Swiss AIDS Campaign Offends Catholic Bishops

A Swiss advertising campaign to combat HIV/AIDS has been cut back to avoid offence to the country's Catholic bishops -- religious leaders to 3.3 million of the country's 7.3 million people.

Two advertisements urging the use of condoms have been withdrawn from the initiative, which aimed to curb the 25-percent increase in HIV infections seen in Switzerland last year.

A poster in German says: "Dear Father, if Rome doesn't want you to talk about contraception, then talk about condoms instead."

"We are not against the campaign, but we do not want it to upset Catholic sensibilities," Marc Aellan, deputy general secretary of the Swiss Bishops' Conference, told Reuters Health.

He said that while the Swiss Catholic Church was completely behind the campaign in principle, "it did not like a number of the campaign's messages, and these two were particularly offensive."

But Swiss health ministry spokeswoman, Sandra Meier, denied that the campaign had been dropped because it offended Catholic sensibilities, but rather because it was inaccurate in its use of wording.

"We had intensive talks with the Bishop's conference, and agreed to drop that part of the campaign because we had used the word Rome rather than Vatican. The Pope is in Rome, but he lives in the Vatican, which is a separate state," she told Reuters Health.

"We realized that the campaign would provoke a reaction. It was never our intention to attack Rome, the Vatican or the Church, or to hurt religious feelings."

Juerg Schaub, who is at the advertising agency CRDDB and designed the posters, said one of the main goals of the campaign was to get people talking about AIDS once again, and if that was done through controversy, then so be it.

It is not the first controversial Swiss campaign against HIV/AIDS. In the early 1990s, an advertisement promoting the use of condoms featured gay men playing in the countryside, and a later effort showed a penis tied in a knot.

Aellan said that his church does not entirely condemn the use of condoms in protecting against HIV/AIDS. "We say that the best protection is fidelity, but for those who cannot follow this, condoms are the better of the two wrongs," he said.