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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bishop Kevin Dowling

No doubt you've been reading about the Pope's visit to Africa and also his statement made on the plane beforehand asserting that the use of condoms doesn't stop the spread of AIDs but actually makes it worse. I thought I'd post something about Kevin Patrick Dowling, C.SS.R., a South African prelate of the Roman Catholic Church, a Redemptorist, and the second and current Bishop of Rustenburg. Why? Because he disagrees with the Pope on this - South African Bishop Opposes Vatican's Ban on Condoms - NPR.

The NPR story is current, but I thought I'd post this short 2005 story from TIME about him below ......


European Heroes 2005 - Bishop Kevin Dowling: Lives in the balance

breaking with catholic doctrine, bishop kevin dowling advocates the use of condoms to help save lives

In 1998, when Bishop Kevin Dowling first got involved in setting up a health clinic in Freedom Park, one of the massive shack settlements in his diocese of Rustenburg, South Africa, the suffering shocked him. He watched countless young women—many of them driven to prostitution by poverty—die of aids. He knew that condoms could have prevented most of these deaths.

The dilemma has placed him at odds with the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception. Four years ago, he became the first African bishop to call on the church to consider lifting its absolute ban on condom use. They should be accepted as a tool for protecting millions of vulnerable lives against aids, he argued, rather than denounced as a form of birth control. “The challenge to the church is a challenge to all of society,” says the 61-year-old bishop. “We have to find the best means to protect life, and the best means to prevent the transmission of this virus.”

Over the past seven years, Dowling has developed his initial makeshift clinic into a program that provides comprehensive treatment and counseling to hundreds of people a year. “He is the aids bishop,” says Father James Keenan, a professor of theological ethics at Boston College, Massachusetts. “The issue of the Catholic Church and condoms has to be resolved by listening to men of the church who have the experience, tenacity and wisdom of Bishop Dowling.”

Dowling’s argument hinges on the church’s teaching on the sacredness of life: without condoms, people will continue to die unnecessarily, he argues. “There are hundreds of thousands of women in sub-Saharan Africa facing the same situation,” he says. “They look into my eyes and tell me there is no hope.” Dowling reasons that the church has always allowed exceptions to its 1968 Papal ban on contraception; when, for example, a woman’s health is at risk. Likewise, he argues, in poor communities where aids is rife, the church must allow condoms for the same purpose. Bishops and Cardinals are beginning to agree with him, although when addressing African church leaders in June, Pope Benedict reiterated the church’s opposition to condoms. But to Dowling, the church’s credibility is at stake. With thousands of poor men and women dying, he says, the church needs to send the message that “we are authentically pro-life, in the widest sense of that word.” —By Megan Lindow



Blogger Jack said...


Certainly all reasonable people agree to a degree with Bishop Dowling; however he does not apparently see the basic fallacy of the WHOLE Catholic argument against contraception; the reasons given by the Church are pitiful.

I think I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree... (:)

7:14 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

I think the criticism of Benedict is a bit unwarranted here in this case, considering what he actually said. I think the remarks of Fr. Michael Czerny, S.J., director of the African Jesuits AIDS Network, are worth considering alongside Dowling's, and his knowledge about Africa is just as deep.

In Africa, sexual expression is rarely consensual and often coerced. Also—this is very important and why I feel the condom is not the answer—much of the propagation of H.I.V. is older men giving it to younger girls. It’s not boys and girls who “can’t keep their pants on,” though today people like to project that image. It’s what we call sugar daddies, and to a certain extent sugar mommies, adults who are “buying” sex with younger people and spreading H.I.V. When you’re a very poor girl and an older man is horny, and he’ll give you a blouse or money for your cellphone, which you desperately need, what are you going to do?....

AIDS is part and parcel of a whole syndrome of injustices. Let Africa find its rightful place in the world economy, and AIDS will go away. Make international agricultural policy favorable to Africa, for example, and Africa will blossom. AIDS will fade away because people will be able to earn their living and feed themselves properly...[AIDS is] a disease of poverty and of hopelessness, of conflict, of suffering, of all the things that happen because we are countries that cannot produce, cannot export, cannot run ourselves well, are often at war and full of refugees, full of corruption. Africa’s woes are complicating factors when it comes to AIDS....

8:04 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Of course, we've covered all this years ago and none of us has changed much at all.

