A U.S.-based front group, that claims to represent at least a small number of Catholics, angered orthodox and mainline members of the Catholic church recently when it arranged to have billboards hoisted at two locations in Toronto claiming that the church’s stand condemning contraception has led to deaths from AIDS.

The billboards, erected by Pattison Outdoor Advertising and located at Front Street and Blue Jay Way, as well as Jefferson Avenue and Liberty Street, were sponsored by Catholics for a Free Choice and read, “Catholic people care. Do our bishops? Because the bishops ban condoms, innocent people die.” They also urge readers to, “Join the global campaign to end the bishops’ ban on condoms.”

The billboards are seemingly an early response to the coming World Youth Day in July, which will draw hundreds of thousands of young people from all over the world to Toronto to celebrate life and faith with Pope John Paul II. CFFC said it is planning to stage condom-distribution exercises during that event.

The clever attempt to try to take the moral high ground on the contraception debate is a typical tactic by Catholics for a Free Choice, which has been condemned as being a non-Catholic group by the U.S. National Conference of Catholic Bishops/U.S. Catholic Conference.

“CFFC is not a Catholic organization, does not speak for the Catholic church, and in fact promotes positions contrary to the teaching of the church as articulated by the Holy See and the NCCB,” the NCCB said in a statement in 2000. “CFFC is, practically speaking, an arm of the abortion lobby in the United States and throughout the world … It is funded by a number of powerful and wealthy private foundations, mostly American, to promote abortion as a method of population control.”

It is known that entities funding the group include the Playboy Foundation, the Buffet Foundation, the Turner Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Packard Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Yet, the mainstream media continue to shower CFFC with legitimate publicity. Globe and Mail newspaper “religion and ethics reporter” Michael Valpy, for example, in his article on the billboard effort, described CFFC as “a U.S.-based liberal Catholic organization,” and quoted extensively from statements of Kathleen Howes, one of the very few identifiable Canadians associated with the group.

Organizers of World Youth Day are dismissing CFFC’s stunts as a publicity ploy.

“We are very hopeful that what will happen during World Youth Day is that hundreds of thousands of young people will come here and be open to the other point of view – the best way to prevent (sexually transmitted diseases) and AIDS is for people to live abstinence before marriage and faithfulness in marriage,” said Paul Kilbertus, the event’s director of communications.

Other people weren’t as willing to slough off the billboards, however, and took counter-actions. Many forwarded complaints to Pattison Outdoor Advertising and Advertising Standards Canada.

The results of those communications were not very gratifying to the complainants, however. Pattison advised that concerns should be addressed to the actual advertiser, who was identified as a Tracey Watson of Outdoor Services in the U.S. It also noted that the contract for the Pattison billboard was to end around April 22.

Meanwhile, complaints to Advertising Standards Canada were met with the response that, “The advertising in question falls outside the ambit of advertising matters that may be reviewed and adjudicated according to the provisions of the (Canadian Code of Advertising Standards).”

That irked Campaign Life Coalition B.C. president John Hof, one of the complainants, to no end.

He noted that ASC was quick to adjudicate when Joyce Arthur of the Pro-Choice Action Network lodged a complaint against a Burnaby Pro-Life Society newspaper advertisement exposing the trade in fetal body parts two years ago. Not only that, but ASC ruled in Arthur’s favour, judging that the ad was “demeaning” to abortionists.

Hof charged ASC with employing a double standard on its assessments of advertising, depending on which side of the abortion issue an ad promoted.