Part I of this series, “Condom crusade under way,” by Father Alphonse de Valk (February Interim), set the current propaganda against aids in a historical context, noting that it has its roots in a continuing campaign OF advocacy of both contraception and abortion.  Though that campaign has escalated in the last 20 years, it has failed in its primary objective of curtailing the number of unwanted pregnancies.  Nevertheless, the same simplistic solutions are now being applied to the AIDS epidemic.

In Part II, I exposed the false premises on which today’s condom crusade is based.  My article showed that the promotion of the condom as a barrier to the virus is based on faulty assumptions; there simply has not been enough research done to test condoms’ effectiveness in preventing the spread of this plague.  There seems to be a cover-up operation under way to deny that there are problems with the purity of the blood supply and to downplay the number of reported incidences of non-sexual transmission of AIDS. Meanwhile, a pilot campaign conducted in Montreal, shows that the group at greatest risk, the homosexual population, does not respond to any great degree to advice that they reduce their levels of promiscuity and refrain from particularly dangerous sexual practices.

At the close of last month’s article, we promised to focus the discussion this month on the various programmes available to encourage children in the schools to take up the challenge of chastity as a response to disease and premature pregnancy.  However, recent developments in media and education campaigns need to be discussed first.

Current government efforts to educate the public to the dangers of AIDS are conducted through media advertising and the school system.  Media campaigns are already under fire from the general public, from religious leaders and, surprisingly, from some media professionals.  The school system campaign is still in the early stages; however, there are already signs that it will not be acceptable to many.

Four commercials produced by the Canadian Public Health Association, with $740,000 of federal money, warn that it’s time to learn “the new facts of life” because “sex with different partners is risky.”  Three of the four ads, produced as public service announcements, have been rejected for broadcast by privately owned networks because they were seen as condoning casual sex.

The fourth ad, featuring a family, presents a couple saying that they’re not at risk of AIDS because they’ve been faithful to each other.  They say they intend to “teach their children the facts about AIDS” and imply that their example of fidelity will be of primary importance in their children’s moral formation.

All four ads have been approved for airing by the CBC, which found the messages to be  “in good taste.”  Health Minister Jake Epp has hinted that if private broadcasters continue to refuse the ads as free announcements, then the government will consider buying advertising time to air them.

At the same time, the public service ads also infuriated some spokesmen for the homosexual community.  They said the ads were not explicit enough in detailing how AIDS is transmitted sexually and objected that the ads were giving people a “false sense of security.”  The family ad, in particular – the only one approved by the private broadcasters – irritated Robert Tivey, director of AIDS Vancouver. Tivey complained that it was promoting “good old fashioned family values.”

This is the clearest public statement yet from the homosexual community that they intend to fight any suggestion that monogamous individuals are safe from AIDS.  The homosexual community is extremely anxious that AIDS should become high profile and perceived as of serious concern to the heterosexual society.  Such publicity defects attention away from the promiscuous and dangerous sexual practices of many in that community who are still the principal spreaders of the disease.

AIDS has spread to heterosexual society through bisexual males who have had sexual contact with infected homosexuals and later with females.  The contamination of the blood supply has occurred because infected homosexuals and bisexuals have donated (and continue to donate) blood.  A third source of infection of minor significance in Canada is drug abusers.  A fourth source, now diminishing, is immigrants from Haiti and Central Africa.  So, if AIDS continues to spread to the homosexual population it will be through sexual promiscuity and, to a lesser extent, through the contaminated blood supply.


Newspaper editorialists and columnists were quick to attack the broadcasters’ rejection of the ads charging hypocrisy of the networks’ part since every day of the week they air soap operas, comedies and melodramas in which sex is depicted casually and approvingly.  The real objection they said, was that these ads were to be aired free of charge.  Ads from condom manufacturers, they suspected, would be reviewed differently.

This second charge seems to have been well founded since the day after rejecting the free ads, the private networks approved two paid ads for Trojan condoms.  These ads said Pat Beatty, director of the reviewing committee, “don’t make it look like it’s okay to have a lot of sexual partners as long as you use a condom.”

One of the Trojan ads features a young woman saying, “you might know someone pretty well, but do you really know him?  He had a life before he met you.  The thing is, you’re vulnerable.”  The camera then focuses on a box of condoms and a voice intones “Trojan condoms help reduce the risk.”

