Posts Tagged ‘ACT-UP’

John Cardinal O'Connor

WARNING: The subject matter in this post deals candidly with sexually transmitted infections and diseases and their modes of transmission. Minors and persons easily upset by the nature of such discussion are advised to skip over this post.

Cretins. No other word better encompasses those who set their sights on John Cardinal O’Connor and the American Catholic Hierarchy for their refusal to advocate condom usage as a means of attenuating the impact of HIV/AIDS, especially in light of the steady news stories published in The New York Times during those years. What other word encompasses a whole movement of people who reject Apostolic Authority, distort the plain meaning of the Scriptural injunctions against homosexual and extramarital sex, and then disrupt Mass and desecrate the Blessed Sacrament and a cathedral all because the Apostolic Successors would not bend to their will?

What word better encompasses a group who divested themselves and their community of any personal responsibility for their sexual behavior and its consequences, projecting onto Rome all culpability? Narcissist describes a great deal, but is insufficient when one considers the venom spit at the Church.

As has been demonstrated conclusively in Part I, Part II and Part III, these people had it wrong. Terribly wrong. Tragically wrong. In the early days of the pandemic, gays were being told to lubricate their condoms to facilitate intercourse and reduce strain on the condom which might cause rupture.

Then they figured out that petroleum jellies dissolved the latex, presumably after more disease was transmitted through those condom ruptures.

Then, unthinking, untrained and uncritical activists led the charge for using nonoxynol-9 (N-9), the spermicide that was shown to kill HIV in test tubes (In high doses, a fact they missed), as a lubricant to back up condom efficay, should the condom slip or tear. For whatever reason, it wouldn’t be until several years later that N-9 would be shown to be completely ineffective against the virus in the low concentration used on condoms, and causes ulcerations in the vaginal and rectal mucosa, actually facilitating HIV transmission in case of condom failure.

Were all of that not enough, Part III presented CDC’s own data on condom ineffectiveness.

Seldom in the history of medicine has a movement been so vocal, so organized, and so catastrophically wrong. The public health community has done a slow walk back from those early days of ACT-UP’s message of certitude.

They have abandoned “Safe” sex for the more qualified “Safer” sex.

They have abandoned advocating N-9 as both lubricant and fail-safe.

They have all but abandoned the condom as effective against much of anything in the way of STI’s.

They have embraced the language of abstinence and long-term mutual monogamy as the surest ways of preventing STI’s, including HIV.

In presenting themselves as the true shepherds of the sexually licentious in the face of a killer disease, in establishing the corollary narrative that the Bishops were out of touch old celibates consigned to history’s dustbin, ACT-UP and their fellow travelers no doubt unwittingly led scores of thousands to HIV infection and death.

Theirs is a bitter, shameful legacy.

The Bishops for their part spared no expense in creating hospital and nursing home beds for AIDS patients and received them with compassion. One of those leaders of the desecration converted to the Catholic Church on his death bed and entered eternity sealed with the sacraments. The Bishops would not be swayed by the bad PR, and stayed faithful to their Church, their Office and their God.

It is Cardinal O’Connor’s message that the science has borne out:

“Good morality is good medicine.”

(The promised article on abstinence is itself a new series entitled, “Abstinence Education (Part I)”


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John Cardinal O'Connor

Read Part I here.
Part III here.
, Part IV here..

During the late 1980’s a narrative developed about the Catholic hierarchy, condoms, and HIV; A bunch of old celibate men, through their irrational opposition to any form of birth control, refused to teach the lifesaving truth that condoms prevent the transmission of HIV.

The problem is that the narrative is a lie, start to finish.

To begin, the opposition to the use of birth control is anything but irrational. In 1968 Pope Paul VI clearly articulated the Church’s 2,000 year consistent witness to this in Humanae Vitae, a brief but concise document. In paragraph 17, Pope Paul VI proves prescient:

“17. Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

“Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.”

