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Catholic Bishops Weigh Dropping Support for Condom Information

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In a continuation of a prolonged debate within the nation's Roman Catholic hierarchy, a committee of bishops has recommended that the church remove its qualified support for AIDS-education programs that include information about condoms.

"Education in human sexuality which tells young people in effect that abstinence and 'safe sex' are equally acceptable options sends a contradictory, confusing message," argues a draft policy statement issued by the panel this month.

The document, which reverses a 1987 church statement, was drafted by a committee of five bishops. It will be voted on by approximately 300 bishops at a meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops next month.

"Not only is the use of prophylactics in an attempt to halt the spread of [the human immunodeficiency virus] technically unreliable; promoting this approach means, in effect, promoting behavior which is morally unacceptable," the document concludes.

Education campaigns promoting the use of condoms, it says, "do nothing to correct the mistaken notion that non-marital intercourse has the same value and validity as sexual intercourse within marriage."

The policy paper released two years ago restated traditional church doctrine on sexuality, which strongly condemns extramarital sex and artificial methods of contraception, but acknowledged that "some people will not act as they can and should."

For that reason, the 1987 document said, AIDS-education efforts "could include accurate information about prophylactic devices or other practices proposed by some medical experts as potential means of preventing AIDS." (See Education Week, Jan. 13, 1988.)

That statement was immediately assailed by some influential church leaders, including one of the authors of the new policy paper, Cardinal John O'Connor of New York. To defuse the controversy, the bishops decided to issue another statement on AIDS.--ef

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