributor to The 3rd
Epidemic: Repercussions of the Fear of AIDS. Published by the Panos
is a silent killer because, as Godfrey Sealey writes, in a country of
mauvais langue, the sufferer is simultaneously isolated and an immediate
victim of gossip. We live in a society where the rawest of sexual
innuendos are a part of daily life, where calypsonians all but bid us to
fornicate in public at Carnival, and we all but oblige. A country where
sex before, in, out and around marriage is accepted as the machismo
subculture. That’s all right, and as far as I’m concerned adults have
a right to exercise their sexuality.
then we refuse to analyse our sexuality. With prim faces we are mortified
by homosexuality, deeming it as “deviant” without attempting to
understand it. This leaves us still more ignorant of AIDS, and how it is
contracted. We find homosexuality accepted only when it is presented as
the macabre, as comic relief in our increasingly mindless and slapstick
theatre. We ignore the facts before us which say repeatedly, AIDS is no
longer a homosexual disease. It has struck and is striking daily; school
girls and heterosexual men, married women and infants. We are afflicted
with hypocrisy and overwhelmingly lacking in humanity to people dying of
AIDS or those diagnosed as HIV positive.
bishops who sit on the French episcopate’s social commission, who have
bravely risked going on a collision course with Rome, represent a growing
number of the clergy that recognise that if it is to continue to act as a
propagator of humanitarian values (at least one hopes that is its aim) it
has to keep in touch with the changing needs of the times.
I believe (or perhaps I have to) that the bishops of France are a
symptom of a movement that has begun worldwide. In the midst of the false
piety, pomp and threat of brimstone and hellfire, a cadre of religious
leaders from all religions have emerged. I have seen them coming from
every denomination here in Trinidad. They are our new hope.
in the Vatican, the seat of tradition and dogma, there is hope. The French
scientist who discovered the AIDS virus, Professor Luc Montagnier, gave a
talk at the Vatican two years ago because he was concerned about the
negative attitude of the religious authorities to the use of condoms as a
means of AIDS prevention. He was warmly applauded. Naturally he was
subsequently learned that the audience consisted of representatives of
religious congregations working on the ground. I then realised the
applause meant that I had said out loud what many of them thought
themselves but could not expose.”
while I was writing this I met Father Kevin (who I had known as a teenager
in Tobago) at a wedding. I quizzed him between speeches and dessert. I
instantly felt that he was a man who even the staunchest atheist could not
help but respect. What do you feel about the French Bishops? He replies,
“I believe that the highest ideals should be held up to everyone, in
restraint, in sex, in the sanctity of marriage.” But I persisted, what
if these ideals didn’t touch people - weren’t made relevant.
“Then,” he said, “they will have to use condoms to protect
themselves from AIDS,” adding, “but remember, above all I believe in
restraint.” Thus he serves his God and man.
emboldened by his mild manner and intelligent eyes, I asked him, “Do you
think the church has failed young people. He replied, “The institution
is made up of people who are not perfect, who fail from time to time. The
solution lies in working with, and understanding the people in your
parish.” And we leave him doing just that.
would be naive to end this by saying the common fund of humanity runs deep
and we should trust it. The real proof of this lies in homes and hospitals
around this country. And if people afflicted with AIDS - homosexual and
heterosexual men, women and children, are dying alone, “afraid and
hurt,” then know that the next time you look at a scandalised person, or
someone who pretends AIDS doesn’t exist or is the fault of homosexuals,
you are staring hypocrisy in the face.