October 10, 2003

The Sin Against the Holy Ghost

The Vatican Palace makes even the mild-mannered, charitable, and reasonable Mark A.R. Kleiman wish that there were a Last Judgment and a Hell:

Mark A. R. Kleiman: Seems that someone in Rome has been reading Mark Twain: "Tell the truth, or trump. But take the trick." The Vatican, apparently despairing of its ability to spread what it regards as the divinely approved sexual morality using truthful arguments, has decided to just make up its own version of biology in order to scare people in Africa out of using the condoms that might save their lives. Makes you want to believe in Hell, doesn't it?


Vatican: condoms don't stop Aids | Steve Bradshaw | Thursday October 9, 2003 | The Guardian

The Catholic Church is telling people in countries stricken by Aids not to use condoms because they have tiny holes in them through which the HIV virus can pass - potentially exposing thousands of people to risk. The church is making the claims across four continents despite a widespread scientific consensus that condoms are impermeable to the HIV virus. A senior Vatican spokesman backs the claims about permeable condoms, despite assurances by the World Health Organisation that they are untrue.

The church's claims are revealed in a BBC1 Panorama programme, Sex and the Holy City, to be broadcast on Sunday. The president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, told the programme: "The Aids virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon. The spermatozoon can easily pass through the 'net' that is formed by the condom. "These margins of uncertainty... should represent an obligation on the part of the health ministries and all these campaigns to act in the same way as they do with regard to cigarettes, which they state to be a danger."

The WHO has condemned the Vatican's views, saying: "These incorrect statements about condoms and HIV are dangerous when we are facing a global pandemic which has already killed more than 20 million people, and currently affects at least 42 million." The organisation says "consistent and correct" condom use reduces the risk of HIV infection by 90%. There may be breakage or slippage of condoms - but not, the WHO says, holes through which the virus can pass .

Scientific research by a group including the US National Institutes of Health and the WHO found "intact condoms... are essentially impermeable to particles the size of STD pathogens including the smallest sexually transmitted virus... condoms provide a highly effective barrier to transmission of particles of similar size to those of the smallest STD viruses".

The Vatican's Cardinal Trujillo said: "They are wrong about that... this is an easily recognisable fact." The church opposes any kind of contraception because it claims it breaks the link between sex and procreation - a position Pope John Paul II has fought to defend.

In Kenya - where an estimated 20% of people have the HIV virus - the church condemns condoms for promoting promiscuity and repeats the claim about permeability. The archbishop of Nairobi, Raphael Ndingi Nzeki, said: "Aids... has grown so fast because of the availability of condoms." Sex and the Holy City includes a Catholic nun advising her HIV-infected choirmaster against using condoms with his wife because "the virus can pass through".

In Lwak, near Lake Victoria, the director of an Aids testing centre says he cannot distribute condoms because of church opposition. Gordon Wambi told the programme: "Some priests have even been saying that condoms are laced with HIV/Aids." Panorama found the claims about permeable condoms repeated by Catholics as far apart as Asia and Latin America.

Posted by DeLong at October 10, 2003 08:44 AM | TrackBack

Comments

Making medical problems into moral problems is not usually helpful.

Posted by: bakho on October 10, 2003 09:11 AM

Well, I've heard statements to the same effect here in the United States from sex-ed groups affiliated with protestant churches as well.

This certainly isn't just a Catholic thing spouted to people in third-world countries.

If you don't want to get an STD, your best bet is to not have sex with people who have STDs. If you are going to have sex with people who have STDs, then eventually, if you do it enough, you're going to end up with an STD.

If you don't want to get pregnant/cause a pregnancy, your best bets are to not have sex, or to only have sex when one parter is completely infertile (naturally or artificially via vasectomy or the female equivalent).

Any other facts are more or less beside the point, IMHO.

Posted by: J.Goodwin on October 10, 2003 09:21 AM

Question: isn't the Catholic Church guilty of excessive introspection here? Because one doesn't need condom with healthy under-age boys and girls doesn't mean that they cannot be of help for sexual relatioships among consenting adults... And they give us lessons in morality...

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on October 10, 2003 09:25 AM

>>If you don't want to get pregnant/cause a pregnancy, your best bets are to not have sex, or to only have sex when one parter is completely infertile (naturally or artificially via vasectomy or the female equivalent).>>

Or for a male to have sex with underaged boys, which I read in the papers have happened several times in the catholic church in USA.

Posted by: Mats on October 10, 2003 09:55 AM

Has the Bush White House learned methods of doing away with unhelpful truths from the Vatican, or the other way around? The simple rule: Policy doesn't follow science - science follows policy. Hmmm... I guess that Galilleo thing happened before W was born, so let's guess he learned from the Vatican.