By contrast, one of the rejected ads features a young woman who has just finished exercising in a health club.  “I’m an active person.  I’m in control of my own life and health. I don’t want to die from AIDS,” she says, “With over 50,000 Canadians carrying the AIDS virus, sex with different partners is risky.  You either avoid it or use a condom for protection.”  A second woman responds, “It’s the new facts of life.”

Alternative ad

Barbara Amiel, in her March 15 column in the Toronto Sunday Sun, said that at least the motive behind the Trojan ad was clear: the manufacturers want their product bought.  She calls the government ads an insult to taxpayers because they fail in their stated objective to educate on the dangers of AIDS.  Amiel suggested an alternative ad, as follows:

“Announcer (looking at male person with the purple marks of Karposi’s sarcoma): AIDS is a terrible disease which kills you in a nasty way.  There is no cure.  It is found largely among homosexuals, intravenous drug users, native Africans, Haitians and hemophiliacs.  It is passed by exchange of bodily fluids and is being rapidly passed through the community for two reasons: The high promiscuity rate among certain sections of the homosexual community and practices such as anal sex where the body tissue is finer and more liable to be torn during the sexual act.

“While there are very few, if any, examples of heterosexuals catching this from bisexuals, drug users or contaminated transfusions, the only way to be sure you don’t get the disease is to be chaste or monogamous with a person who is certified AIDS free.”

Change behaviour

“That would be a responsible educational ad,” Amiel concludes, “the screams of the telecasters committee, gay activists, sullen lesbians and moody NDPers notwithstanding.  It won’t be done, of course, and I shall not waste a tear on the spread of the disease as Canadians worry about saving the country from right-wing fundamentalism.  Maybe AIDS is God’s way of teaching us a lesson.”

As we go to press, the only religious group to issue a statement on the media campaign against AIDS has been the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB).

Bishop Bernard Hubert, speaking on behalf of the CCCB, said that the condom crusade is not the answer to problems that “require profound changes in human attitude and behaviour.”

“It would be tragic and indeed dangerous to public health if the main impression created is that the simple use of condoms will solve the horrendous problems related to AIDS that the Canadian population faces,” Bishop Hubert said.

Respect life

“Our message must call for responsible sexual behaviour,” he continued.  “This includes self-control, respect for the whole of human life and true love for one’s marriage partner.  Any announcements presented as part of a campaign to combat AIDS, therefore should urge people to act responsibly.  This means exercising one’s sexuality within the parameters of fidelity and enduring love between partners.”

(One unfortunate note in the Bishops’ statement, which doesn’t express the Church’s position very vigorously, is the observation that the contraceptive campaign has “done little to reduce the rate of teenage pregnancy.”  About the only thing the contraceptive campaign has done has been to increase teenage pregnancy and abortion.)

By contrast, the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops issued a very strongly worded statement on television advertising of condoms.  It is “unalterably opposed” to such advertising, calling it “a short sighted, self-defeating and ultimately false solution to a serious moral problem.”  As a solution to AIDS, the Bishops say, it is a “simplistic solution which could have far-reaching negative effects.”  And, they point out, “Despite disclaimers to the contrary, the purpose of commercial advertising is to increase sales, in this case the sale of a product which many people rightly find obnoxious.”

The American Bishops agree with the CCCB that the solution to AIDS is to change attitudes.  “Ultimately,” they stress, “we must be interested in teaching young people to be good, not to be “safe.”  Television advertising constitutes “a gross violation of the right of parents to guide the moral and social development of their children” the U.S. Bishops say.  It will encourage teens to view premature sexual activity as acceptable, and affect the views of those children not yet sexually active.

Possible violation of parental rights is not something the Canadian Bishops have commented on publicly as yet.  However, many Toronto parents who have spoken to The Interim, are concerned that proposed AIDS education in the schools may prove to be such a violation.

Both public and separate school boards in Ontario are now preparing AIDS education for the schools to teach this fall, starting in Grade 7.  If numbers in attendance at a recent public school board meeting to preview educational videos on the topic are any barometer (see Nancy Pearcey’s article, “AIDS apathy,” elsewhere in the issue), public school parents are not yet alarmed over what kind of moral (or immoral) message will be presented to students this September.

Parent’s rights

Separate school parents are more vocal, however, and some are alarmed that AIDS education will conflict both with their primary rights to educate their children in sexual matters and with Church teaching on chastity, contraception and premarital sex.

At a recent Metropolitan Separate School Board meeting, trustees gave the go-ahead to a programme based on two things:  Ministry of Education guidelines, and a statement (by Father Jack Gallagher, a professor of moral theology) issued by the Archdiocese of Toronto.  Only three trustees (Harold Adams, Owen O’Reilly and Father Carl Matthews) voted again the proposed programme.

