People are capable of behaviour change

In his response to Ramsammy’s comments on the Pope’s view of condom use, published in Friday’s issue of the Catholic Standard, Bishop Alleyne said: “the Holy Father is right. All human beings are capable of modifying their perception and behaviour to realise their worth and potential and the church must exhort and guide its faithful towards this end.”

The health minister, at a press conference on March 21, had unequivocally expressed his disagreement with Pope Benedict XVI saying during his visit to Africa that “condoms do not work”.

According to Ramsammy, “the Pope is wrong when it comes to HIV and the use of condoms. I think the Pope has contributed negatively to the fight against HIV and AIDS.” The minister went on to say that the use of condoms had helped in the reduction of HIV via the education process and this had been backed by scientific experiments.

However, Bishop Alleyne in his response, noted that while the result of scientific studies and surveys are drawn on to present conclusions that the use of condoms is far more effective in arresting the spread of HIV than are reaching for the values of abstinence and faithfulness, “if we as human beings were to rely solely or depend heavily on scientific definition to understand ourselves and guide our conduct we would be severely depriving ourselves of realising our full potential.”

According to the Catholic Standard, the Bishop added, “the church speaks in the language of faith; it defines the human being and human life in terms of sacredness, worth, mystery, image of God, child of God, and God’s work of art.

The more we come to understand this, the more we would recognise the mandate to live with deep respect for ourselves and others. It is from this deep respect, for self and other, that human relationships are best formed and bear fruit in expressions of human worth, respect, faithfulness, and refrain from intimate communication until there is readiness for commitment.”

He added that the youth offices of the Diocese have been offering an abstinence programme in a number of parishes over the past three years. Part of the programme, he said, uses scientific data to raise awareness of the number and nature of infections that are transmitted through physical intimacy. “It is interesting to note that some of these infections, not much spoken of, can be as debilitating and life threatening as HIV/AIDS and their spread is not arrested by latex and polyurethane shields,” Bishop Alleyne said.

“Abstinence is not about techniques to counteract strong urges and pressures or putting people on guilt trips. It is about gaining insight into human worth, building confidence and freeing young people to live and relate in a wholesome manner.”

He pointed to statistics which show that about 95% of the spread of HIV results from lifestyle and behaviour; the latter of which flows from the understanding people have of themselves and others. “It is sometimes suggested that because human behaviour may be difficult to change it cannot be expect of people to be faithful and abstain therefore the next best level is to make condoms available.”

But he exhorted, “we ought not to be content with measures that presume that people are unteachable and unchangeable but rather aim for what is possible.”

Bishop Alleyne said too that, “President Obama was able to motivate crowds to believe in the possibilities for a nation and to motivate individuals to believe in their contribution in shaping those possibilities with the battle cry ‘yes we can’. Surely, the possibilities for human freedom and expression of sacredness and dignity would stand higher on the human agenda than political goals.

“Our faith response to HIV, and indeed to many ills that beset us, is to celebrate who we are in God’s eyes and shape our world from this premise.”

Ramsammy in his remarks had pointed out that HIV helps to contribute to the poverty in Africa and therefore, the statement by such an influential figure that condoms do not work, “does not in any positive way help in the global fight against the epidemic.”

The minister went on to say, “I am not just saying that condoms alone play the part in HIV reduction, but rather it has to be done through a comprehensive strategy; one that caters for educating the public about the epidemic, how help can be sought and the proper use of the contraceptive among other areas. But I must reiterate that condoms work, and as such, their availability should not be compromised.”

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