Certainly Cardinal O’Connor and the Bishops knew all too well the rise in promiscuity following widespread access to the pill in 1968. They knew the CDC data linked here which show the steady rise in STD rates. (Click on “all slides”). Fast-forwarding to today for a moment, Research out of Harvard agrees with the Church that Condoms can make HIV worse in Africa, among other places.

In the mid-80’s, the New York Times, the self-styled ‘paper of record’ carried several articles which cast a long shadow over the absolutist claims of condom safety by AIDS activists.

On August 24, 1987 the Times reported “20% of Condom Batches Fail”.

On May 12, 1988 the Times reported that 33 million condoms had been recalled in 1987 with a failure rate of 4/1000. The paper failed to reconcile those numbers with the 20% failure rate reported in August of the previous year. The paper did report that the 4/1000 was an improvement over the 4.8/1000 rate in 1986. These rates for domestic condoms were better than the 6.5/1000 in 1987 and 7.3/1000 in 1986 for imported condoms.

On August 18, 1987 the Times ran a major article entitled “Condoms: Experts Fear False Sense Of Security”. From the Article:

“MANY health officials have begun to voice concern that the campaign to encourage condom use to curb the spread of AIDS may be misunderstood, creating a false sense of security in people whose behavior continues to put them in danger.

“Experts say condoms should minimize the spread of the AIDS virus among the heterosexual population, especially when used with spermicides containing nonoxynol-9, which has been found to kill the virus in test tubes. The experts say this justifies recent campaigns promoting the devices.

“But they stress that it is unknown just how much protection condoms offer. The officials note that condoms have been widely rejected as a method of birth control because they frequently fail, and say the devices may be no better – in fact, may be worse – at curtailing AIDS. They warn that sexually active men and women should not assume that they are protected simply because they use prophylactics.”

The article is filled with notable quotes from experts, all expressing doubts.

It was an interesting time. Because the spermicide nonoxynol-9 was found to have killed HIV at high concentrations in test tubes, it was added as a lubricant and fail-safe against condom tearing or slipping. In recent years we have learned two devastating truths.

1. Nonoxynol-9 in the low concentration on condoms is ineffective against HIV.

2. Nonoxynol-9 in the low concentration on condoms causes ulcerations in the vaginas of women who use them frequently, such as sex workers. This means that N-9 does not kill the virus when condoms tear, and facilitates infection by compromising the vaginal and rectal epithelia.

Finally, a week after the desecration of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral by ACT-UP (reported in Part I), the Times reported that The National Women’s Health Network requested the FDA to remove approval for two new condoms:

“A public-interest health group said today that it had petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to withdraw marketing clearance for two new types of condoms because neither had been tested for effectiveness in preventing pregnancy or protecting against disease.

“The National Women’s Health Network, a nonprofit group based in Washington, charged that the Federal agency had erred in approving the devices under a legal provision that waives testing requirements if a new device is substantially like one already approved.”

It was an interesting time. Anti-retroviral medications were being hastened to market. New condoms were being hastened to market all in a desperate attempt to throw the entire arsenal at this virus. But desperate measures can have unintended consequences.

In time, what will be most remembered is the stubborn insistence of so many to having sex outside of a life’s commitment to mutual monogamy with ONE individual in the face of a disease that is so devastating.

Where were the AIDS activists when these reports were being published by the Times? They were busy crafting calumnies against men who read the Times and knew better, celibacy notwithstanding. These lies have become part of the HIV/AIDS lore. How many have gone to their deaths because of their false assurances and convenient scapegoating? Such activism in the name Public Health has been devastating.

It was an interesting time.

Next Wednesday, we’ll take a deeper look at the scientific data about condoms and consider them against the backdrop of STI/STD rates.

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John Cardinal O'Connor

A little-known anniversary passed very silently on the tenth of this month, the twentieth anniversary of AIDS activist group ACT-UP’s desecration of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. The New York Times reported the incident. It was the culmination of many smaller-scale desecrations at the Cathedral by gay groups, including Dignity. From 1987-88 I was a seminarian for the Archdiocese of New York, and was present at the Cathedral for Sunday Masses with the Cardinal when Dignity would seat themselves in rows midway down the aisle, then stand with their backs turned to the Cardinal as he gave the homily. They hated him as no other because he was pro-life, because he was a faithful son of the Church and would not give his blessing to the use of condoms for any purpose.