Posted by: K Harris on October 10, 2003 10:14 AM

If everyone were prepared to abstain from sex whenever there was a risk of pregnancy or STD, J. Goodwin would be right, any other facts would be more or less beside the point.

In this world, many people want to engage in risky behaviour and, all else being equal, using condoms reduces the risks.

Posted by: Christian Murphy on October 10, 2003 10:24 AM

Perhaps Mr. Goodwin can tell how I can spot people who have STDs? I think it would be very helpful. It would also be helpful to people who have STDs but are unaware of the fact.

Posted by: Rob on October 10, 2003 10:28 AM

Rob, Goodwin is saying that you don't have to recognize them if you don't have sex. Which is like saying that we'd all have a lot more money if we didn't spend it. Which is correct, but completely and utterly missing the point. People have sex and they spend money. They're going to continue to have sex whether the Vatican, Bush (Savin' It!) or Mr. Goodwin tell them that abstinence is the best policy and condoms come straight from the work shop of satan pre-laced with HIV, Herpes, Gonorhhea, chickenpox, virgin blood and bad vibes. The folks having sex are just not going to use condoms. Thus they will also have a higher chance of getting HIV, transmitting HIV, puting more babies in baby mamas and this stupid preventable situation goes on and on.
Margaret Cho makes some good points here: http://margaretcho.com/blog/blog.htm
Gideon

Posted by: Gideon S on October 10, 2003 10:40 AM

It struck me years ago that there was an ulterior motive behind the AIDS epidemic in Africa. It seemed odd that no one was seriously helping Africans conquer their problem. I started asking myself, "Why?" Well, Africa is primarily a continent of blacks that own a vastly rich land of minerals and natural resources. It seemed to me that our government, typical of its thinking, was hoping for a larger epidemic so that, once Africa is weakened beyond the point of recovery, the US, UK, and other powers could basically step in and take over their resources without much fight. The fact that the dubya administration sells them lies only strengthens my convictions that this is true. I also believe that AIDS was introduced into Africa by the US via an immunization program for Hepatitus or other "cure." Look what this group of US terrorists has done to Iraq. It fits the pattern.

Posted by: Ekoh on October 10, 2003 10:43 AM

It struck me years ago that there was an ulterior motive behind the AIDS epidemic in Africa. It seemed odd that no one was seriously helping Africans conquer their problem. I started asking myself, "Why?" Well, Africa is primarily a continent of blacks that own a vastly rich land of minerals and natural resources. It seemed to me that our government, typical of its thinking, was hoping for a larger epidemic so that, once Africa is weakened beyond the point of recovery, the US, UK, and other powers could basically step in and take over their resources without much fight. The fact that the dubya administration sells them lies only strengthens my convictions that this is true. I also believe that AIDS was introduced into Africa by the US via an immunization program for Hepatitus or other "cure." Look what this group of US terrorists has done to Iraq. It fits the pattern.

Posted by: Ekoh on October 10, 2003 10:46 AM

Perhaps the Vatican is confused between HIV and HPV (Human Papillomavirus)

A CDC report titled “Tracking the Hidden Epidemics-2000” says,
http://www.cdc.gov/nchstp/od/news/RevBrochure1pdfhpv.htm
“Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that sometimes causes genital warts but in many cases infects people without causing noticeable symptoms. Concern about HPV has increased in recent years after studies showed that some types of HPV infection cause cervical cancer. HPV is likely the most common STD among young, sexually active people and is of increasing public health importance. At any one time, an estimated 20 million people in the United States have genital HPV infections that can be transmitted to others. Every year, about 5.5 million people acquire a genital HPV infection.”

The CDC says the relationship between condom use and HPV-infection is unclear...but NOT because condoms are porous to HPV.
http://www.cdc.gov/nchstp/od/condoms.pdf
Here is an extract:

“HPV infections are transmitted through contact with infected genital skin or mucosal surfaces/ fluids. Genital ulcer diseases and HPV infection can occur in male or female genital areas that are, or are not, covered (protected by the condom)…

"While some epidemiologic studies have demonstrated lower rates of HPV infection among condom users, most have not. It is particularly difficult to study the relationship between condom use and HPV infection because HPV infection is often intermittently detectable and because it is difficult to assess the frequency of either existing or new infections. Many of the available epidemiologic studies were not designed or conducted in ways that allow for accurate measurement of condom effectiveness against HPV
infection.

"A number of studies, however, do show an association between condom use and a reduced risk of HPV-associated diseases, including genital warts, cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer. The reason for lower rates of cervical cancer among condom users observed in some studies is unknown. HPV infection is believed to be required, but not by itself sufficient, for cervical cancer to occur. Co-infections with other STDs may be a factor in increasing the likelihood that HPV infection will lead to cervical cancer. More research is needed to assess the degree of protection latex condoms provide for both HPV infection and HPV-associated disease, such as cervical cancer.”