From Joe Cecil's.

I commented on this in my blog a couple of days ago ... a Tablet editorial quotes Cardinal Martini as being in favor of a limited use of condums, given the situation in Africa ... AIDS and the lesser evil
crystal | Homepage | 04.29.06 - 2:19 pm | #


In some corners of the extreme-right they are fulminating about Martini the 'anti-pope', but Cardinal Martini is highly respected by the Pope, and as Allen has reported, has been consulted by the Pope on important matters before. This looks like an ecclesiastical "trial'ballon" (no pun intended!). I don't think Cardinal Martini is entirely freelancing on his own initiative here. Further developments may surprise those on the right.

I have a couple of questions though (and if anyone here has spent time in Africa, please weigh in). Is it fair to lay the HIV-AIDS crisis in Africa at the feet of the Catholic Church? I'm sure there is a shortage of just about everything in Africa (except, it seems, for AK-47's, land-mines and RPG's), but is there a shortage of condoms? And if there is a shortage of condoms, has it been due to the efforts of the Catholic Church to restrict them? Has the Catholic Church in practical reality prevented condom availability and prevented AIDS-education in Africa? I suppose in the Catholic Hospitals, they may have, but can the roots of the crisis be laid there?

I remember reading decades ago about the Vatican's supposed irresponsibility regarding Humanae Vitae, and how they had their head in the sand regarding the population explosion. The irony is, in the developed world, at which the encyclical was largely directed, the encyclical was emphatically repudiated and ignored. In fact, Western Europe is facing huge problems related to the fact that they have a baby-bust and an aging population that cannot continue to be supported by the safety net to which they are accustomed. The huge increases in population that have occurred since Vatican II have been largely in the non-Catholic world, especially in Islamic countries.

As far as condoms in Africa are concerned... When African men contract HIV by frequenting prostitutes, and pass the virus onto their wives by cooerced sex, often in "contraceptive" anal sex (not meant as a slur to Africans... it is a widespread practice in may parts of the world), are they refraining from using condoms because of Catholic scruples? Of course not. I'm more inclined to think is is because, like men everywhere else in the world, they hate wearing condoms.

Therefore, I think there are mucher bigger problems to be encountered from a Catholic moral perspective (such as cooreced sex-trade, sexual slavery, and the bondage of women in general) to be addressed than the use of condoms, but I realize that a good argument can be made that it is the place to start. I just worry, however, that a lot of the press around this is a tendency for us western liberals to be more concerned with using this problem for the purposes of our own first-world agenda than we are concerned with third-world problems.

Jeff | Homepage | 04.30.06 - 9:58 am | #


I am probably 'commenting' too much; but a touch of humor never hurts. When I was married 43 years ago, my wife and I were required to attend a "pre-cana conference" I believe it was called. On the night the medical doctor spoke, a question was asked about the use of condoms; The doctor said we could if we took a straight pin and made a tiny hole in the condom, thus allowing the possibility of fertilizing the egg. The class erupted in laughter, including the doctor. Sometimes I think that this statement is all most remember from the conference. Ready for counterattack: Not Catholic, but probably soon will be. John
john haynes | 04.30.06 - 9:14 pm | #

8:23 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Jack, he is a Catholic bishop so that's not surprising, but speaking for myself, I think contraception is a good thing.

9:14 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Thanks for the link. What he says is what I think too - that the AIDS problem in Africa won't go away until poverty and the terrible quality of life is remedied.

One of the news stories quoted the Vatican as saying that they represent about a quarter of the AIDS related health care in Africa ... if that's so, and they tell their patiients not to use condoms, then I think that's giving lethal advice, even if most people refuse to use condoms for a number of reasons.

Wow - a blast from the past - Joe's blog :)

9:36 PM  
Blogger Liam said...

I'm coming to this sort of late...

Obviously, no one is saying that condoms are the only way to prevent HIV infection, and it is true that reducing poverty would help a great deal. Still, once again the hierarchy is being absolutist about sexual questions and wishy-washy about poverty. When was the last time someone was excommunicated for promoting poverty?

8:19 AM  
Blogger Jack said...


The issue being discussed here is nothing but the Church's idea that sex and marriage are impediments to holiness and to further the clergy's claim of superiority and the right to dominance.Quote from our Bishop:

"...celibacy is the best way to reveal what God intends to give us in His kingdom."

