Is the Roman Catholic Church's Condom Policy Responsible For the Spread of HIV and the AIDS Crisis in Africa?
by Rich Deem


Catholics and AIDS

The Catholic Church's opposition to condom use is often cited as the reason for the spread of HIV and AIDS, since Catholics are told that they shouldn't use condoms or any artificial form of birth control. If Catholics are so eager to follow the teachings of the church, what about the commandment not to commit adultery?

Rich Deem

The claim that the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church are at least partly responsible for the spread of AIDS in Africa is one of my favorite myths among atheists. It is remarkably prevalent among people who should know better, had they thought about it for more than 5 seconds. The assertion goes something like this. The Catholic Church teaches that faithful Catholics should not use any form of birth control, including condoms. Since faithful condom use prevents the vast majority of instances of transmission of the HIV virus, the Catholic Church is responsible for some, if not most, instances of AIDS in Africa.1 On the surface, it seems like a logical argument, except something is missing...

Teachings of the Catholic Church

Yes, it is true that the Roman Catholic Church teaches that any form of birth control, other than natural family planning (the rhythm method) is a sin. This teaching comes from several sources, but begins in the very first chapter of the very first book of the Bible, Genesis. God's first commandment to human beings, immediately after they were created was to have sex, through the command to multiply and fill the earth.2 The command was clarified in the second chapter of Genesis, where it was made clear that husbands and wives were to engage in sexual relations to produce children.3 However, not all Christians agree that the use of birth control is a sin.4

Other teachings of the church

If Roman Catholics are so faithful in their obedience to the church's teaching on birth control, one would think that they would want to obey the church's other, more important teachings about sexuality. The Roman Catholic Church (and virtually all Christian denominations) says that sexual relations are to be reserved for husbands and wives within a monogamous marriage. In fact, this doctrine is a cornerstone teaching from the original 10 commandments.5 So, according to the hypothesis, faithful Roman Catholics will not use a condom because of the Church's teachings, but will commit the greater sin of adultery. In reality, it is the unfaithful who commit adultery. The reason they don't use a condom is because they don't care about their spouses, but are simply interested in their own pleasure. Let's face it, condoms just aren't as much fun.

Catholicism vs. HIV infection rate

If Roman Catholicism is responsible for the AIDS epidemic in Africa, it would be a fairly trivial matter to test the hypothesis. The percentage of Roman Catholics in various countries of Africa are quite diverse, as are the HIV infection rates. One need only plot the percent Catholics vs. the HIV infection rate. The figure to the right shows the results of such a plot.6 If the hypothesis that Catholic doctrine spreads HIV and AIDS, we would expect to see increased infection rates in countries that contain more Roman Catholics. Instead, we find decreased HIV rates in Catholic-dominated countries (although the trend is not statistically significant). The idea that Roman Catholic teaching encourages the spread of HIV is not confirmed by the demographics.

Conclusion Top of page

The hypothesis that the Roman Catholic doctrine against the use of condoms facilitates the spread of HIV and AIDS is formally falsified through available demographics. If anything, Roman Catholicism seems to decrease the spread of HIV. The idea that faithful Roman Catholics would follow rules regarding the use of condoms, but ignore the more important doctrines of marital fidelity is ludicrous, at best. So, Roman Catholicism isn't the cause of the AIDS crisis in Africa. Get over it!

But a man who commits adultery lacks judgment; whoever does so destroys himself. (Proverbs 6:32)

References Top of page

  1. According to Polly Toynbee, "The Vatican's deeper power is in its personal authority over 1.3 billion worshippers, which is strongest over the poorest, most helpless devotees. With its ban on condoms the church has caused the death of millions of Catholics and others in areas dominated by Catholic missionaries, in Africa and right across the world." (Polly Toynbee. 2005. Pope Benedict XVI: Think Before You Emote. Guardian Weekly, 15 Apr 2005.
    According to Victoria Van Dyke, "Thanks to the Catholic Church however, many people in AIDS afflicted areas believe that condoms are a sin, and therefore refuse to use them." Victoria Van Dyke. 2007. Sex Rights in Africa The Health eZine - AIDS & HIV. The Health eZine.
  2. And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (Genesis 1:27-28)
  3. And the LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. And the man said, "This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man." For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:22-25)
  4. The interpretation of this command varies among Christian (and Jewish) denominations. Protestants (which includes the author) tend to interpret the command to mean that husbands and wives should have children (at least one), if possible. Orthodox Jews interpret the command to mean that husbands and wives should produce at least one boy and one girl child. The Bible does not make it clear how many times husbands and wives should "multiply," although there doesn't seem to be any directive that married people should multiply all the time and not try to prevent conception. So, we would disagree with Roman Catholic doctrine that Christian husbands and wives could not use any form of birth control.
  5. "You shall not commit adultery." (Exodus 20:14)
    'You shall not commit adultery.' (Deuteronomy 5:18)
  6. "HIV Surveillance Report for Africa, 2000. World Health Organization. Table 4, page 159.
    Roman Catholicism by country from Wikipedia.
    CIA The World Factbook.
    Countries by World Region from The Hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
    The original data can be found here (Excel File - Catholicism vs. HIV Prevalence 32 kb MS Excel file).
Last Modified May 2, 2008


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