Vatican: Condom Crusade

Using slogans such as "Abstinence has a high failure rate," Catholics for a Free Choice, a dissident lay group, began a pro-condom ad campaign last week in defiance of Vatican policy. The $300,000 advertising effort, which kicked off with spots on the Washington, D.C., Metro on World AIDS Day, will expand next year to include U.S. newspapers and magazines, and outlets in South Africa, the Philippines and elsewhere in the developing world. Though relatively small in scope, the initiative comes when there's an increasingly public divide over the church's policy, given the growing global AIDS epidemic.

In a recent issue of U.S. Catholic magazine, Kevin Dowling, a South African bishop, challenged the Vatican, calling the question of condoms "not simply a matter of chastity but of justice." Despite Dowling's opposition, much of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in AIDS-blighted countries firmly resists condom distribution. Earlier this fall, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, told the BBC that condoms actually help spread AIDS. The World Health Organization responded by calling the cardinal's statements "incorrect" and "dangerous." AIDS killed a record 3 million worldwide this year and infected 5 million more. With Catholics for a Free Choice declaring in its ads that "cardinals fail more often than condoms" and the Catholic leadership claiming prophylactics spread AIDS, the lives of millions may depend on whom the faithful choose to believe.