And: "This is why each year at the beginning of Lent, the Church invites us to go with Jesus into the desert, where the desert is understood as a metaphor for the celibate heart."

"How do we find this desert."

" We find it by making a conscious choice to mortify our senses; to carve away that which our nature craves and which gives confort to our lives, the color, the flavor, the soothing sounds and the familiar warmth of our confortable lives."

"In the desert of hunger and deprivation we are left alone with Christ and with our empty hearts--waiting to be filled."

You talk about WEIRD.

I have argued for years that the Church regards celibacy as superior to marriage. Is that not the Church's position?

As to aids. If we all lived perfect physical lives and our physical world was perfect we could probably cut the number of M.D.'s by 85 percent. So the Pope is right. If we never had sex STDs would not be a problem; and, of course, we would be much closer to God.

BTW, Czerny's reasoning is really bad. All his special pleading just to keep people from having sex while using condoms. Didn't they use to consider Jesuits a bit tricky? I thought that was gone, but here it is, right on Crystal's blog. Jack

10:48 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Liam,

Yeah, you have a point. It almost seems like those who make poverty a big issue, like the liberation theology guys, are actually less popular with the Vatican.

11:28 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Jack, yes, I mostly agree with you on this. ok, that felt weird to say :)

11:31 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Wow. Neat guy.

12:54 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Matthew :)

3:13 PM  
Anonymous Deacon Denny said...

I've been to Africa four times now, and appreciated Jeff's link to Fr. Michael Czerny. I met him a few years ago, when a group of us were visiting Africa for an "immersion experience" sponsored by CRS. I felt his remarks helped explain the some of the realities of the African situation with HIV/AIDS. Poverty is a huge reality, as is the powerlessness of women in much of
Africa. Both are much more important factors in the spread of HIV/AIDS than the Church's teaching about condoms.

And condoms ARE easily available in Africa. But if people are disregarding the teachings of the Church regarding avoiding sex outside of marriage, you can hardly say that it's the Church's fault if they then fail to use a condom. But in the case of the wife of an HIV-positive husband, I think the African prelates are correct who say that the use of a condom is morally allowable to prevent her contracting the disease -- if her husband allows her that choice.

1:33 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

With all respect to Deacon Denny, I can't parse this:

"But if people are disregarding the teachings of the Church regarding avoiding sex outside of marriage, you can hardly say it's the Church's fault if they then fail to use condoms."

My friend, Deacon, you lost me. Jack

2:12 PM  
Anonymous Deacon Denny said...

Hi Jack --

My point was that those people aren't listening to the Church for counsel in this particular area, period. If they aren't using a condom, it's not because the Church was telling them not to, but for some other reason.

I tend to agree with the point Jeff made earlier: "Are they refraining from using condoms because of Catholic scruples? Of course not. I'm more inclined to think it is because, like men everywhere else in the world, they hate wearing condoms." More so in Africa than here, my experience tells me.

This is not an area in which I would usually go out of my way to defend Church teaching, and I'm not really trying to do so here. It's just that I don't see that the Catholic Church is a telling obsticle to condom use in Africa. The Church doesn't promote it, of course, but plenty of people do, including governments.

And the Church IS a strong force within the culture in acknowledging the reality of HIV/AIDS victims within the community (where it is often taboo -- you can be an outcast in the village if you're so identified). And CRS is very active in helping organize communities to provide simple personal services (housecare, hygiene... simple compassionate care) to HIV/AIDS victims. As well as organizing assistance within the community for AIDS orphans.

3:40 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


I agree with you except for one thing, on which I'm unclear .... I've been reading that the Church runs somewhere between a quarter to half of the medical care given to AIDS patients in Africa - if all those people they treat have the virus and are being told they cannot use condoms, then isn't that a lot of people who perhaps will not always abstain from sex but will abstain from condoms while having sex?

To put peoples' lives at risk over a doctrine that was almost flpped by Vatican II and which people like Karl Rahner and Bernard Lonergan, 90% of American Catholics, and some experts in Africa like Keven Dowling think is a mistke seems just undefendable to me.

3:59 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

Deacon Denny, no one is saying poverty, poor education,supressing women are not real factors in the STD problem. So let's say only 2500 people die in Africa beause they follow Church beliefs that such use is sinful.Okay, so have it the Church's way---after all what are 2500 lives lost?

