YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Condom use can never be advocated by the Catholic Church, according to the bishops of Kenya at a health conference taking place in Mombasa.
During the Oct. 1 meeting, the bishops insisted the use of condoms was not part of the Church’s moral teachings, even as they expressed alarm at the rather high rate of new infections in the country.
“The Church has its doctrines of what it teaches and it is the greatest advocator fighting against AIDS but the use of condoms is not part of the agenda of the Church. The Church is at the front line to see how we can reduce the spread of the disease,” said Bishop Joseph Obanyi Sagwe of Kakamega.
“There are very many other proven ways to prevent the spread of AIDS. We will not choose to advocate for approaches that are not moral. When it comes to discordant partners, we also have a counseling approach to guide the couples to live morally,” Obanyi added.
According to Kenya’s National Aids Control Council, more than a million people are on anti-retroviral therapy, with 1.4 million people living with HIV. Over 28,000 people died from AIDS-related complications in 2017.
The bishops insist that the only sure and morally upright approach to the spread of HIV/AIDS is abstinence.
It is a stance taken by Pope Benedict XVI during his first visit to Africa. He said then that HIV/AIDS “cannot be overcome by the distribution of condoms.”
That statement led to an outcry, and the pope later noted that the use of condoms could be a “first step” toward moral responsibility to prevent sexually transmitted infections.
In May 2013, the U.S.-based Catholics for a Free Choice began a campaign in Kenya to promote the use of condoms. It came up with ads announcing “Good Catholics Use Condoms” and urging married women to use condoms, claiming that it was “an authentically Catholic message.”
“We believe in God. We believe that sex is sacred. We believe in caring for each other. We believe in using condoms,” the advert continued.
The campaign was condemned by the bishops, who said the group was carrying out anti-Catholic activities.
“Catholics for Choice are not Catholics in the sense of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church,” said Cardinal John Njue, then-chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Remember if the moral fiber of any nation is destroyed, then you have destroyed the nation as well.”
Dr. Peter Cherutich, deputy director of Kenya’s National AIDS and STI Control Program, has defied the bishops on the matter, saying condom use is important to stop the spread of HIV.
“Catholics can in good conscience use condoms. Catholics in Kenya are no different. They can take the steps to protect themselves and their partners against HIV,” he said.
However, Obanyi insisted the Church cannot change its teachings, and abstinence is the best prevention for AIDS.
“The use of condoms is immoral and is not one of the ways we would embrace in our campaigns. The biblical teachings we share are enough to guide what the society needs to do,” the bishop said.
“We have ways of reducing high rate of AIDS infections and condoms are not part of it. We sensitize our people to see the need for testing so that they can know their status. The Church is a body of doctrines, it teaches, what is right and wrong,” he continued.
The Catholic Church runs around 500 medical facilities in Kenya and is often on the front lines in the country’s battle against HIV/AIDS.
Across the world, the Church provides about a quarter of the care for patients with the disease.