Dutch Catholic bishop urges condom use

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01-09-2006

A Dutch Catholic bishop Tiny Muskens has a remarkable message for the people of Uganda who he's visiting this week: the Vatican may be fiercely against the use of condoms, but Bishop Muskens believes it's ok to use them. According to him - it is permissible to opt for the lesser evil of condom use to prevent the greater evil of AIDS. One in ten Ugandans is currently infected with the HIV virus.

The bishop is in the African country at the invitation of the organisation, Stop Aids Now. Director Sjoera Dikkers explains from the Ugandan capital Kampala that the controversial message from the bishop has been well received.

"Certainly by organisations who work in the field with people who are infected or could easily become infected. They feel buoyed up by a Dutch bishop who finally comes and says, 'ok, what you are doing is good work'."

Christians
The influence of the church is great in Uganda. A large majority of the population is Christian and most Ugandans are connected to a church. Church leaders, to a large degree, support the position of
the Vatican. But in practice there's still some room for manoeuvre, remarks Dikkers. She thinks Bishop Muskens is making good use of that room.

Apart from the Catholic ban on contraceptives - the use of condoms is also controversial in Uganda. It is a country where macho culture is dominant and that means no condoms. But then even given that, the message from Bishop Muskens is important, according to Dikkers.

"It is not good when you don't tell the people here that you get HIV through unsafe sex and that you can avoid that by using a condom. That is, of course, nonsense."

Vatican
The comments by Bishop Muskens fly in the face of the message which the Vatican (right) propogates. Also, the comments clash with a campaign from US aid agencies in the same African region. These organisations, often financially supported by the US government, call for complete abstinence. Sjoera Dikkers thinks that the viewpoint of Bishop Muskens is realistic and the standpoint of the Americans, moralistic.

"And that has also been well received here. Certainly by organisations which we visit and have to give these guys information. They see teenagers experimenting with sex. They cannot reach them with a message of abstinence. They don't listen to that anymore."

Abstinence can, of course, be part of the fight against AIDS, but condoms must be the main thing. From research it seems that condoms are being used. It is the only method of preventing the HIV virus being spread. According to Dikkers, the people are also scared of dying and if the chance that you get the HIV virus is so high if you have unprotected sex, the condom is the best remedy.

Official teachings
That the words of Muskens himself are well received by Catholic aid workers surprises Dikkers. African Catholics are caught between the official teachings of the church and the terrible consequences of the AIDS epidemic. The message from the Dutch bishop is, according to Stop Aids Now, unbelievably important for the people who stumble on these human doctrines time and again.


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