Let me be my usual naughty self. Excellent Catholic suggestion:
Marriage and sex are impediments to being close to God. This is a clear Catholic teaching.

So let's bar all marriage AND sex.Would we not all be closer to God. Would there then be a possiblity of an earlier return of Christ because if he waits there might be no people. And certainly no STD(:)

Or are you saying no people, Africans, for example, pay attention to Church teaching on condoms? Then why keep on squawking about it if no one listens?

BTW Americans have a lot of aids cases. But I thought our country was (used to be) rich, with a fair degree of Education and a moderately good record toward women.

As you know, male condoms are about 95 percent effective in preventing STD's.Did you say the Church approves condoms to help stop aids?

I saw in B16 visit to Cameroon nothing but trying to 'grow' the Church, and almost no real solutions to or real concern for their problems.

My wife is faithful, I am 99.9999 percent sure. But just to be safe should we not use condoms? My head is swimming!!! Jack

8:55 PM  
Anonymous Deacon Denny said...


Crystal, I'm not so convinced about that statistic on health care; and if that's true, it would give me more to think about. But even if it is true, believe me, the Catholic Church in Africa is not in the same place on this issue that the Vatican is -- as evidenced by your original post. Bishop Dowling is not the only one to voice these concerns. While in Malawi last summer I enjoyed reading some of the challenges that various African leaders have made to the Vatican on precisely this issue. Of course, that doesn't get reported much, back here in the U.S.

Jack -- I'm not sure which things to respond to; I'm not sure which are serious points and which are not.

I don't think it's a serious point that "clear Catholic teaching" is that marriage and sex are impediments to being close to God. You're just trying to get a rise out of me, aren't you? But I'm happy to respond to this if you or anyone else is really interested.

As for Africans paying attention to the Church teachings... I'd first say to you something that is similar to what I said to Crystal above: that the Church in Africa is much closer to the situation in Africa than the Pope is, and has raised questions about Humanae Vitae that are different -- and more serious, from a life/death perspective -- than the kinds of questions that various voices in the American Catholic Church have raised over the last generation.

And yet, I ask you, how many homilies about birth control have you heard in the American Church over the last 25 years? Not a lot, I'll bet. I've heard NONE. Not one, and I hear a lot of homilies. So, what kind of teaching do you think is being done by the local Church most places in Africa? The Church in Africa may not be promoting condoms, but you can bet that crusading against them is NOT its #1 priority, not even in the area of sexual morality.

Do I wish that the Pope hadn't made the comment, but had instead shown more sensitivity to the people in AFrica, and at least some understanding and consideration of the viewpoints raised by Bishop Dowling and others? Absolutely. I wouldn't describe Benedict's comments the way you did, but I do think that it makes the job of the African Church more difficult in tending to the needs and situations of the people of Africa.

But I'd also like you to at least acknowledge, from a public health standpoint, that chastity would be better than condoms. It's obvious, isn't it? Except perhaps when the woman would face hunger or beatings for it. But in those cases, she might not be in the position to insist on condoms either.

True, poverty and male oppression are not the only factors in the spread of AIDS. The U.S. does still have a lot of AIDS cases, however affluent, educated, or "sexually enlightened" we are. I guess we agree there. But those ARE major factors in Africa. That's where a good portion of my energy -- and dollars -- are going. Our parish has a sister parish in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world. We're helping to build a Trade School there, among other things. I send some dollars to a clinic for women. My son's even over in Malawi right now, teaching as a volunteer.

You can send your dollars to the government of Uganda, for their well-publicized condom-distribution program. I won't be at all upset. Really.

Crystal, thanks for starting this all off, with an excellent post. I hope you don't mind my lengthy response.

10:23 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Are you kidding? Thanks for your informative and well reasoned response :) You have more actual experience with Africa than most and I appreciate your input very much.

11:30 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

PS - I saw this old news story today and though it's about Latin America rather than Africa, I thought I'd mention it ... Catholic condom ban helping AIDS spread in Latam: U.N.

11:34 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

Deacon Denny, I am most serious, although humor can be serious,about my objection to the official Church position on sex, the use of condoms merely being a subset of the whole sex issue.