Cardinal O’Connor’s famous rejoinder was, “Good morality is good medicine.” For that singular statement he was regarded as little more than a caveman in Cardinal’s robes. From the Times article:

“Protesters said yesterday’s action was prompted by what they said was Cardinal O’Connor’s growing verbal assault on abortion and on the use of ‘safe sex’ with condoms as a precaution against AIDS.

“In October, the Cardinal expressed his admiration for Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion group that frequently blocks entrances to abortion clinics. In a speech at the Vatican in November, he re-stated his view that distributing condoms or clean needles was an inappropriate way to combat the spread of the AIDS virus. In a phrase frequently condemned by demonstrators yesterday, he said, ‘Good morality is good medicine.'”

What the Times did not report was that one protester crumbled the Eucharist at Communion time in an act of desecration never before seen in the cathedral. Protesters also threw condoms all over the cathedral. They were right about one thing, people were dying from this disease. AIDS patients were still considered lepers in many quarters. It was a frightening time.

Earlier that autumn 1989, Fr. Bruce Ritter asked me if I would return to Covenant House, a shelter for homeless teens in Times Square, where I had worked for five years prior to entering the seminary. He explained that he had started a Special Needs Unit for adolescents with HIV/AIDS. Some were already dying in end-stage AIDS. I accepted the offer.

Our unit at the time was the ONLY residential facility in the nation for adolescents with HIV/AIDS. Most of the kids were male prostitutes who contracted the virus from their clients. The disease progressed rapidly in some. We buried one young man not long after I began work on the unit. So, I was not without sympathy for the issue felt so keenly by Dignity and ACT-UP.

I contemplated this during the long night shifts when the kids finally went to sleep. What was the objection, really? Why such venomous hatred directed at the Church? Everyone knew that condoms broke during vaginal sex, more-so during anal sex. This wasn’t a state secret. Having just begun my post-baccalaureate curriculum in science at Columbia University, I found the hatred for the Church on campus palpable. Why?

The answer was: Narcissism. Even in the face of a killer sexually transmitted disease, people wanted their sex. Period. The drive toward self-indulgence was so powerful that it blinded people to the reality that condoms had a pretty significant failure rate, for a variety of reasons: improper and inconsistent use, tearing, slipping.

Then there was the issue of promiscuity in the gay community, the orgies in the bath houses that were eventually closed down as a public health measure. People weren’t interested in changing their behavior. They wanted fornication without consequences and expected, demanded the Church play along. In hindsight, they were looking for political cover.

For those old enough to remember the early years of the AIDS pandemic, it was largely considered a ‘gay’ disease. When it started showing up in the heterosexual community, many gays feared (rightly) a backlash based on that perception of AIDS being a gay disease. What better cover than the Catholic Church? The Bishops weren’t falling for it. They knew better about condoms, and sought to teach the faithful.

In the interim, Cardinal O’Connor quietly set about increasing the number of hospital beds in Catholic hospitals of the Archdiocese dedicated to AIDS patients to well above fifteen percent. He effectively turned Saint Clare’s Hospital on W 52nd Street into an AIDS hospice. Unbeknown to his detractors, the Cardinal went to St. Clare’s once a week in simple clerical garb to wash patients, empty bedpans, and perform priestly pastoral ministry to the dying. On his orders, he was introduced simply as Father John.

Next Wednesday, we’ll take a look at the wisdom and strength behind that humility. We’ll consider the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control data that clearly vindicate Cardinal O’Connor, and lay much blame for this ongoing tragedy at the feet of his most bitter detractors. We’ll see the epidemiological data that expose the great lie about condoms and where we have gone these past twenty years. It isn’t pretty.

Part II here.
Part III here.
Part IV here.

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