Harold Adams, a trustee from Scarborough, told the Interim that the trustees had not seen the Ministry guidelines on which the programme is to be based prior to voting in favour of them at the meeting.  (These guidelines are still not available as we go to press).

However, Des Burge, spokesman for the MSSB, says that it is not unusual for this kind of voting, on a document not yet seen, to take place.  His understanding is that the guidelines will be very loose, since the Ministry is sensitive to Catholic doctrine in this area.

The Catholic school programme will be in harmony with Father Jack Gallagher’s statement, which admits there is “a conflict of values” when looking at AIDS education.  “On the one hand,” he writes, “there is a desire to prevent the spread of the disease as well as to help students understand this major medical and social problem.  On the other hand, instruction programs may, implicitly or explicitly, urge the use of certain immoral methods.”

Ethical context

“Furthermore,” he adds, “the existence of the instruction program may be interpreted as an acceptance of the fact that students are engaged in immoral sexual activity (why else would we be so anxious to give them the information?) and then showing them how to continue in this activity in such a way as to avoid the fatal disease.”

The programme, Gallagher says, should present “essential technical information” clearly and directly with attention to the developmental stage of the student.  It should be given “within a proper Catholic ethical context,” discussing personal and marital relationships and the meaning of sex.

It should clearly teach that “the acceptable way to avoid AIDS is to do what one is morally obliged to do in any case; confine genital sexual activity to monogamous marriage.  Condoms may be a more or less effective way to avoid the disease but they are not presented as an acceptable way,” he continues.

No in schools

Anne Roche Muggeridge (author of The Desolate City), like many other parents across Canada, withdrew her youngest daughter from the sex education programme in her school some time ago.  She sees moral education as the parents’ privilege and responsibility and not the business of the school.  In her view, AIDS education is teaching students “how to commit mortal sin safely.”  She likens those wanting AIDS education to those who say they’re personally opposed to abortion, but “It’s like saying you’re personally opposed to abortions but since you have to have them, they must be done in safe, hygienic surroundings,” she told the Interim.

About ten parents attended an MSSB management committee meeting to express their concerns about AIDS education based on Father Gallagher’s statement.

Catherine Bolger told the meeting that teaching “safe sex using a condom is a joke.  Those now promoting condoms for AIDS are ironically, the same people who dismiss it as an efficient method to prevent pregnancy.  She pointed out that the known failure rate of condoms used to prevent pregnancy during normal intercourse is between 10 and 36 per cent.  “Studies have shown that condoms break up to 50 per cent of the time when used during homosexual intercourse,” she said.  “And yet when condoms are promoted as effective against AIDS,” she commented, “the lowest failure rate of 10 per cent in pregnancy is used, misleadingly giving people a false sense of security.”

Other parents raised their own concerns that the Board programme would reflect the Gallagher statement which many felt did not properly present Catholic teaching on premarital sex.  Director of Education, Berchmans Kipp, argued that the parents were wasting valuable time at this meeting, since the programme has not yet been designed.

As matters stand now, both public and Catholic school boards in Ontario are writing their AIDS Education Programmes for Grades 7 up to be used in the fall term.  Such a programme will be “mandatory” for students in the public system, Education Minister Sean Conway has said.

The Catholic programme will be adapted to conform with church teaching, the MSSB claims.  However, if Father Jack Gallagher’s suggestion that “technical information on condoms” is vital to the programme, it is difficult to see how Catholic moral teaching can be presented properly or at all.

Catholic parents will retain the right to withdraw their children from AIDS education classes if they so choose, although it is not clear how parents will be notified about these classes.  The MSSB is preparing a “Parents’ Handbook” but it is not yet known whether this will be sent home with students or whether it will merely be available to those parents who know enough to ask for a copy.  Trustee Harold Adams intends to push the Board to adopt a policy that requires written permission from parents before students attend classes.

At least one mother is caught in a dilemma.  She suspects she is going to have to withdraw her 12-year-old daughter from AIDS education classes; her daughter has already responded that she will “be the only one in the class to be singled out” and that she is alarmed by the prospect.

What is really needed is for church officials, broadcasters, educators, government and parents alike to recognize that the responsible way to educate about AIDS is to encourage the teachings of correct moral formation to children and teens.  The message young people will absorb from the condom pushing approach is that society has given up its heal-hearted attempts to teach sexual responsibility and that they do not have the moral fiber to choose chastity.