Posted by: Emily on October 10, 2003 10:47 AM

This is completely criminal.

One of the biggest problems in Africa is promiscuous men who return home to spread HIV to their wives.

Now the Vatican is telling these women not to protect themselves. The result, of course, will be even more AIDs orphans.

And this is what the Vatican considers a "family friendly" policy.

Here's a true story. My wife is Catholic and I'm not. She grew up in Chile where basically everyone is Catholic and no one gives it much thought.

We were living in Juneau, Alaska, and decided to get married in a Catholic ceremony back in Chile to make my wife's mother happy. For those of you who don't know, one of the prerequisites to a Catholic wedding is going to Catholic marriage classes. The church in Chile agreed to allow this to occur in Juneau, where we were supposed to attend 8 weeks of classes one night/wk. As a non-Catholic, the only commitment that the priest said was asked of me was that I maintain a "child-friendly family" by which I assumed he meant no birth control or abortion. He never exactly said. Of my wife, she had to swear to both remain Catholic and raise our children Catholic as a pre-condition of marriage. That definitely raised her hackles but she never got to that point because....

Two weeks into our marriage class, the local paper revealed that the priest was subject of various child molestation allegations. So this big local scandal broke and the priest vanished. No one else was left to continue the class during the time we had left before leaving for Chile. And the church in Chile refused to schedule a ceremony for us until they either had a letter from the church in Alaska stating that we had completed the class, or until we did the same thing in Chile.

Naturally our travel plans didn't allow for delaying the trip to Chile, or extending our trip out long enough to do the full marriage class in Chile. So we said, "the hell with it" and got one of our friends to marry us on their boat with just 2 friends and my brother in attendance. In Alaska anyone can perform a wedding and sign a marriage license.

So we were married on a boat in Taku Inlet, Alaska surrounded by whales and eagles and with no priest in sight. We used the money we were going to spend on the wedding on a party for our friends and a honeymoon in Chile and never regretted it.

That's my one and only direct experience with the Catholic church.

Posted by: Kent Lind on October 10, 2003 10:58 AM

You see, we could try to make type-c arguments against the Catholic Church's position here, but since their position is totally without any merit against which one could argue, the only way to attack them is through type-m arguments, since there's essentially nothing to debate, c-wise.

Posted by: Julian Elson on October 10, 2003 11:05 AM

"Rob, Goodwin is saying that you don't have to recognize them if you don't have sex. Which is like saying that we'd all have a lot more money if we didn't spend it. Which is correct, but completely and utterly missing the point. People have sex and they spend money. They're going to continue to have sex whether the Vatican, Bush (Savin' It!) or Mr. Goodwin tell them that abstinence is the best policy and condoms come straight from the work shop of satan pre-laced with HIV, Herpes, Gonorhhea, chickenpox, virgin blood and bad vibes. The folks having sex are just not going to use condoms. Thus they will also have a higher chance of getting HIV, transmitting HIV, puting more babies in baby mamas and this stupid preventable situation goes on and on."

No, that's not what I'm saying.

I'm saying that the way you avoid getting an STD is by not having sex with someone who has an STD.

In just the same way that the pill, condom use, and the rhythm method fail to prevent preganancy over time, condom use alone is going to fail to prevent transmission of sexually transmitted diseases with repeated encounters with people who are infected.

It will reduce the chance of transmission in any single case, but the end result of continued exposure is infection.

How do you determine that a prospective partner has an STD?

There are medical tests that help to screen for STDs, and I would imagine that any sensible person who is concerned about their own health would make sure that their partners are likeminded and they would both get screened.

If a person isn't willing to hold off for a short period of time before getting into a committed sexual relationship, then they care less about their health and that of their current and future partners than they ought to, in my opinion.

Health and relationships are built on time and mutual confidence, not one-nighters and anonymity.

Posted by: J.Goodwin on October 10, 2003 12:19 PM

America should never have elected a man of such lax morals as George Bush pope.

Posted by: bryan on October 10, 2003 12:20 PM

lets face it, all religions are false, and therefore dangerous, try to avoid anyone infected by them.

Posted by: big al on October 10, 2003 12:45 PM

Jean-Philippe:
Since you work at a Catholic institution
you could be a bit more grateful that they pay for
your bread, or do suffer from some guilty
complex?

Posted by: Thomas on October 10, 2003 12:58 PM

J Goodwin's last response, while in part literally correct, carries out a typical argumentative move that conservatives use with regard to public policy: when the broad argument won't work for them, they try to treat it as an individual case.

Thus, it is true that not having sex with any person infected with an STD will, in general, prevent a person from getting a STD.

But, honest fellow that s/he is, Goodwin then gives the game away by admitting that using condoms, like the pill or other forms of contraception, WILL decrease the rate of transmission of STDs just as it will reduce the rate of unwanted pregnancies.

