Church Battle Looms Over Condoms

Cape Town, South Africa -- A battle in SA's Christian churches is looming over the issue of condoms. The Catholic Church has begun an active campaign against their use, while the Protestant churches in the SA Council of Churches are weighing in to promote condoms.

The number of free condoms the government intends handing out in the coming financial year in the fight against AIDS will approach half a billion, the health department says. It says it will have distributed over 360 million condoms in the current year, or over 30m a month. "The current target for 2005/06 is to buy and distribute 425m male condoms and three million female condoms," it says.

Earlier this week religious leaders met with Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and criticised the government's promotion of condoms, advocating instead faithfulness and abstinence. The SACC then raised concerns over the use of religious beliefs to distort the scientific evidence on condoms.

SACC general secretary Molefe Tsele said in a statement on Wednesday that condoms were "an essential pillar of the 'ABC' (Abstain, Be faithful, Condomise) approach. This was the formula that proved successful in Uganda, despite Washington's recent efforts to downplay the role of condoms".

Earlier this month the head of the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops Conference, Cardinal Wilfred Napier, said only drastic changes in sexual behaviour would stop the spread of the disease.