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Comment: Catholic inconsistency over epidemics

Nicolas Chinardet July 15, 2009
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Last month, the Diocese of Plymouth sent letters to its priests advising them to stop offering wine at communion in a bid to help fight the swine flu epidemic.

The Plymouth Diocese has 93 parishes stretching from Penzance and the Isles of Scilly in the west to parts of Bournemouth in the Dorset.

The step was apparently taken in response to the World Health Organisation upgrading the seriousness of the epidemic risk. At the time, there were no cases of flu in the area covered by the Diocese and only 18 cases have been diagnosed since then.

This morning, the chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme that, at present, swine flu appears to be less severe than previous pandemics and is “broadly similar” to seasonal flu – which kills between 5,000 and 7,000 each year. There have so far been 17 swine flu-related deaths in the UK, with only one of the victims being confirmed to be healthy at the time of his death.

All information both at the time of the Diocese’s letter and now points towards a need for calm. There appears to be no need to panic.

In the meantime the Catholic Church seems to be much less in a hurry to do something about another pandemic which has proved its ferociousness over the past two decades.

The Vatican’s official policy, despite every evidence and in total negation of human nature which it prides itself of knowing so well, is to forbid the use of condoms, which could help fight AIDS. Further than that, they (and the Pope himself) have even claimed that, despite all evidence, condoms do not work against HIV.

Because of its limited scope (Catholic churchgoers in the south-west), the Diocese of Plymouth’s initiative will have very little impact on the swine flu epidemic.

However, a change of the HIV policy from the Vatican would go a long way.

It doesn’t even have to be a full endorsement of the use of condoms. The church could easily stick to its dogma of abstinence as the best way to fight the epidemic. It could simply repeat its message and include the caveat that if people can really not stop themselves from having sex outside of marriage, then they should use a condom.

This would not in any way undermine the doctrine but would show a much deeper and compassionate knowledge of the human psyche and would help the Catholic church stop probably being indirectly responsible for the deaths of hundred of thousand of people, mostly in Africa.

Unlike with the Plymouth story, we are talking about sex and sexual morality, which is and has always been one of the main tools used by the church to assert its power over people. A change of tone and a show of responsibility by the Vatican is therefore sadly less than likely.

Nicolas Chinardet is involved with various LGBT community organisations and charities. He has an interest in current affairs, the arts, religion and corporate communication. Find out more at

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