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ROME NOTES: War on AIDS, and the 1940's Fight Against Communism

11/7/2003 - 7:00 AM PST

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Vatican Looking at Collaboration With the Global Fund

By Delia Gallagher

ROME, NOV. 6, 2003 (Zenit) - The offices of the Roman Curia tend to take on the personalities of the cardinals who run them. They can be somber and secretive with empty hallways and closed doors, or they can be open and lively, such as the offices of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers under the guidance of newly named Mexican Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán.

The council operates 52 international programs ranging from addressing the AIDS epidemic to mental health care. The cardinal, at the behest of the Pope, is particularly vocal on the issue of AIDS.

"When Kofi Annan came to visit the Holy Father a few months ago, he asked specifically that the Catholic Church give special attention to AIDS patients," said Cardinal Lozano Barragán, referring to the United Nations secretary-general. "The Holy Father then asked me to be the representative of the Catholic Church to the U.N. on the AIDS problem."

The Catholic Church alone is responsible for the care of 26.7% of AIDS patients worldwide, according to the cardinal, and the pontifical council is constantly looking for new ways and means to combat the problem, particularly in Africa where there are 38 million AIDS patients and three times that number infected with the HIV virus.

"We are looking at the possibility of collaborating with the Global Fund, headed by U.S. Secretary for Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson as a way to provide for the needs of the poorer countries in Africa combating AIDS," said Cardinal Lozano Barragán. "They already give funds to the Lutheran Federation, so we are evaluating this possibility for the Catholic Church."

Is there any danger in accepting money from outside sources? I asked the cardinal.

"There are conditions -- about 30 pages of them," he responded. "But they are financial conditions. There is no imposition of ideology or practice."

One of the practices for which the Church has been maligned in the fight against AIDS is the teaching that condoms, as contraception, are forbidden.

"They say the Catholic Church is the greatest killer for this teaching," said Cardinal Lozano Barragán, "but this is a misconception. If you look at Botswana for example, a rich African country, 39% of its population is infected with AIDS, but it has the highest distribution of condoms."

"People think condoms mean 'safe sex,'" said the cardinal. "But the facts do not bear this out."

Nonetheless, Cardinal Lozano Barragán surprised me by saying there are instances in which condom use could be justified.

"The doctrine of the Catholic Church is very clear," he said. "To defend one's life against an aggressor, one can even kill. So a wife, whose husband is infected with AIDS and who insists on marital relations with her, and might therefore pass on the virus which would kill her, can defend her life by using a condom."

Would this apply also in cases of rape? I asked.

"Yes," said the cardinal. "Do you know how they fight battles in Congo? They send soldiers infected with AIDS to violate the women and thereby infect them and kill off entire populations. In those cases, the women have the right to defend their lives by using condoms. And they do."

"We must be very precise," continued the cardinal. "This doesn't mean condom use is justified in any other sense but defending one's life from unjust aggression."

Commenting on aggression of another sort, the cardinal noted that during the sex abuse scandals of the past year, his personal e-mail in-box was bombarded by the American media.

"Every day for several months," he said, "I received articles about the scandal from the New York Times, the Boston Globe and the Washington Post at my private e-mail address. I did not request these articles and I don't know how they got my address but mysteriously the e-mails stopped when the scandal died down."

"I would not like to comment on the intention of such a campaign," continued the cardinal, "but it gives you an idea of what we went through in Rome."

"Fortunately," he said, "the sanctity of the Church does not depend on the personal sanctity of her priests. When Napoleon told the cardinal of Paris that he was going to destroy the Catholic Church, the cardinal wished him good luck saying priests have been trying to do that for 2,000 years and have not succeeded!"

Cardinal Lozano Barragán said his personal sanctity is tied to the Pope which he serves.

"I am not a Legionary of Christ, nor a member of Opus Dei," he said. "My spirituality is the spirituality of the pontificate of John Paul II."

"The Holy Father is very lucid," noted the cardinal about rumors that the Pope is no longer able to play an active ...

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