But to argue that no one should use a condom because _some_ individuals who do use them will nevertheless get an STD or cause a pregnancies is an incoherent argument. All that follows from Goodwin's correct point on the individual level is that an individual who puts a higher priority on avoiding an STD than on anything else having to do with sexuality should not have sex.

At the same time, it is perfectly and correctly rational to make condoms available and to encourage their use among those who decide that avoiding STDs is important, but so is sexual or emotional fulfillment, or all the other reasons human beings engage in sexual behavior. That will produce a predictable result of fewer pregnances, fewer cases of STDs than otherwise, which Goodwin can hardly argue against.

To go a step further: I'm not up enough on epidimiology, but is it not the case that for many diseases, if the transmission rate is kept below a certain threshold, the disease may in fact "burn out". Condoms can surely be an important tool in getting rid of STDs, then...as demonstrated by the rapid decline in both transmission rates and overall infection rates among developed-world gays after condom use became widespread: not only was the risk of transmission during each sexual encounter reduced, but the chance that one's partner was in fact infected also began dropping -- a double bonus. (This is one reason that the current decline in condom use among sexually active gay men is so disturbing and dangerous. They're NOT just endangering themselves!)

In short, Goodwin's train of thought is about as persuasive as Ronald Reagan's stories of welfare queens.

PQuincy

Posted by: PQuincy on October 10, 2003 12:59 PM

PS: to see Goodwin's argument on an _economist's_ website is especially embarrassing: economists, on the whole, are pretty careful about distinguising aggregate effects from individual outcomes -- or at least the careful ones are!

Posted by: PQuincy on October 10, 2003 01:02 PM

Jean-Philippe:
Since you work at a Catholic institution
you could be a bit more grateful that they pay for
your bread, or do suffer from some guilty
complex?

Posted by: Thomas on October 10, 2003 01:03 PM

Godwin writes: "If you don't want to get pregnant/cause a pregnancy, your best bets are to not have sex, or to only have sex when one parter is completely infertile (naturally or artificially via vasectomy or the female equivalent)."

Motor vehicle accidents kill tens of thousands of Americans annually. A solution based on Godwin's logic: ban everyone from driving.

Posted by: oneangryslav on October 10, 2003 01:18 PM

goodwin's seems to be a sterile exercise.

Posted by: Hans Suter on October 10, 2003 01:20 PM

Oneangryslav is almost right. And I like his automotive analogy.

What Goodwin is saying that people can be injured despite wearing seat belts, so everyone should voluntarily refrain from driving.

Posted by: Art Nevsky on October 10, 2003 02:18 PM

"Health and relationships are built on time and mutual confidence, not one-nighters and anonymity."

I happen to like the occasional one-nighter and anonymity from time to time. Don't knock it till you've tried it...

Posted by: non economist on October 10, 2003 05:57 PM

It's one thing to say, condoms don't protect you 100% of the time, and to be absolutely sure, you'd have to practice abstinence. (Having sex only within monogamous relationships doesn't increase one's safety necessarily either, if you consider the odds that your spouse will cheat on you are probably greater than the odds of a condom breaking - and a random distribution of AIDS exists in the population otherwise).

Would men of G_d really trick others, with such devastating consequences, just to push a political agenda? Cuz it's easier to see this as ignorance rather than evil. But damn.

Does it even count in the holy tabulation if a sinner is tricked into following scripture?

There was the South African politician also (I believe) who famously claimed that HIV doesn't cause AIDS, and so SA didn't need any western drugs. At the time, the explanation was that Africa is very traditional, and talk to sex and condoms was verboten.

But could there be another explanation for politicians and religious authorities to deny the facts re: AIDS? What could be the benefit? Is it to deflect blame from their lack of action?

Posted by: andrew on October 11, 2003 01:42 AM

Art Nevsky said:

Oneangryslav is almost right. And I like his automotive analogy.

What Goodwin is saying that people can be injured despite wearing seat belts, so everyone should voluntarily refrain from driving.
*****************************

What Goodwin REALLY said is that people can be injured despite wearing seat belts, so everyone should voluntarily refrain from wearing seat belts.


Posted by: Joshua Halpern on October 11, 2003 06:33 AM

I used to ask people if they would sent Hitler to hell. I wouldn't. I just checked my concience. I wouldn't send Trujillo to hell.

About Goodwin anyone considered the possibility that his posts are a joke just to see how upset he can get us.

He doesn't seem clear on how long one has to wait to be safe (forever if ones partner is getting a bit on the side). I think the idea is to only have sex with people too pure to have sex so the auto analogy would be

People get hurt even if they are wearing seatbelts so only drive cars with virgin never filled gas tanks (hey it's safe)

Posted by: Robert on October 12, 2003 02:52 PM
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