Of course abstinence would be more effective against STD's than condoms. Not having ANY sex would be even more effective. I just finished a Coke; it would have been better had I had a glass of water. With all due respect I find the argument that abstinence is the best guard against aids very weak. It's like saying the best argument against crime is for all people to be good. So let's push 'goodness' and dismantle our police force.

The Church clearly teaches that celibacy is superior to the married state. I have written thousaands of words of this issue. Sure, the Church says marriage is "good," but celibacy is "better." I will not repeat my arguments on this, but will refer you to my earlier comment from our bishop here. My wife, a very devoted Catholic for 65 years, was furious about the article by our bishop. BTW, not written by the bishop but by his very conservative, traditionslist assistant.I think logic would show that anything that blocks a person from going from "good" to "better" must, by definition, be an impediment.

You're right, I have almost never heard a homily on contraceptives. One of our parish priest did try to instruct the people to vote for McCain. Not the same I agree but getting close.

I am not sure who you are refering to about the Church's position on contraceptives. I assume the African bishops you refer to are flirting with heresy.

Just a personal note. NO member of my family or my wife's have ever had an abortion. The only two people Who have, to my personal knowledge, were most pious catholics. Let me correct that. They were the children of pious catholics, the parents urging abortion and paying for such.

I respect your Catholicism. But it is not the catholicism of our bishop or of B16, I'm afraid.

One other note. My wife's family could staff the Vatican---so many priests and bishops, many of whom I've met and find most likeable. However,at least as I know their lives, they are not superior in spirituality and holiness to our married friends,despite the clerics pledge to totally shun sex in thought and action. Jack

12:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jack, I think you are right that the "Catholicism" of your bishop and of B16 is not the Catholicism of Deacon Denny, nor is it of mine. I think both you and I suffer a bit from a belief that the "Church" really is one, really is unified, really does have some kind of absolute truth, and worst of all, that your bishop along with mine and B16 ARE the Church.

But there are others that believe the Church consists of the people of God, and as such the Church has rejected the teachings that contraception is wrong by refusing to accept it. Certainly the fact the a papal nuncio has stated that you cannot be Catholic and deny the hollocost does not make that a Church teaching, nor does it make Bishop Williams a heretic, whatever else he might be.

I think that what Deacon Denny was trying to say was that there is a great diversity in belief throughout the worldwide Church, and no group has a hammerlock on all the correct beliefs. Some of them may be correct, others may be as false as the teaching that the sun goes around the earth. In the final analysis all of us end up being cafeteria Catholics. And as much as we may not like it, all of us have to take responsibility for our own set of beliefs.

Personally, I am appalled at how few Roman Catholics realize that there are other Catholic rites, in union with Rome, and how different some of their rites and beliefs are. That many of the ordained hold the belief that their state is superior to marriage is not surprising to me, that those who are married fall for that fallacy saddens me. I suspect that Deacon Denny does not feel that way, but you might ask him.

And I do want to thank you, Deacon, for opening up a small port hole into another part of the Church that we seldom get a chance to see.

Love and hugs,

Mike L

1:43 PM  
Blogger Jack said...


Your comments were very good. I guess I should listen to my wife. For her life as a Catholic, she just doesn't worry about ALL church teachings. But she was incensed over our bishops real put-down of marriage.

As a new catholic, I practically have strokes over some church pronouncements. Maybe I need a tranquilizer(:). Jack

3:49 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I'm a relatively new catholic too and I think that's why this stuff bothers me so much also.

6:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard the good Bp Dowling speak today. He makes the point that if your life has nothing but despair as the near and longer term outlook, the idea of listening to the church's "teaching" (flawed as I believe it to be) is nonsense. The kind of despair he was describing in a climate of abject poverty, inadequate nourishment and potable water, jobs that are virtually non-existent, and cultural barriers that preclude even the mention of sex by parents to children... all of these things render the individual hopeless and, in an attempt to grab what they can out of life, they turn to easy momentary gratification in sexual encounters. The results thereafter are inconsequential to those with no hope to begin with.

Jimmy Mac

8:07 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Thamks for commenting. The points he makes remind me of a past article at Esquire by Emily Oster - Three Things You Don't Know About AIDS in Africa. Hard to motivate people to care about the possibility of getting a disease that won't kill them for years when they face so many other immediate challenges.

8:47 PM  

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