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Roman Catholic Bishops of England & Wales



Letters to All Roman Catholic Bishops



September 29, 2004

Re: The Tablet, Ann Smith and CAFOD's HIV stand

Your lordship

Please understand that this letter has been copied to each of the Roman Catholic Bishops of England and Wales.

In a letter to me in 2002 Bishop Rawsthorne claimed that CAFOD neither provides or promotes condoms.  However, this claim is now contradicted by Ann Smith's recently published article in The Tablet September 25, 2004, entitled 'Where CAFOD stands, in which she states that CAFOD has been pursuing its policy on HIV and condoms, with its partner organisations, for over 20 years.  Copies of both the letter and article are enclosed.

Ann Smith states that the issue of how best to deal with HIV prevention has deeply divided those working in this field yet Ms Smith's article does not answer any of the serious concerns raised by United for Life, the Linacre Centre, the Guild of Catholic Doctors report on CAFOD's condom policy and concerns raised by the natural family planning group NIOMI.  In fact, it is CAFOD's policy on condoms which divides the Catholic community instead of uniting it with the authentic teaching of Rome

Ann Smith claims that CAFOD's policy is holistic but this is untrue on several counts which will be made clear in this letter.  To begin with one cannot promote both chastity and condoms.  One contradicts the other and to try to force these two opposite together is schizophrenic, un-Christian and anti-Catholic.

The main points which CAFOD consistently fail to address is that condoms always disrupt the unitive aspect of sexual intercourse, condoms are always contraceptive in nature and effect, and as for those who engage in immoral sex, it is never right to make an immoral act safe or safer so that others or oneself may engage in that act with impunity.  CAFOD continually fail to engage in this debate which they have raised by their own policy

Ann Smith states that CAFOD believes in an "ABC" - abstain, be faithful, use a condom - approach to HIV prevention.  CAFOD's article goes on to ridicule those who promote chastity only programmes as being 'religious hijackers fuelled by prejudice' and accuses them of being 'simplistic'.  Such accusations require an apology from both the Bishops and from CAFOD staff.

In her article Ann Smith claims that scientific research shows that condoms are effective at HIV prevention if used correctly and consistently.  However, such a claim is misleading because the actual claim is that, for an 85% effective rate to be achieved, condoms have to be used consistently and correctly 100% of the time (that is, each and every time).  According to research by Dr Fitch of the Medical Institute it is almost impossible for condom users to use condoms either consistently or correctly for any length of time.  This means that CAFOD and the Bishops of England and Wales are pursuing a health care policy which is unachievable.

Ann Smith also ignores the advice of the British Blood Transfusion Service which states that people cannot give blood for at least one year if they have had sex in Africa, even if they have used a condom - in other words, the Blood Transfusion Service does not trust condoms to keep people safe, so why should CAFOD and the poor?  For 40 years now sex education in the UK has included the promotion of condoms and has included the choice to be abstinent, to choose when to be faithful and to choose condoms, yet the UK has the highest STI and teen pregnancy rates.  If it is not working in the rich UK why push a failed policy on the world's poor?

For Ann Smith to claim that, 'on occasions religious factors significantly curtail the behaviour choices of those who are vulnerable to infection', in other words - religious opposition to condoms, suggests that she does not respect CAFOD's clients who practice their faith.  This is serious cultural and religious discrimination and intolerance on her part and on the part of CAFOD.  Why does Ann Smith oppose the religious requirements of CAFOD's clients?  Surely she and CAFOD have a responsibility to uphold and respect peoples religious faith and its practice.

Ann Smith's assumption that those in the Western developed nations make informed choices about sexual issues and that people in developing nations don't shows how little she knows about pro-life and sex education issues in the UK.  For example, most women going for abortion are not told about the development of the baby or what actually happens to the baby in the process of abortion, and most women claim 'they had no other choice at the time'.  This could not be described as an informed choice.

Sadly, the claim by Ann Smith to have her position supported by some moral theologians and cardinals is not evidence that CAFOD is compliant with authentic Catholic teaching.  We also note that CAFOD supports the views of dissenting theologians and cardinals on the issue of the use of condoms.

In June this year United for Life published 'Our bodies are not our own' in response to the Bishops Conference consultation of the laity on Marriage and Family Life entitled Listening 2004 which contains a section on CAFOD and its condom policy, a copy of which was sent to all the Bishops at that time.

We can only conclude that the Bishops of England and Wales have either lost control of policy making at CAFOD or they are complicit in its policy of condom promotion and, as a consequence, Catholics can no longer be expected to fund or support CAFOD.

Pope John Paul II made it clear recently when he said that all Catholic charities and institutions "exist for one purpose only - to proclaim the Gospel" and that "it is of the utmost importance, therefore, that the Church's institutions be genuinely Catholic: Catholic in their self-understanding and Catholic in their identity" and that their staff, whether Catholic or not, should "show a sincere and respectful appreciation of the Church's evangelising mission."

In the light of Bishop Rawsthorne's robust letter to me and the obvious contradiction by Ann Smith's article that CAFOD has a condom promotion policy shows that Ann Smith is deeply out of touch with CAFOD's obligation to oppose condom use and that she contradicts the Bishop's assurances to me.  We are all accountable for our actions and the decisions we make.  Such a policy on condoms calls for the immediate dismissal from CAFOD of all those responsible for this condom policy including the immediate dismissal of Ann Smith.

I await your earliest considered response.


Yours sincerely


Chris Mason,  Co-ordinator,  United for Life