Bishop Anthony Tonnos of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hamilton had rejected the idea that teaching students how to use condoms is an acceptable way to prevent the spread of AIDS.

In a firmly-worded pastoral letter, Bishop Tonnos stresses Catholic teaching on “faithful and permanent” marriage, rejects extra-marital sexual activity and affirms chastity as a positive and viable virtue.

“We believe that sexual activity must properly take place within the dedicated communion of marriage,” the Bishop writes, “and we also reject any suggestion that extra-martial sexual activity can be justified. We also reject the idea that chastity outside marriage is an ‘impossible,’ or ‘often unrealistic’ ideal, attainable only by a few. The loving God, who has gifted us with marriage, has also given us the virtue of chastity. This practice of chastity, which assists spouses to remain faithful in true love to each other, and enables the singe person to abstain from sexual activity, must be presented as a great challenge in our age. Our society, which has acknowledged the evil of world hunger, the treat of nuclear devastation, the injustice of human rights deprivation, and has bravely taken steps to counter them, must also be prepared to acknowledge that chastity for married and unmarried alike, is the best way to prevent the spread of AIDS. With God’s help, chastity is possible. This would be tirelessly preached and taught in a moral climate that often portrays sexual activity between unmarried men and women as uncontrollable or even unenviable, acclimate which destroys the dingy of committed human sexuality.

Pray for victims

Bishop Tonnos acknowledges that education programmes, containing “proper and effective information,” is appropriate. Such programmes, he says, must respect  “the sexual morality of the Church.”

“It would be a serious disservice to the truth of the Catholic faith and to he true dignity and well-being of the true dignity and well-being to the students entrusted to our schools if we were to suggest that the danger of AIDS can be reduced to the expense of our moral teaching,” the Bishop adds. “If we were to tell students that contraception is a viable alternative to chastity as a means of reducing the incidence of AIDS, we would actually be giving them the message, perhaps not intentionally, that chastity for young people is basically an unrealistic ideal. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The pastoral letter also discusses the needs for compassion and care for those suffering with AIDS and for their families. The Hamilton Diocese is investigating ways to respond to this need. Bishop Tonnons reminds his parishioners to pray “particularly for those who actually have AIDS. Let us ask that God will support them and that they will find healing consolation in the compassion and are of those who truly follow Christ.”

The Hamilton Diocese is taking a radically different approach to AIDS education than is the Toronto Archdiocese. The Metropolitan Toronto Separate School Board is currently preparing an AIDS education curriculum for teaching grades 7 and up beginning this fall. This curriculum will be partly be based on the statement issued by Theologian Father Jack Gallagher which approves teaching students about condoms on the grounds that it is “Essential technical information.” (See “The Condom Crusade,” April Interim, for further details.)

Bishop Tonnos directed that his pastoral letter, “Concerns About AIDS,” was to read in entirety at each Mass in his diocese on the Sunday Following Easter. Copies of the letter are available to all those who wish to have it.